“With complexity worthy of Ross Macdonald”, the award-winning author of Hard Line delivers a tightly crafted police procedural featuring Lt. Leroy Powder (Publishers Weekly).
Nineteen years in Night Cover plus five years running the Missing Persons Bureau in the Indianapolis PD has certainly distinguished Lt. Leroy Powder’s already salty humor. It’s also granted him an unusual appreciation for the breadth of human behavior.
When a twelve-year-old kid struts into the precinct claiming his father’s missing, Powder’s instincts tell him this won’t be a simple case. But neither is the fact that a sick killer is on the loose, targeting the city’s paraplegics. And now he’s got to play dad to his own son fresh out of an eighteen-month stint in prison.
For Powder, it’s enough inspiration to crack an ill-timed joke or two, especially when the Feds suspect the lieutenant’s not playing it straight. Regardless, it’s time to get justice done. The question is who’s going to pay for it.
Late Payments is the 3rd book in the Lt. Leroy Powder Novels, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Since 1971, Lewin has lived in England, currently in Bath, where his city center flat overlooks the nearby hills. It also overlooks the front doors of the Lunghi family detective agency, a newer series of novels and stories set in the historic city. Visit him online at www.MichaelZLewin.com for more information.
Read an Excerpt
A Lt. Leroy Powder Novel
By Michael Z. Lewin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1986 Michael Z. Lewin
All rights reserved.
As Powder approached along the corridor, two men, handcuffed together, passed through the door of the Homicide and Robbery with Violence reception area. The men negotiated the passage easily, as if experienced in handcuff navigation. The taller man was in his early forties, well groomed and well dressed. He wore wide-eyed metal-framed glasses and stepped lightly. The shorter man was fat and forty-five, with stubble on his chins. He moved heavily inside a rumpled suit.
It was the shorter man who was the policeman. He nodded to Powder as they approached.
Powder said, "Edwards," as acknowledgment.
As they passed close, the prisoner man suddenly pulled Detective Edwards to a stop and pointed at Powder with his free hand.
"Hey, I know that guy. I know him. I know you, buddy. Your name is Powder, isn't it?"
Powder stopped and pivoted to face the two men.
"You're the cop that sent his son to jail, aren't you? You're Ricky Powder's dad. Hey, ain't that something! Rick and me shared a cell and we used to have spitting contests at a picture of you."
Edwards jerked at his prisoner. "Come on, Morgan." But Morgan maintained his eye contact with Powder.
Powder said, "I'm Ricky Powder's father. And I'd like to put a question to you, something for you to ponder on. The question is this: If the son of a cop can go down for eighteen months, just what do you think is in store for a return visitor like you, Mr. Morgan?"
Powder turned abruptly and strode away from Edwards and his prisoner.
By the time he had walked through the Detective Day Room to his mail slot Powder was chuckling to himself. In one sense he enjoyed his limited kind of fame.
He was pleasantly surprised to find the copies of the new salary schedules he had been promised. He whistled as he walked back, past the desks, through the corridor and to the stairs.
The Indianapolis Police Department stairwells require a key to enter and to leave — to reduce their potential for assisting premature departures from police custody. But needing keys also makes it harder for policemen to use the stairs as an exercise supplement. Only the more determined officers use them regularly.
After descending three flights, Powder emerged on the first floor, the public access level of the half of the City-County Building occupied by the Indianapolis Police Department.
He turned left and immediately collided with a thin, fresh-faced boy with dark hair sticking out on both sides under an Indianapolis Indians baseball cap. The boy looked about twelve.
"Hey!" the boy said.
"Sorry," Powder said.
"Are you a cop?"
Powder looked down at him. He said, "Yes."
"Hey, where do I go to tell somebody my dad is gone?"
"Gone? You mean dead?"
"Who says he's dead?"
"You mean missing? Your father is missing?"
"Yeah," the boy said suspiciously, his narrowed eyes pulling his face into a frown.
"The Missing Persons office is there," Powder said. He pointed down the hall. "But —"
"That place is closed," the boy interrupted. "It says on the door. So where do I go instead?"
"Did somebody point me out to you?"
The boy shook his head.
"I was just the first person to come along?"
"After I saw that office was closed, yeah."
"Well, son, let's go open the office again, shall we?"
Powder led the way to a door that read MISSING PERSONS. A roller blind behind the glass gave a list of opening hours. Powder unlocked the door and they went in.
His kingdom. He had been more than five years in charge of the section and had bullied and connived and publicized and made it grow to include three full-time officers besides himself. Also a civilian who dealt with computer and clerical records.
"My desk is back here," Powder said, and raising the counter flap, he pointed to where he wanted the boy to go.
When they were settled, Powder said, "OK. Your father is gone. Tell me about it."
"I got home from practice and he wasn't there."
"He's usually there?"
"No, but when he ain't he leaves a note. He always leaves a note. Every single time."
Powder stared at the boy.
"Today there wasn't no note."
Before Powder locked up again, he wrote Be worth it on the new salary schedule. He put the copies on the appropriate desks.
He stood at the door and looked over the room. During his reign Missing Persons had become a more fashionable section, and one of the most effective in the whole Department. He could prove it. He had proved it publicly and privately many times.
Powder felt profoundly dissatisfied.
He locked the door.
After parking on the street in front of his house, Powder walked the path and then the ramp up to his front door. He lived on the bottom floor in an ornate nineteenth-century building in an ornate nineteenth-century part of Indianapolis. It was close to the city center, but there was no longer any pressure for redevelopment because of recognition of its "heritage." In recent years the fashion had been for "rehabilitation" instead and a lot of rotten wood had been replaced. At the same time, and at the same pace, a lot of longtime resident families had been replaced by households containing college degrees. The net effect was to make the area, Lockerbie, a desirable one.
Powder, a new boy less than ten years before, was now a comparative old-timer and in the right company he could cluck about the newcomers with the best of them.
In his letter box Powder found a leaflet from the Campaign Against the River Project. CARP. The name rolled nimbly off the tongue. He carried the leaflet to his kitchen and put it on the table.
In the kitchen he hung his jacket on a hook and put on an apron. For half an hour he dusted and vacuumed. Then he took a shower. He dried and talced and combed and dressed in clean clothes.
He went back to the kitchen and picked up the CARP leaflet and carried it to the living room. He read about the millions to be spent developing the White River area and the millions already spent on capital projects to make Indianapolis "great." He had begun to read about the lack of spending on the Indianapolis poor when the doorbell rang.
He put the leaflet down and answered the bell promptly.
On the step was a woman in her early thirties with long black hair. "Long time no see," she said.
"You're late," Powder said.
"Like hell. Out of the way."
Powder stepped back and the woman, Carollee Fleetwood, rolled her wheelchair across the threshold.
"Did you know that there had been no increase in real spending on literacy or self-help projects for the poor in this city in the last ten years?"
"No," she said.
"Did you know —"
"Lieutenant, are you going to stand there and talk all night?"
"Probably," Powder said. He rubbed his face with both hands. Then he stepped behind her chair, took the handles and pushed her into the room next to the living room, his guest bedroom.
"Sergeant, this is a damned uncharitable city when it comes to its poor and its halt and its lame."
He lifted her gently from her chair and sat her on the edge of the bed.
She smiled and said, "Do you remember the first time you shifted me out of that thing?"
"Yeah," he said.
"You poured with sweat."
"I figured if I dropped you, you'd break into pieces."
"It was funny and sweet."
"Not quite the way I remember it," he said.
She took one of his hands. "Make me forget a bit now."
After a drive across the city from Fleetwood's house, they pulled into a parking lot that was in the center of a horseshoe of single-story apartments specially designed for disabled tenants.
Powder unpacked Fleetwood's wheelchair and helped her into it. "Where we going?" he asked.
"Nine. It's down the side, over there."
Powder guided her to the designated door. Fleetwood pushed the bell, which was at a level easily accessible to people in wheelchairs.
The door flew open and a tanned man in his late twenties greeted them exuberantly. "Carollee, honey! Hello! Hey, lay some rubber on me!"
Fleetwood rolled herself across the sill-less doorway and bumped a tire of her chair into a tire of the man's wheelchair.
Then the man withdrew, saying, "And this is your super-cop boss. Come in, come in, Lieutenant Powder. You look funny without a wheelchair, but we try to be tolerant of weirdos around here. I'm Jules Mencelli, but most people call me Ace."
Powder stepped forward and the men shook hands. "Pleased to meet you, Ace."
"Me too, me too," Mencelli bubbled. He rolled farther back into the room where a table was set with three places. "I feel better already. Hey, you guys like curry? Like nice, hot, India Indian-style curry?"
"Never tried it," Powder said.
"Well then, let's eat first," Mencelli said. "And if you survive it, then I'll tell you why I think somebody's trying to kill me."CHAPTER 2
"Where the hell is everybody?" Powder asked, loud, irritated.
"Attending anticompulsiveness classes," Fleetwood said.
"We don't open for half an hour, Powder. What the hell do you expect?"
"I expect? Nothing is what I expect. What I want — that's different."
"They're young. They look at you. They don't want to end up like you. So they act differently from you."
Powder suddenly smiled and nodded. "Reasonable. No sane person would want to end up in charge of a bunch of cripples and whiners and children."
Fifteen minutes later, as they both were dealing with paper work, Powder suddenly said, "Suppose you are the father of a twelve-year-old son."
"I said —"
"I heard what you said."
"OK. A year and a half ago your wife ran off with another guy, leaving you and the kid flat. It shook you up, but you've really made an effort with him and the two of you are getting along fine. The kid's doing all right in school and this year he's going out for the freshman baseball team."
Fleetwood frowned. "I thought you said he was twelve."
"He's at high school?"
"His birthday's soon."
"All right," Fleetwood said. Then, "How do I make my living?"
"Factory work, but it varies a bit, so sometimes you're home when the kid is home and sometimes you're not. But the one thing you always do, never fail, is leave a note for the kid when you aren't going to be there when he gets back from school."
"How often is that?"
"Could be three, four times a week."
"Yesterday you weren't there and you didn't leave the kid a note."
"That's what I want you to tell me!" Powder boomed. "Why didn't you leave the kid a note, eh? Why yesterday?"
From behind them a cheerful voice said, "Hello, hello! Where is everybody this morning?"
Powder turned fiercely to Sue Swatts, one of the two junior officers assigned to Missing Persons, and said, "I want to know that too."
"What did I do?" Swatts asked Fleetwood.
By ten o'clock two men were waiting in the office for their turn with the other junior officer, Howard Haddix, who was working "in" for the day.
Sue Swatts asked Powder whether she should help out at the counter. It would mean a delay in preparing the "Have You Seen Them?" leaflet that was Swatt's major task each week. The office now distributed more than six hundred to places where "missing" people might be seen, if the right person was paying the right attention. One of Powder's main strategies was to try to harness eyes in key places throughout the county.
Powder studied the waiting men. "No," he said. "They don't look agitated enough."
Perfectly satisfied with the response, Swatts returned to her work.
At eleven Powder left the office and climbed the stairs to the Computer Records Room on the fourth floor. He passed by a glass-paneled Inquiry bay in the hall and entered the large, open room. He tapped the desk of the nearest officer, who was staring into a visual display terminal with no apparent zeal. "I want to see Lieutenant Tidmarsh. He around?"
The officer nodded without changing the direction of his glaze.
Tidmarsh's door was partly open and when he approached, Powder could see the acting head of the newly expanded computer section concentrating on another VDT. Powder knocked on the door and walked in and sat down. "First rest I've had all day," he said.
Tidmarsh did not look at him.
"You know," Powder said, "the know-it-all brass really get up my nose when they knock me for publicizing the successes we have down in Missing Persons."
"Hello, Powder," Tidmarsh said without looking up.
"They complain because whenever we get a splash in the papers, we get another stack of new cases. Now I just can't see complaining about that. It's like complaining about finding a hundred new people with cancer. The cases are there even if we didn't budget for them. Our real problem is getting the public to come to us, getting them to think we can help. Once we know the real size of the missing persons problem, we can reallocate the appropriate resources to deal with it, and give a better service."
Tidmarsh turned to Powder at last and leaned back in his chair. "I can remember the days when you eschewed publicity, Leroy. In fact, you were the bane of the Press Department because you wouldn't let reporters and photographers in your precious department."
"Ah," Powder said, holding up a hand to forestall more comments in the same vein. "That wasn't the right kind of publicity."
Tidmarsh scoffed mildly. "Keeping busy?" he asked ingenuously.
"They're stacked up three-deep down there, they really are," Powder said.
"What can I do for you?"
"I want any arrest and conviction records on one Sidney Arthur Sweet."
"That's not a problem, is it?"
Tidmarsh put his hands flat together. "No. But you do have a computer terminal downstairs you can use for that kind of thing."
"Oh, I know," Powder said. "But my new operator — have you met him? A kid called Noble Perkins. Sounds like he's fresh from the cornfields, but a wizard on his machines. Young Noble is so busy down there, smoke is almost coming off the keyboard. So I thought I'd save him the bother and come up myself."
"That's very decent of you," Tidmarsh said. "That's one thing they say about you, Powder. You look after your people."
"I think of my role as like that of a basketball coach."
"My job is to give the members of my team the best possible chance to do their jobs."
"Speaking of your team, how is the gorgeous Sergeant Fleetwood these days?"
"Still can't walk," Powder said, shaking his head. "They promised me she'd be sprinting in six months when they sent her along, but it was all bull." Powder shrugged exaggeratedly to show his resignation.
"Come off it, Powder! A genuine heroine, refuses to retire, comes back into service and finds lost kids. Photogenic with it. She's a gold mine for you. And you know it; I read the papers."
"She can do a few things despite her immobility," Powder conceded. "I don't exactly get the cream of the crop in this place. So I have to make do."
Tidmarsh sat in silence a moment.
"Hey," Powder said, "congratulations on your promotion."
"It's only 'acting,'" Tidmarsh said. "But thanks."
"You'll get confirmed, no problem. You're good. I always said you were good. I recognize quality, even if I don't get much of it to work with. Everyone I see is either Hopalong Cassidy on crutches or they got wheat kernels in their hair."
Tidmarsh repeated his silence. Then he said, "I have the feeling that you are leading someplace, Powder. But I can't for the life of me see where."
"Well," Powder said, "funny you should say. But I got this hypothetical question been preying on my mind, and yes, I'd like your professional advice. As the head of the most sophisticated computer section we've ever had here."
"Acting head," Tidmarsh said, without being able to help himself.
"You'll get confirmed," Powder said again. "Everybody knows that."
"What's the question?"
"Strictly hypothetical," Powder said.
"Well, let's suppose that I am a computer guy."
Tidmarsh raised his eyebrows.
"Now I cover the whole damn state of Indiana. I run — actually I work for the guy who runs — the state's biggest central statistical computer service."
Excerpted from Late Payments by Michael Z. Lewin. Copyright © 1986 Michael Z. Lewin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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