When the sun goes down, all bets are off in this gritty, “exhilaratingly alive” crime novel from the author of the celebrated Albert Samson mysteries (The New Yorker).
Two decades on the Night Cover for the Indianapolis PD can wear a cop down. For Lt. Leroy Powder, the difference between right and wrong has gotten as murky as the coffee that gets him through the night.
Burglaries, nickel-and-dime drug deals gone haywire, punks being punks, even a bomb scare—it all comes with the territory. But at the end of a particularly grueling shift, Lieutenant Powder gets a call from an informant who claims he’s found a dead body.
Turns out Johnny Uncle was telling the truth. Beyond that the facts get shaky. Besides the victim’s obvious lack of breathing, the only other certainty is that the hands were sledgehammered postmortem to prevent identification.
Lieutenant Powder has seen his share of by-the-book murders. But something tells the grizzled veteran there’s a killer going way off script. And that the story has just begun—and that the night is far from over.
Night Cover is the 1st 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 © 1976 Michael Z. Lewin
All rights reserved.
"Look, I'm forty-eight years old and I only got seven toes. I don't have the time or the wear left to spend all night teaching a kid how to write a duty roster." Though six-two and looking down a good five inches, the young officer felt his shaking knees put his whole body's balance in question. "Gosh, Lieutenant Powder, I looked at the last two rosters and saw you been on Cover Shift eight straight weeks. I thought you was about due to come on days."
Powder rubbed his face with both hands, as if he had been asleep within the hour. The young officer read it as a gesture of disgust aimed his way because of his stupidity. Powder had been asleep an hour ago; and he did think the young officer stupid.
"Sonny, you go upstairs to the Assembly Room, take your new roster off the board and rewrite it. And when you start, remember I'm the easiest guy you do because you just write my name at the top of Cover Shift and then you start worrying about guys' days and nights."
Powder turned around and left the kid struggling to find something to say that wasn't stupid. But he was too slow and Powder walked away.
On the two flights of stairs up to the detective Day Room, Powder rubbed his face twice more. Didn't help much, but it didn't hurt. He always rubbed his face twice on the stairs.
The kid must have been told about me, he thought. They always tell the new roster men.
There were only two detective sergeants using a room full of desks. 6:46 P.M. Powder walked past the desks to a row of lieutenants' cubbyholes. He looked in each open doorway. Only the last compartment was occupied and the lieutenant there looked up as Powder passed.
"Roy," he said by way of greeting.
"Morning," said Powder, and he walked past to the desk at the end which, in a strange way, he thought of as home. His home-hold on the past — the desk maintained for him in the Day Room as if sometime he would work days regularly again. A choice desk, with the wall behind the swivel chair so he could lean back and scratch his dandruff off on the crags of the plaster. It wasn't the cubbyhole he would rate if he were really on days, but it was a choice desk.
Powder checked for messages, special assignments, projects, phone memos. There weren't any. Sometimes there were.
He turned around and walked slowly back the way he had come in.
"You're working late, Miller," he said to the lieutenant he'd greeted on the way in.
"Yeah," said Miller. He rustled a handful of papers with his left hand.
"Tell me," said Powder, "what's the story on the body we brought in for you last night?"
"Homicide," said Miller without looking up.
"I knew she was killed."
"That was obvious."
"What were the details?"
With a sigh, Miller leaned back and pursed his lips. "What do you want to know, Powder? Chest size? She was kind of flattened out because rigor set in after she was put on her back."
"Information, copper," said Powder. Half pulling rank, though their ranks were equal. He'd been a lieutenant nineteen years and Miller only a year and a half. Half he was pulling race because Miller was black, though in the Indianapolis Police Department all races are equal. "Cause of death. Time of death," said Powder. "Individualizing details," measuring all the syllables, showing he was equally comfortable with long words or short.
Miller sighed and thought he should know better by now than to work late. "Strangulation, but it didn't take place where she was found. Long time since she last ate. It's hard to pin a time," said Miller.
Powder frowned. If he'd been talking to a doctor, he would have asked aggressive questions, but if Miller said it was hard to pin a time, it was hard to pin a time. Reputations abound in a closed society like a police department.
"I know what you're thinking," said Miller. "No, she wasn't raped. We have no apparent motive, and no ID yet. But ... someone went to some trouble to step on her fingerprints."
Eyebrows up. "With what?" asked Powder, remembering she'd looked messy.
"Blunt, heavy, hard object something like a sledgehammer. Put a few on her face for good luck, but all after she was dead."
"Which means the killer thought fingerprints would help us."
"So it would seem," said Miller, not without interest. He didn't dislike Powder, but there was a presumptuousness about him which didn't fit smoothly into a working team.
"I wonder," said Powder. "Is there any relation between toe whorls and finger whorls? You'd think there would be. They might not be exact, but you'd think out of a thousand sets of fingerprints you could eliminate most of them from the toe prints."
Miller smiled wryly. "Down the corridor, turn right for ID. E411."
"Yeah," said Powder. He pushed off the door frame. And walked downstairs to the Night Cover Room of the detective division.
The first call requiring a detective presence didn't come until 7:40. Plenty of time before it for Powder to impress on three detective sergeants just how much confusion the new roster man was going to cause. His fourth sergeant was late.
The call was an armed robbery in Edwards-4, a near-northside neighborhood. No shots fired, but the owner — it was a liquor store — had suffered a suspected heart attack after calling the police, so Powder sent a man to take over from the uniformed patrolman first on the scene.
He sent Alexander Smith, his aged probationer. Alexander Smith, as opposed to Sid Smith, the kid with the beard. Worlds of difference.
"Let him make something out of this one," Powder said to no one in particular after Alexander Smith was out the door.
An hour later things were in hand. The fourth cover detective, Salimbean, had arrived at last and was duly put on report. A couple more calls, but no one hijacking the mayor. Powder caught up with the paperwork in his In-Tray. He'd left a few reports over day because the woman's body had come near the end of the shift the previous night, at 2:15 A.M.
The Cover Lieutenant goes out to take care of bodies himself. And that slows down his read-through of the night's reports prepared by the sergeants, because it gives him a report of his own to write. Not a long one; just enough to give the day man a solid platform to start his work from. Get a medico in, the lab; take some pictures. Follow up any hot leads.
No hot leads last night. Unidentified female body on a vacant lot. Strictly cold last night. And took too long, too.
There's no way you can get through a 2:15 body and all the night's reports before the end of a 3:00 A.M. shift.
At 9:15 Powder had just decided to go downstairs to the coffee machine in the Vending Canteen. But he looked up to see a high-cheeked man in a green shirt and brown jacket come to a halt in front of his desk.
"Lieutenant Powder?" the man asked nervously.
"Who the hell sent you up here?" grumbled Powder. He looked past the man over the half-walls which separated his niche from the desks of his sergeants. Schleutter and Sid Smith were in, working hard with heads low. Jokers.
"I asked downstairs ... I don't know who it was ... and here, at the door, a man said you were in charge."
Powder leaned back and nodded. At that moment Alexander Smith, the probationer, walked into the Night Room leading a handcuffed man.
Now, what had he been sent out to? Armed robbery? Armed robbery. What the hell was he doing bringing him in here?
"Smith! What the hell are you doing bringing a prisoner in here for?" Powder stood up and said to his visitor, "Just a minute."
"I've brought him in for interrogation," said Smith obliviously. "Just wanted to explain why I've been so long. You see, I went out to the liquor store, and the owner there had died, and —"
"Get this man out of here. Don't you know enough to deal with a prisoner before you come in here to tell me how smart you've been?"
Alexander Smith looked chagrined.
"Doesn't anybody know anything?"
Dale Schleutter came over and took the prisoner's arm. "I'll take care of him until you finish with the boss." Before Powder or Alexander Smith could think whether they should complain, Schleutter had led the prisoner out of the Night Room.
"This was your armed robbery, then?" asked Powder.
"Well, no, not exactly," said Smith, who was still excited. "Not the same one. Another one."
"See, we was inside talking to the guy's wife that died in the first stick-up when we heard a shot around the corner and this guy I brought in was sticking up an all-night grocery around the corner from the liquor store."
"Naw, he just wanted to scare the old man that runs it. Boy, Lieutenant, I never seen anybody get his hands up so fast as this guy I brought in when five of us come around that corner. I had to laugh, I really did."
Powder just shook his head. If Alexander Smith had anything to offer the Indianapolis Detective Division, it was luck.
"I'll take him, shall I?" Smith was asking about the interrogation. "I wouldn't be surprised if he was the same guy held up the liquor store. Wouldn't be at all surprised. The description is close."
Powder rubbed his face. Night Cover is one of the assignments probationary detective sergeants get broken in with. They can't do so much harm. "You take him, Smith. He's all yours."
"Gee, thanks, Lieutenant."
Alexander Smith. Thirty-nine and too old to make the change from uniform department to detectives. Too old — anybody knew that. Except the fools at Personnel.
The man with high cheekbones was still standing in Powder's cubicle.
"Sit down, sit down," said Powder as he came back.
The man sat down quickly. "Name is Wilkins," he said.
"How do you do," said Powder, over-enthusiastic by way of emphasizing his pleasure at any relief from Alexander Smith. "I'm Detective Lieutenant Leroy Powder. What can I do for you this fine April evening?"
"Well ..." The man hesitated, despite all the time he'd had to prepare his little speech. "You see, I'm a student at IU Extension." Cough. "A 'mature student' and I'm studying Traffic Management."
"A course of some kind, this is?"
"That's right. City Planning 204867b, Traffic Management in a Congested Society. Tuesday and Thursday." The man coughed again, a nervous little cough. "I've never been in a, um, police station before."
Powder turned slightly in his chair to show his holstered gun more prominently. "Relax. It's just like being at home," he said, and looked at his watch. To offer the guy coffee or not. Would it keep him here longer? Yeah, it probably would. "What can I do for you, Mr. Wilkins?"
"Well, I have a report to do. A term paper, and I had this idea."
Twenty-two minutes later Powder felt martyred. So he sacrificed quality for speed and instead of going downstairs to the Vending Canteen he just walked down the corridor to the Forensic Laboratory. It was still early enough. Forensic works late night but not all night.
"Lock up your daughters," someone said as Powder pushed the lab door open.
"I haven't got the time to mess around. I want some coffee."
"We know, we know. You only got seven toes."
Powder walked over to the large flask which was kept at a perpetual simmer. When some of the putative coffee had passed into a beaker, Powder held the flask up to the light. "Why don't I ever see coffee grounds in this thing?"
Someone across the room mumbled, "Don't ask."
Someone else said, "Make a note, Charlie — we gotta work on some synthetic coffee grounds."
"There's not much left," said Powder as he put it back. "You guys had a lot of time on your hands?"
"You don't think we drink that stuff, do you?" From across the room again.
"Naw, just the freaks down the hall have been celebrating."
"Celebrating? Who?" asked Powder.
"Didn't you hear? Drug Squad got some fancy citation today. Some national thing. You may not have realized it, Lieutenant, but for a city in our classification Indianapolis has an outstanding record against drugs. Recently anyway. Figures are down over the last couple of years."
"I hadn't heard," said Powder. "And they celebrate with your coffee?"
"We offered them some of our other special mixtures ... but they're a pretty straight bunch."
"Freaks," somebody said.
"Well, maybe they get their pleasures elsewhere."
"Cool it, will you? The lieutenant here will think we don't appreciate our best customers."
"Well," said Powder, "it's rough duty. I wouldn't want it."
"Who would? That's what makes you think; but we figured they ought to be providing us with the party supplies, rather than us them."
"Why?" asked Powder.
"We do all their work for them. We spend all day and most of the night telling them what's in the sugar cubes they bring in. Let me tell you, if we didn't have to deal with all this drugs stuff, we'd have a pretty well-staffed crime lab here. But analyzing pocket scrapings for aspirin fragments, it distorts our whole perspective. If we only —"
"Booooo," from the back.
"Don't get him started, Lieutenant."
"Give us a break."
"Yeah," said Powder. "Only we don't make the rules, do we? We're just the slobs who fill the jobs."
"I just wish I got a chance to do my job."
"Well, gentlemen," said Powder, "much as I enjoy your uplifting conversation ..." He poured a little liquid down the sink and rinsed out the beaker.
"Aw, he didn't finish it, fellas. What's the matter, Lieutenant, didn't you like it?"
"Let him go. He's got to get back to work to win himself an award."
"Hey, we never asked him if he wanted a sugar cube for his coffee."
"Hey, Lieutenant, do you ..."
Powder walked slowly toward the Night Room. But before he reached the door, Alexander Smith came out of an interview room and accosted him. "I've interrogated the prisoner."
"And I don't really think he did both jobs."
"Can't get him to confess to the liquor store while he's at it, eh?" said Powder sourly.
"Well, I'd like to see you do any better with him," said Smith earnestly. The refining of a raw detective is a wonderous thing.
"You didn't really think he'd done them both, did you?" asked Powder.
"Well ..." said Smith.
He did. Christ! He gets an armed robbery walking straight into his arms, and he's not satisfied. He has to have two armed robberies.
"Did the man who robbed the liquor store have to fire a shot to scare the liquor-store proprietor?"
"And how much did he get away from the liquor store with?"
"About three hundred."
"And how long after the liquor-store job did the grocery store happen?"
"Twenty, twenty-five minutes."
Powder shrugged. "Take what you're given, Smith. You got the cleanest, easiest armed-robbery arrest that you'll ever get. Just because a dumb kid tries his first stick-up at a two-bit grocery store around the corner from where someone better at it has just done a liquor store. Rotten bad luck which is your good luck. What do you want for nothing?"
"I didn't realize you were back," said Powder as he re-entered the Night Room.
"Just a few minutes ago," said Sid Smith. The other Smith, Sidney R., was a different case. An opposite. Shrewd, ambitious; bearded to disassociate himself from the old guard. At twenty-five, young to be a detective and impatient with it. He was already most of the way through the report on the case he'd been sent to cover.
"I had a guy in here a few minutes ago you would have liked," said Powder. "A student. A scholar. He thinks the booze people get on airplanes is a menace to society."
"Oh?" said Sid Smith. He felt obliged to pay attention. But he felt Powder resented him because he, Smith, was clearly on the way up and oozed competence. While Powder was stuck as a Night lieutenant. How someone gets stuck like that, Smith didn't know. "How does a guy just walk up to the third floor to come to you? I thought they screened them on the first floor."
Powder shrugged. "I got a friend down there who sends them up."
"Some friend," said Sid Smith.
Excerpted from Night Cover by Michael Z. Lewin. Copyright © 1976 Michael Z. Lewin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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