It was convenient to use Bowling Green, Kentucky as the setting for this story, but the people and what happened are pure fiction. There is no implication it ever did happen or ever will.
Ron knew it was time to retire after Scotty Pearson was elected as the District Attorney for Warren County. Retiring at sixty would cut his pension some, but he’d still be all right once he sold his house and moved to the cabin he’d bought on Kentucky Lake. He’d bought the cabin when real estate prices were down, and it was paid for, so the only expenses he’d have were insurance, taxes, and something to eat.
If he stayed on, Ron knew he wouldn’t be all right. If Scotty did what he’d promised during his campaign, every job in the Bowling Green Police Department was going to change in ways he’d never be able to tolerate. Scottie would take office in a month, and Ron wanted to be gone before that happened.
Scotty was what the asshole called himself, not Scott like a man would have. Scotty was a name people call you when you’re five, just like Ron’s mother and father and all his other relatives called him Ronny up until his voice changed. After that, it was Ron, or if he was in big trouble, his full name of Ronald Eugene Mathews.
Ron had met Scotty Pearson in court a few times. Scotty had started his career as a public defender. As a patrol officer, Ron had worked his fair share of cases involving drugs and prostitution, and a lot of those defendants had been represented by Scotty.
After the first case went to trial with Scotty as the defense lawyer, Ron knew he didn’t like the man. Ron was used to a defense lawyer trying to catch him making two statements that didn’t agree in order to discredit his testimony. That was just part of the job. What wasn’t part of the job was the way Scotty attacked each witness for the prosecution personally.
The first case where he’d come up against Scotty was the trial of a drug user Ron had arrested when he was a patrol officer. He’d found the guy passed out in the doorway of a beauty salon with the needle still in his arm. The EMT’s Ron had called to give the guy a shot of Naloxone both testified the guy would have died if they hadn’t gotten there soon enough.
Scotty didn’t attempt to prove the guy hadn’t been using or offer any mitigating circumstances. Instead, he attacked Ron’s motive for arresting the guy.
“Officer Mathews, what were you doing when you found my client?”
“I was checking out a 911 call about a man passed out a the doorway on Sixth Street. When I got there -”
Scotty had cut him off.
“I didn’t ask you what you found. I just asked you what you were doing. Now, who made this 911 call?”
“I don’t know because they didn’t identify themselves.”
“So, based on an anonymous 911 call, you started walking down Sixth Street looking for someone allegedly passed out in a doorway.”
“Officer Mathews, according to police records, you’ve arrested forty-two people for drug use over the last year, almost one every week. Is that correct?”
“Yes, if that’s what the record says.”
“That’s the most people you’ve arrested for any offense this year isn’t it?”
Ron had shrugged.
“I suppose it is, but that area’s –“
Scotty had cut him off again.
“Officer Mathews, once again, I asked you a simple question that only required a yes or no answer. I didn’t ask you for any other information but you seem to want to defend your actions. Could that be because you took it upon yourself to find someone, anyone, to arrest so you’d look like you were doing your job?”
Ron had started to get aggravated then.
“Sir, with all due respect, I was doing my job.”
Scotty had smiled.
“I see. Isn’t it true that you had a high school friend who died from an overdose of heroine about five years ago?”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“Isn’t it also true that at the funeral, you stated you were going to make a career of getting drug users off the streets?”
“Yes, but –“
“Just a yes or no answer will suffice, Officer Mathews. Now, could it be that you couldn’t find anybody else on that street except for my client and decided to arrest him because he happened to appear to be using drugs?”
Ron was mad by then.
“He didn’t appear to be using drugs. He had the needle still in his arm and he was passed out cold. His pulse was barely strong enough to feel.”
Scotty had looked at the jury, and then back at Ron.
“Was my client endangering anyone else? Remember, all that’s required from you is a yes or no answer.”
By then, Ron was seething.
“No, Sir, he wasn’t.”
“Then why did you arrest him?”
“Because using heroin is against the law.”
Scotty had smiled a patronizing smile.
“So are running through a red light and speeding. Do you arrest every person you see doing those things? It would seem those things pose a more significant danger to the public than some individual using drugs.”
“No, Sir. I work in drug enforcement, not traffic.”
“So, Officer Mathews, you admit that you arrested my client only because you suspected he was using drugs even though he wasn’t a danger to anyone else, and you arrested him only because of what happened to your friend. Isn’t that right?”
The prosecutor had made an objection then.
“Your Honor, Mr. Pearson is putting words in the witness’ mouth. Move to strike that last question.”
The judge had allowed the objection, and the drug user was convicted in the end, but Scotty had left Ron with the impression he wasn’t interested in his clients. Most public defenders would have looked at the evidence and told the guy he should let them get the charges reduced and then plead guilty to shorten the sentence. Scotty was more interested in making the police look like they were out to arrest anybody for any reason they could find, even if that meant his client went to prison for a long time.
Ron wasn’t surprised when Scotty revealed his platform. It was no different from what he’d argued as a public defender.
“For too long, we’ve used our prisons as holding facilities for people who pose no danger to society. Doing so costs the city, county, and state millions every year for trials and more millions to incarcerate people. If this continues, taxes will have to go up, and for what – there are no studies that show incarceration changes anything. If I’m elected, I’ll end the practice of putting people in prison for drug use, prostitution, and other so-called crimes that don’t endanger our citizens.”
Ron didn’t really care if no more junkies and prostitutes went to prison because they weren’t the real problem. What Scotty was promising was going aggravate the real problems – the people who made a living selling drugs and women, and while it might reduce the cost of trials and keeping an offender in jail, the net result would be an increase in crime.
The best source of information about who was dealing drugs came from the drug users the officers arrested and hauled into the station for questioning. They’d usually give up the name of their dealer in exchange for a reduced sentence. That would give the police reasonable cause to arrest the dealer and search his premises for drugs, and if they found anything, the dealer would sometimes be willing to identify his supplier in exchange for a reduction in charges.
Ron had been part of several of these investigations and they had put several major dealers in prison by following the chain. Other dealers had immediately taken over, but at least the situation wasn’t getting worse.
Prostitution, per se, wasn’t really a criminal problem. It was just a woman exchanging her body for cash and not really much different than Ron exchanging his time for a paycheck. The problem with prostitution was that at least some of those women had been forced into selling their bodies either because their pimps had addicted them to drugs or because they’d been caught up in the sex trade operations of the cartels. Even the women who’d entered the trade willingly found it very difficult to leave, so all prostitutes were basically slaves owned by their pimps.
Those women were too afraid to ever say anything to anybody on their own. If they were arrested and threatened with jail time or deportation, they might decide to give the interrogating detective enough information to fill in some of the blanks in an investigation. Ron knew of two cartel members who were currently in prison because the prostitute he’d arrested for soliciting had been more afraid of being sent back to Columbia than she was of the pimp who bought her from the cartel. Her pimp had been more than happy to give the DA the name of the cartel member in order to get the charges reduced from sex trafficking to pandering.
What was most probably going to happen was drug use would increase because the dealers wouldn’t have to worry about a user giving their name when arrested. Sex trafficking would also increase since there would be no prostitutes arrested and therefore little risk of the traffickers being identified.
Ron turned in his paperwork a month ahead of his proposed retirement date. He did this because he knew he’d have to bring another detective up to speed on his open cases. He wasn’t expecting to get assigned to another case, but the day after the Captain signed his papers, he walked up to Ron with a file folder in his hand.
“Ron, hate to dump something like this on you the last month before you retire, but I don’t have a replacement for you yet, and you know the area and a lot of the people who might know something.
“A couple officers arrested a pimp about a month ago on suspicion of sex trafficking. We got an anonymous tip that two of his girls were Philippine nationals, and when we talked to them, they couldn’t produce any ID that proved they were US citizens. You might know him by the name of “Shank”. We couldn’t hold him because neither of the girls would testify.
“Well, he got himself offed last night. Somebody stabbed him in the gut in the alley behind the pawnshop on Sixth.
“I doubt you’ll find anything, ‘cause just like when we hauled his ass in, nobody’s gonna talk, but if we don’t investigate, somebody’ll accuse the department of not caring about the whores and addicts down there. See what you can find out.
“God knows you won’t have trouble finding suspects. From what I hear, he was an asshole’s asshole, always trying to pirate one or two girls from another pimp by promising them more money. Wouldn’t surprise me if one of ‘em decided enough was enough.
The Captain tossed a folder on Ron’s desk.
Here’s the officer’s and EMT’s reports. Walt is still working on the results of his autopsy.”
He grinned then.
“Ron, you’re one lucky son of a bitch. I’d love to say fuck it all and retire, but with a daughter in college, I gotta stay a while longer. Problem is, it isn’t fun anymore and it’s gonna get worse.”
When the Captain left, Ron opened the folder and started reading. The report by the officer who found the body was about what he expected given the area.
The ten blocks of Sixth Street between Adams and Liberty had been vice central since he was a rookie, and it didn’t look like that was going to change anytime in the near future. It was in the older part of what had once been downtown before all the businesses moved out to the malls and suburbs. What was left was a resale shop that operated during the day, a hotel that would have probably been condemned if the Building Commisioner could have convinced somebody to go down and inspect it, three bars, and one pawnshop with heavy steel bars on the windows and door. The rest of the buildings had the windows and doors boarded up with plywood to keep out the junkies and coke heads.
The area was unofficially known in the Bowling Green PD as “Hooker Haven” because when Ron had started patrolling the area, it was where all the hookers in town hung out. Now, there were still hookers, a lot of them, but you could also buy drugs, guns, and about anything else you wanted there if you knew the right person and had enough money. Hooker Haven was the type of place that was going to expand into the surrounding area once Scottie took over the DA‘s office.
Officer Jim Coztek had been just driving down the alley at about two in the morning watching for some hooker giving a guy a blow job or some kid from the wealthy suburbs buying some grass when his alley lights picked out the guy laying on his back beside a dumpster. He’d radioed in his position and then wisely waited for backup and the EMT’s. No officer with a brain would get out of his patrol car alone in that area after dark.
Over the years, Ron had known of two who weren’t quite so smart. One had just made routine traffic stop and had been shot four times when he asked the driver for his license and registration. After a three-month stay in the hospital, he left the force.
The other wasn’t so lucky. He’d called in a possible drug sale in progress and then tried to arrest the parties involved. When his backup got there, the officer was face down in the alley with a bullet in his chest and another in the back of his head.
Neither crime had been solved. It was like the Captain had said. When something happened in Hooker Haven, everybody was instantly struck blind and deaf. Ron couldn’t really blame them for being that way. It was the only way to survive in a jungle ruled by ruthless men who valued life lower than a turd in the gutter.
Once Jim’s backup and the EMT’s got there, Jim and the other officer cordoned off the area while the EMT’s checked to see if the guy was still alive. According to their report, he’d been dead for a while. They couldn’t estimate time of death, but his guts were sticking out of the slash across his belly and there was blood all over the place.
That didn’t sound like a typical stabbing to Ron, so he walked down to the basement to talk to Walt Myers, the coroner.
Walt smiled when Ron walked into the room.
“Hey, Ron, what brings you down to my dungeon today?”
“I need to know what you found with that guy who got stabbed down in Hooker Haven last night.”
“No way in hell was he stabbed. Let me get this guy’s hood sewed back on and then I’ll show you.”
When Walt pulled the long, stainless steel tray out of the cooler and then flipped back the sheet, Ron felt his normal twinge of nausea. He always felt that when he saw a body in the morgue, not usually in the field unless it was particularly bloody, but always in the morgue. It was the smell of death that somehow filtered through the disinfectant odor. He’d learned how to fight it back and hadn’t puked in a morgue wastebasket in twenty years.
The slit in the guy’s belly went from his right side down at an angle and a little past his left groin. Ron could understand why the guy’s intestines were hanging out when the EMT’s examined him. The guy hadn’t been stabbed. He’d been gutted like a butcher would gut a chicken.
“Like I said’, said Walt. “He wasn’t stabbed. It was one cut from start to end. I had to sew it back closed to keep his intestines from pushing back out.”
Ron asked if Walt had any guesses as to the type of weapon used.
Walt shook his head.
“No, nothing I’d hang my hat on. Never seen anything like this in my years in the ER or here. I can tell you one thing though. What ever it was, was sharp enough to shave with. It’s as clean a cut as if a surgeon did it with a scalpel. There’s no tearing along the cut and no bruising where it started. That was a little on his right side, by the way, just a little above his hip bone. That tells me whoever did it was probably left handed.”
“It would take a helluva big knife to do this wouldn’t it?”
Walt shook his head.
“No, just the opposite. There was almost no damage to the organs except a few cuts here and there. I’m guessing something like a box cutter or a knife a wood carver would use, but that's just a guess. A box cutter with a new blade would be sharp enough but not long enough to do much more than open him up like this with just one cut.”
Ron wrote all that in his notebook, then asked Walt if he had a time of death.
“Well, since his pants were open and half his intestines were hanging out of his belly, he cooled out a lot faster than normal. His liver temperature says he’d been dead about two hours when he got here on my table, but I’m thinking it’s more like four.”
“His pants were open? You mean down around his knees?”
“No, just far enough his dick and balls were hanging out too. I figure he was getting ready to take a piss. There’s another thing you need to know too. I think he was probably cut open for a while before he died.”
“How do you know that?”
“One of those cuts I talked about was to his ileocolic artery. It was almost cut through. It would take the guy a long time to bleed out because that artery isn’t all that big. He’d have gone into shock almost immediately so he probably couldn’t move, but if he’d gotten to a hospital within an hour or so, they’d probably have been able to save his life. I figure he laid there in that alley for at least three hours before the officer found him. The pictures the techs took of the blood pool pretty much confirm that.”
“So, whoever killed him meant to do that?”
Walt shook his head.
“No, I think it was just collateral damage. Most of the ileocolic artery is too high and too deep for a short blade to reach it. That’s why most stabbing victims don’t die right away. It’s hard to hit an artery and even if you do, it takes a long time for a victim to bleed out. The ileocolic artery is only close to the front of the abdomen in one place – down by the groin and right where the end of the cut was. Most people wouldn’t know where to make the cut with a short blade unless they’d had medical training.”
“So you think the killer was a pro?”
“I doubt it. The method a pro would use is to stab the guy just under the rib cage with a long, slender blade pushed up and in to reach the aorta and the heart. Just one stab and then a couple flicks of the wrist to slice through one or both, and the victim dies in less than a minute. Pull out the knife and the skin closes and keeps most of the bleeding internal. This was too messy and a pro wouldn’t take the chance the guy could get to a hospital and live.”
Ron went back to his desk and looked up Paul Mason on the NCIC data base. That was the real name of “Shank” in the folder the Captain had given him.
Shank had a long record of arrests but only one conviction. That conviction was when he was twenty and evidently really dumb. He’d approached an undercover officer and said he had a girl looking for a good time if the officer had enough money. Shank really had no defense since the officer was wearing a wire and recorded the whole conversation. He spent a year in prison for that, and another year after he threatened another inmate with a knife made from a toothbrush and a razor blade. That’s where he got the name “Shank”.
There were other charges over the years after that – several for assault and/or battery, even one for attempted murder, but in all cases the victims either wouldn’t testify or had some far-fetched excuse for being bloody and bruised. In the case of attempted murder, the only witness agreed to testify, but she disappeared two days before the trial. With no witness, the DA was forced to drop the charges.
The last charge – sex trafficking – seemed to be a pretty big step up for Shank, but then, it was becoming more common, or at least more reported. He’d seen younger and younger girls standing at the curb in clothes that barely covered them. Once in a while, they’d run an operation with a couple undercover officers and bring in half a dozen before word got out.
On the last operation, they’d found one who was only seventeen. She told them she was from New York and had come to Bowling Green to get away from her parents. She’d been more than happy to call them after the female officer told her what was likely to happen to her if she stayed on the street. Ron was thankful she’d decided to go home and start over. He hoped it would work out.
Ron decided the best place to start would be the crime scene. Since the techs had already been through the area with a fine-tooth comb, there wouldn’t be any evidence left, but he could get a feel for how it probably went down.
Ron spent an hour in the alley behind the pawnshop comparing what he saw to the crime scene photographs the techs had taken.
Years ago, the pawnshop had been a mom and pop shoe store and in the back was a small loading dock that had been used to move boxes from the bed of a truck into the store. The guy was beside the dumpster in front of that dock when the officer found him. Ron could still see the faint outline of the blood pool on the asphalt even after the fire department had hosed down the area. He figured Walt was right about Shank bleeding out. The blood pool was huge.
Ron stood there for a while trying to reconstruct what had probably happened that night. It would have been sometime between ten-thirty and eleven-thirty if Walt’s estimate was right. By then, there wouldn’t be much of a reason for anybody to be in the alley unless some hooker was giving a guy a hand job or Shank was trying to impress one of his girls she should work harder.
Another possibility was that maybe another pimp had gotten tired of Shank trying to steal his girls and decided to make sure that didn’t happen again. There was also the possibility that Shank had tried to climb the ladder too fast and some guy from the local cartel had offed him as a warning to anybody else who wanted to get in on the action at a higher level.
However it happened, for some reason Shank had walked half-way down the alley to the back of the pawnshop and then stopped. Whoever killed him was either already there, had come down the alley later, or had walked with him. Ron knew Shank had gotten there under his own power because Walt said he hadn’t found any bruises or abrasions that would indicate Shank had been tied up or roughed up before he was killed. He did find one scratch on Shank’s face but figured that was at least a couple days old because it had started to heal.
Shank probably knew the person who killed him because there was no evidence the killer surprised him. If someone gets surprised, their first reaction is to get away, but if Shank had tried to run, he’d have been cut on the back. If the killer was somebody Shank didn’t know, Shank would have tried to fight. Fighting would have left a few defensive wounds, probably on his hands and arms, but there weren’t any.
So…who would Shank know who would want him dead?
Like the Captain had said, there were probably a lot of people who were happy Shank was lying in the morgue. Every other pimp would probably be jumping for joy. The pimps on Sixth usually respected each other even though they were in competition. Fighting amongst themselves didn’t do anything except keep customers away, so they’d divided up the area and each kept his girls in his part of the street.
Shank had upset that balance by trying to pirate another pimp’s girls. It wasn’t that any pimp had any feelings for the girls who worked for him because they didn’t. Girls were just merchandise to be sold as long as they were marketable and then tossed to the side when they got too old. It was just that stealing another pimp’s girls showed disrespect, and disrespect wasn’t tolerated down on Sixth Street.
The more Ron thought about that possibility, the more he rejected it. A pimp would beat the shit out of one of his girls who talked back to him or wouldn’t do what she was supposed to do, but none of them had the balls to do even that to another man. In one of the training sessions Ron had taken, a psychologist had told them domination over the girls was a major part of the pimp/prostitute relationship. The pimp was bigger and stronger than most women, but at heart, he was a coward. That didn’t mean a pimp wouldn’t have tried to take Shank out. It just meant he’d have hired someone else to do it. That meant a pro and Walt had already discounted that possibility.
No, it was more likely Shank had tried to get deeper into the trade in girls and someone from the local cartel had killed him. Given the way he was killed, that made a lot of sense.
In the old days of the city, when the Mafia ran the whorehouses and street girls, anybody crossing them would probably have either been shot in public and left where he’d be found or blown to bits with a car bomb. Both were ways of saying, “Don’t fuck with us or this’ll happen to you”, but they were relatively quick and painless ways to die.
When the cartels moved in and took over the drug business, things got a lot more messy. It wasn’t enough to just send the message. The message had to be so horribly gruesome everybody would know the victim had suffered and suffered a lot.
That might explain why Shank’s pants were down too. He’d investigated one case where the cartel hit man had cut off the guy’s dick and shoved it in his mouth. Maybe that was supposed to happen with Shank but the killer got nervous and left before he could do that part
If the killer had been working for the cartel, Ron knew his job was going to be a lot harder. While a girl might rat out her pimp, and if pushed hard enough, a pimp might blab about another pimp, nobody was going to say anything about anybody associated with the cartels. Doing so would mean they’d end up dead and they wouldn’t die very fast.
As Ron surveyed the area, he spotted a security camera above the back door of the pawnshop. If it had been recording last night, he might get a look at what had happened. Ron drove around the block, parked in front of the pawnshop and then went inside.
The woman behind the counter smiled at him.
“Good Morning. I’m Rhonda. What can I help you with?”
Ron walked up to the counter and showed the woman his badge.
“Detective Mathews, Bowling Green Police. I’d like to ask you a few questions, if you have time.”
The woman smiled again.
“Sure. We don’t start getting busy until about noon when everybody wakes up. Are you here about what happened in the alley last night? I can’t believe anything like that would happen here. I mean, I know it’s not the best area in town, but that was just…well, I’m thinking seriously about finding another job now.”
That seemed a little odd to Ron. The techs had cleared the crime scene by eight, and the sign on the door of the pawnshop said it didn’t open until nine.
“What did you hear?”
The woman frowned.
“I always get here about eight to make coffee and take the jewelry and watches out of the safe and put them in the display cases, but I take out the trash first. It’s not safe to take out the trash after we close so I do it every morning. When I took the trash to the dumpster, there were two police officers taking down that yellow plastic tape you see in the crime shows on TV, so I asked them why they were there. They said a man had died in the alley and they were finished collecting evidence so they were taking down the tape.”
“That’s all they told you?”
The woman frowned again.
“Yes, but I grew up on a farm and my daddy butchered a hog every fall. I know what blood looks like, and there was a lot of it still on the ground. I don’t think the man just up and died on his own, not if there was that much blood. I think somebody stabbed him or cut his throat like Daddy did when he bled out a hog.”
The woman shivered then.
“Gives me the creeps just thinking about it.”
She seemed comfortable talking to him, and Ron wanted to keep it that way in case she knew more than she thought she did.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my uncle was a farmer. Where was home?”
The woman smiled again.
“A little town in Central Illinois called Olney, well, a farm about ten miles from there. You probably never heard of it.”
Ron shook his head.
“No, I haven’t. How’d you get to Bowling Green?”
“I can draw and paint, and my high school art teacher said I was good enough I might be able to make a living doing it. I worked at the grocery store in Olney for two years and saved my money. I bought a car then and started driving.”
The woman shook her head and laughed.
“If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have found a guy in Olney, married him, and stayed there. I drove all over, painting what I saw and then trying to sell my paintings to people who ran art stores. A year later, I had about a hundred paintings crammed into my back seat and I was broke. I happened to be in Henderson at the time, so I went looking for a job.
“Henderson was an OK place and I found a job working in a die-cast factory, but it was hard, dirty work. I stayed there long enough to get some money in the bank again, two years I think it was, and then went to Louisville to find something cleaner and easier. I was walking down the street to a job interview as a secretary and passed by this club. There was a sign outside that said they wanted to hire a dancer. It was just a spur of the moment thing, but I went in and applied.
“The man who interviewed me said they were looking for an exotic dancer and it didn’t really matter if I’d never danced before. Well, small town me didn’t know what an exotic dancer was so I asked him. When he said I’d be taking off my clothes except for a G-string…
“Well, I still had a pretty nice figure then, and he said if I was good enough, I’d make a lot more money than if I was a secretary. I was a little worried that first night, but a couple of the other girls helped me and I did OK.
The women grinned.
“I made almost fifty dollars in tips, so I guess the men liked me. I did better after that. I danced there for almost ten years, but I got too old for most of the guys who came in. One of those guys who still liked me was Reggie. Reggie owned pawn shops all over Kentucky, including this one. He always tipped really well, so I’d go sit with him in between dances.
“When I told him I was going to quit dancing, he said he could use somebody to help with his business and offered me a job. When I got here, I found out he wanted me to live with him too. Reggie was a really nice guy and I liked him a lot, so I said I would.
“I lived with Reggie for fifteen years until he passed away. He left me some money, but he left the pawnshops and house to his son. His son didn’t want any part of a pawnshop and didn’t need another house, so he sold them. Harry bought this pawnshop, and since I knew the business and knew a lot of the customers, he kept me on. That was five years ago, and I’ve been here since.”
Ron smiled for two reasons. He liked interesting people and this woman was nothing if not interesting. The other reason was she had to be a strong woman to go through all she had. It took guts for a young girl to start out on her own like that, and more guts to keep going when she failed. Ron liked strong women too.
It didn’t hurt anything that she was a really sensuous woman. Ron had mentally totaled up the years as she told her story and figured her for fifty-two or fifty-three to his sixty. Her face looked that old, and there were a few silver hairs mixed in with the brown, but the rest of her was heavy breasts, a really nice ass from what he could see, and a fantastic smile.
“I saw you have a security camera facing the alley. I was wondering if I could look at the video from last night.”
The woman shook her head.
“I don’t know how to work it and it’s locked in Harry’s office anyway. Harry won’t be in until a little after noon. He works nights because he said it wasn’t safe for me to be here by myself after dark. I thought he was being too protective, but now…”
“He’ll be here at six then?”
“Yes. We’re here together until I leave at five. After that, Harry’s by himself until about eleven. We close at ten, but it takes almost an hour to get the really valuable stuff out of the display cases and back into the safe.”
Ron said he’d be back about six and then left. He was going to come back that night anyway to talk with some of the girls and pimps to see if anyone knew anything. He didn’t think he’d get any information, but it was a box he had to check. He’d stop in at the pawnshop first, have a look at the video, and then start walking the street.
After talking with the woman, Ron had another reason for talking to the owner. Ron always looked for what he called “MOM” to identify a person as a suspect. “MOM” stood for motive, opportunity, and means. If he could tie a person to at least two of those criteria, that person became a suspect and he’d investigate for the third. If he could only identify one, that person became a person of interest.
So far, Ron had some possible motives if the killer was another pimp or a cartel hit man. He did have a possible means – a short, sharp blade like a box knife, but couldn’t tie the weapon to either. He also couldn’t yet place a pimp or cartel hit man at the scene so he had no opportunity to tie opportunity to either.
With the owner of the pawnshop, Harry, Ron had a solid opportunity if Walt was right about the time of the killing, because Harry would have been in the pawnshop when it occurred. He couldn’t tie Harry to a weapon yet, but what store of any kind wouldn’t have at least one box cutter? The only thing he lacked with Harry was a motive, and by talking with him, maybe he could find that as well.
When Ron walked into the pawnshop at six, he was surprised to find the woman still behind the counter. She looked up from the customer she was helping when the bell on the door dinged, and then smiled when she saw him.
A couple of minutes later, the customer left and the woman waved at him. When Ron walked up to the counter, she smiled again.
“I told Harry you were coming and he asked if I could stay until you get done so you wouldn’t be disturbed. He’s waiting in his office. I’ll take you back there.”
Harry wasn’t what Ron expected. He figured Harry would be in his fifties at least. Most pawnshop owners were. Harry looked to be late twenties, early thirties. He pointed to a chair and said, “Have a seat. What can I do for you?”
Ron decided not to question Harry about where he was the night before and just asked for the security camera recording. Harry shook his head.
“Sure wish I could help with that, but I can’t. Apparently, the junkies think there’s a market out there for security cameras. I get somebody in here about once a week trying to sell one. Damned if I know where they get them, but they have to be stolen, so I never take any.
“That kept happening to mine, my alley camera getting stolen I mean. They’d just unhook the cable, unscrew it from the mount and then take off. What I have out there now is just a box with a red light. They stole it once too, but evidently the word’s out that it’s a fake. It still keeps away the punk kids so they don’t beat the hell out of my back door. The real assholes have already tried to get in but that door is made of quarter inch steel and the frame is bolted to the building. A couple tried to bust it in, but they couldn’t and they haven’t tried since.”
“Damn, I hoped you’d have at least a little video of what happened last night.”
“Yeah, I heard about that from Rhonda. Hope that doesn’t scare anybody off.”
Ron chose his words carefully then.
“She…Rhonda…she said you usually stay until about eleven. Did you hear anything out back in the alley?”
Harry shook his head.
“No, but this is an old brick building and the walls are a little over eight inches thick. There could be a war going on out in that alley and I wouldn’t hear it. Why, was the guy shot? Rhonda said there was a lot of blood like he’d had his throat cut.”
Harry could have been trying to find out how much the police knew about the killing so he could come up with a good alibi, so Ron didn’t answer that question. Instead he asked Harry if he noticed anything strange when he left the building.
Harry just laughed.
“You mean something other than the three half naked women who stand on my corner every night, or the guy shooting up in the doorway next door? No, all that was the same. Pretty quiet actually. Usually I’ll see that bastard pimp making the rounds of his girls and collecting what they’ve picked up so far, but I didn’t even see that.”
“Did any of the women look nervous or afraid?”
“Detective, they always look nervous and afraid. If you’d seen what their pimps do to them if they haven’t turned enough tricks, you’d already know that. It pisses me off. I know what they are, but no woman should be treated like that.”
“We know, but we can’t get any of them to testify. Why don’t you call us when that happens?”
Harry stared at Ron for a second before answering.
“Detective, I can do business here only because I don’t get involved in anything else that goes on. If I did…well, two years ago, a guy started another re-sale shop about a block from here. One night he saw a pimp roughing up one of his girls and tried to stop it. Funny how his place caught fire a week later. Well, it would have been if he hadn’t been in it at the time.
“I don’t like what those guys do to their girls, but nothing I can do will stop it, so I’m not taking the risk. Does that answer your question? Now, what else can I help you with?”
“Just one more thing. I need your name and Rhonda’s for my report. I know it sounds dumb, but the pencil pushers have to know everything I do.”
When Ron left the pawn shop, he walked down Sixth talking to people. He knew most of them from arresting them at one time or another. They remembered him and once they knew why he wasn’t going to arrest him, they weren’t afraid to answer his questions.
As Ron had figured, none of them knew anything about the murder except that it had happened. A couple said they’d heard the guy had been shot and another said she heard he was beaten to death with a crowbar, but most only knew the police had found a dead guy in the alley behind the pawnshop. Shank’s girls thought it might be him because they hadn’t seen him yet, but even they weren’t sure.
From there, Ron walked down to Johnny’s Tap, the bar where the pimps spent their time when they weren’t checking up on their girls. His reception there was pretty cold, but he did find out none of them were going to miss Shank at all. As “Ricky C” put it, “The motherfucker got what was comin’ to him.”
Ron had smiled.
“I see he was well liked by all of you. Any idea about how it went down?”
Ricky C looked at Ron and frowned.
“Man, if you’re askin’ if one of us done it, you best git yer ass out the door while you still got two good legs.”
Ron smiled and shook his head.
“I just thought you might have heard something. Personally, I think it was a cartel hit. I don’t know why yet, but if they’re trying to move in, one of you might be next. You see any strange faces around last night?”
Ricky C relaxed a little then.
“Ain’t nobody wants them slant bitches they got. They’s tit’s are too little an’ they cry all the fuckin’ time. Ain’t seen any of them motherfuckers in months.”
He turned to the rest of the group.
“Any y’all seen one lately?”
Ron saw the group shaking their heads.
“Well, if I was you, I’d keep my eyes peeled. You know what they did when they took over the drug market. They’ll do the same with you. You hear of anything or see anything that bothers you, give me a call.”
Ron handed his business card to Ricky C and then left the bar. On his way out, he heard someone say, “Ricky, you shoulda busted his fuckin’ ass instead of fuckin’ talkin’ to him.” As he closed the door, he heard Ricky C say, “Hey man, he might be right. Keep yer shit wired and watch yer sluts until it comes out what happened.”
The next morning, Ron pulled the files on every pimp who’d been arrested on Sixth in the last ten years. He was looking for some connection to the cartel or an investigation into suspicion of murder. He found nothing other than normal arrests for pimping and a few relatively minor crimes like petty larceny and assault. He didn’t think he would, but it was another box to check.
Once he was done with that, he entered Harry Allen into the NCIC database and then waited for the FBI computer to process the request. He’d done that mostly for more information because he still didn’t have a motive. Running all the people involved in a crime through NCIC was just one of his standard procedures. What came back was some information that caused him to move Harry to the top of the suspect list.
Harry was thirty-one and had served in Special Forces during his eight year military career. When he was twenty six, he declined to re-enlist and was working as a mechanic when he got into a bar fight. As a result of the bar fight, Harry was arrested and convicted of assault with a deadly weapon – a lock back pocket knife. The prosecutor had originally charged Harry with attempted murder because he’d been trained by Special Forces in knife fighting. Harry’s lawyer had negotiated that down to a guilty plea of assault with a deadly weapon.
The judge ruled that since Harry hadn’t started the fight, he was sentencing him to one year in the county jail and a year of probation instead of prison. Harry hadn’t been in trouble since, but his knowledge of knife fighting made a stronger case based on “means”.
Ron was also surprised by the information he got from NCIC about Rhonda Richards. Rhonda had been truthful about stripping in Louisville, but she’d forgotten to tell him she’d been arrested for prostitution once. It was only one time fifteen years before and she wasn’t convicted, so it didn’t raise any loud alarms with Ron, but it could be a motive if someone knew and was trying to blackmail her. Ron put Rhonda at the bottom of his list of potential suspects because of that and that she probably had access to a box knife.
Ron logged off the NCIC database and then put what information he had into a matrix. Down the left side of the matrix were the names of his suspects and persons of interest. He didn’t bother to list each pimp. He just made the entry “pimps”. Below that, he put “cartel hit man”.
Across the top were his three “MOM” categories. He then started making notes in the box at the intersection of each name and each MOM category.
First on his list was now Harry Allen. Ron wrote “doesn’t like how pimps treat their girls” in the box for motive, put “trained in knife fighting” and “probable box cutter in store” in the box for means. In the box for opportunity, he wrote “presence at crime scene”.
Ron filled out the matrix with what he could prove and then went back and added what he theorized. It was those theories he’d check out next, but when he looked at the completed matrix, there wasn’t all that much to check.
He was sure every pimp on Sixth had a motive, but with no history of anything violent other than slapping his girls around, none of them had much to investigate. It was possible one or more had hired somebody to do the job, but after thinking some more, Ron didn’t think that was likely. A pimp might have had someone beat the hell out of Shank to teach him a lesson because that would have never been reported. A murder would, and they all knew they’d be prime suspects.
The cartel hit man was a more promising thing to investigate, but Ron knew that was going to take a long time and probably wouldn’t lead him anywhere. If it was a cartel hit man, he was probably sitting in Mexico drinking tequila by now. The cartels never used local people for their dirty work.
That left him with Harry and Rhonda. He had a possible motive for Rhonda, and maybe a weak means, but she didn’t seem like the type and she was also a lot smaller than Shank. He doubted Shank would have just stood there without putting up a fight of some sort.
He then drew a timeline using the information he had. He’d gotten to the scene at nine so that was his starting point. The crime scene techs had left at about seven thirty and the officers on the scene at about eight thirty. Sometime in between the techs leaving and the officers clearing the scene, the fire department had hosed down the alley to wash away the blood. He’d have to call the fire department to find out for sure, but he put the time at eight-fifteen.
Because of the time the murder occurred, Ron’s best suspect was still Harry, so he went to talk to him again.
Ron walked into the pawnshop about four that afternoon. His intention was to talk to Harry first, and if that didn’t yield any results, to talk to Rhonda.
Harry welcomed him into his office and offered a seat, and then asked Ron why he was there. Ron smiled.
“Well, mostly because there’s something you forgot to tell me about your past. You were in Special Forces, right?”
“Yeah, so were a lot of guys. Why?”
“You also served a year in the Monroe county jail for assault with a deadly weapon, right?”
Harry put his hands on his desk and stared at Ron.
“If you think I killed that guy, you’re crazy. Why the hell would I want to kill some two-bit pimp I don’t even know?”
“You told me you didn’t like the way he treated his girls. Maybe you decided to fix it yourself instead of calling the police. A knife is quiet so nobody would hear anything, and you were trained how to use one.”
Harry sagged back in his chair.
“Yes, I know how, and I’ve done it…I was in Iraq and took out a terrorist guard that way. Not something I ever want to do again. That’s why I didn’t re-enlist.”
Ron shrugged again.
“You did in that bar fight.”
Harry sat back up then.
“No, I didn’t. The guy was pissed because I talked to his girlfriend and started after me with a beer bottle. I did pull my knife to try to scare him, but that’s all. I never touched the guy. It was only because he was a friend of the county sheriff I got arrested in the first place.”
“Then why did you plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon?”
“Monroe county is a small county and the guy was pretty popular. I was an outsider. My lawyer told me if I was tried for attempted murder, the prosecutor would bring up my Special Forces training and I’d probably be convicted. That meant at least ten years. If I pled guilty to assault, I was only looking at two, maybe three. I guess the judge must have believed my story, but he still had to sentence me. That’s why I only got a year in county instead of three years in the state prison. Call that lawyer if you don’t believe me.”
“I’ll do that”, said Ron. “Do you happen to have a box cutter?”
Harry frowned again.
“Sure, I keep one out on the loading dock so I can un-box stuff there instead of bringing the boxes inside and then taking them back out. Why?”
“I want it. If you have nothing to hide, you’ll give it to me. If you won’t, I’ll just get a court order and take it anyway.”
Harry stood up.
“I don’t have anything to hide. Want me to go get it for you.”
“No. Just show me where it is.”
Rhonda waved at him when Ron walked out of the pawnshop, but she was busy with a customer and in the process of filling out some paperwork. He decided to see if the techs could find anything on the box cutter before talking to Rhonda again.
Cindy Mason, one of the techs had the box cutter for only half an hour before she called Ron.
“I think I have your murder weapon. It’s the box cutter you brought down.”
When Ron walked into the lab, Cindy grinned.
“I sprayed it with luminol and it was positive where the blade goes into the handle. I dusted it for prints before I took it apart, and got a full set of prints from the handle.
There was blood on the inside when I took it apart so I gave it to Jerry to run the DNA. I sent the prints to the FBI for identification. I won’t have the results until tomorrow, but I can tell you the blood is human and it’s the same blood type a your victim’s.”
When Ron got to his desk the next morning there was a note from Cindy that said “Call me as soon as you get in”.
Cindy was all smiles when he walked into the lab.
“Everything’s back. The blood is definitely your victim’s and the print belongs to a man named Harry Allen.”
Ron looked at the lab report she handed him and then back at Cindy.
“Jerry ran the DNA twice. The FBI computer identification was ninety-five percent certain of the prints, and they verified it by hand.”
Two hours later, Harry was sitting in an interrogation room across the table from Ron. Ron was confident he had the killer but he still wanted to know the motive. Without a motive, the DA would still prosecute, but Harry’s lawyer could probably plea down to manslaughter.
“Mr. Allen, the officers who arrested you explained you have the right to have an attorney present, so if you want one, now’s the time to ask. I have enough to put you away for first degree murder. The box knife from your pawnahop had the victim’s blood on the inside and your prints were all over the handle. With your Special Forces training, any jury will convict you. What I don’t understand is why you killed the guy.”
Harry looked up and frowned.
“I don’t want a lawyer because I didn’t do it. I didn’t have any reason to. I only saw the guy a couple of times when he was talking to his girls when I closed up. I didn’t like what he did to them, but that wasn’t a reason to kill him. Maybe beat the hell out of him, but not kill him.”
“Then how did his blood get on your box knife?”
Harry shook his head.
“I don’t know, but I didn’t put it there.”
“Well, Harry, you’ll have to do better than that to convince me. What I see is that you met the guy behind your pawnshop to tell him to leave his girls alone and when he told you to fuck off, you slashed his belly open and left him to die there. It all fits. You were there, the box cutter is yours, you didn’t like what he did to his girls, what else am I supposed to believe?”
Harry looked up then.
“Maybe I do need a lawyer.”
Harry’s lawyer got there an hour later, but after another two hours of questioning, all Ron had heard was that Harry didn’t have a motive, hadn’t killed Shank, and didn’t know who did.
Ron was sure Harry was the killer, but the lack of a motive other not liking Shank bothered him. The only people who might have that information were the girls on the corner where Harry’s pawnshop was located. At ten that night, Ron drove down to Sixth and parked in front of the pawnshop. He was surprised to see the lights were still on and the sign on the door said “OPEN”. Out of curiosity more than anything, he went inside. Rhonda smiled at him, but to Ron, the smile looked forced.
“Hi Detective Mathews. What can I do for you?”
Ron walked up to the counter.
“I saw the lights were on and wondered who was still here. I didn’t expect you to be.”
Rhonda’s face went from a smile to a frown.
“I didn’t know what else to do after they took Harry away, so I stayed hoping he’d come back. He didn’t and now I’m so scared my knees are shaking. I can’t stay here all night, but I don’t want to go outside by myself.”
“Well, Harry’s not going to come back, not unless he can prove he wasn’t the killer. I doubt that’s going to happen. All the evidence says otherwise.”
“You don’t think he’ll be convicted do you? Harry would never do something like that.
Ron shook his head.
“Harry seems like an OK guy to me, but I’ve seen OK guys do crazy things before. All the evidence points to him, so yes, he’ll probably be convicted.”
“Then I don’t know what I’m going to do. If Harry’s not here, there won’t be a pawn shop and…and…”
Rhonda sobbed then.
“Then I won’t have a job. I’m too old to start over again.”
Knowing what he knew about Rhonda made him feel sorry for her. He put his hand on hers.
“Rhonda, that doesn’t sound like the woman you told me about, the woman who wanted to be an artist and when that failed, took up strip…I mean, dancing for a living. You’ll come out of this all right.”
Rhonda wiped her eyes.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about this since they took Harry away and I haven’t come up with an answer yet. I don’t even know how I’m going to get home tonight. I took a cab to work because my car wouldn’t start, but there aren’t any cabs that will come down here after dark.”
Ron thought for a few seconds. It was against department policy to transport civilians in a police vehicle, but this was different. It was protecting a citizen from harm, and he had no doubts about what could happen if Rhonda started walking down the street.
“Rhonda, I have to talk to a couple of people, but you stay here and I’ll take you home.”
Rhonda looked up and her smile looked genuine.
“You’d do that?”
“Yes. Just sit tight until I come back. You might want to lock the door while I’m gone, just to be safe.”
Ron talked to the three girls standing on the street corner. They said they knew of Harry, but hadn’t really ever met him. They saw him coming out of the pawnshop every night, but he’d never talked to them.
When he asked them if Harry had ever talked to Shank about how he treated them, they all shook their heads. A little blonde who called herself Trixie stepped a little closer to him.
“I guess I can tell you now since Shank’s dead. Detective, if he’d have said anything to Shank, Shank would have burned down the pawnshop like he did that resale shop. We’re glad he’s dead. Ricky C isn’t a choir boy, but he’s a lot nicer to work for.”
Rhonda was ready to go when he knocked on the pawnshop door. He waited until she turned out the lights and then walked her to his car. Once he was behind he wheel, he turned to Rhonda.
When he drove into the drive of the little two-bedroom bungalow, Rhonda touched his hand.
“I can’t thank you enough, but I’m still shaking. Could you come in for a while until I get settled down? I’ll feel safe with you there.”
Ron didn’t view Rhonda’s request as anything he hadn’t done before. He’d often stayed with a woman for an hour or so after her spouse or boyfriend had been taken to jail because he’d beat her up. He didn’t know if there was anything between Rhonda and Harry, but it could be, and he knew women tend to see the worst side of things. If he stayed with her for a while, maybe he could start her thinking about her future instead of worrying. It had worked in the past.
After Rhonda made them a cup of coffee, she sat down on the couch beside him and thanked him again.
“I feel better now. I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but I feel safer. That’s a problem when you’re a woman living alone. You keep reading about this woman or that woman being raped or killed, and that makes you wish you had a man around. I don’t think that’s going to happen with me. I’m too old and too fat.”
Ron sipped his coffee and then smiled.
“You’re not fat, and you’re not too old. You’re a good looking woman. There’s a man out there for you. You just haven’t found him yet.”
“Well, there weren’t any around that pawn shop, not unless I wanted a druggie or a pimp. I don’t go anywhere else except to the grocery store, and it’s mostly women there.
“I get jealous sometimes. I mean they’re there with their wedding rings and sometimes their husbands and their husbands are always touching them. I haven’t been touched by a man since Reggie died. I miss that, the touching. It always made me feel like he wanted me. He did too. We didn’t do it like newlyweds, but when we did, it was really nice.”
“I can understand why he would have.”
Rhonda looked at him and grinned.
“Do you really think that or are you just trying to make me feel better?”
“No, I really think that.”
Rhonda fiddled with her hair.
“Your wife probably wouldn’t like hearing you say that.”
“Well, if I was married, probably not, but I’m not married.”
Ron frowned a little.
“She didn’t like my hours or the fact I couldn’t always call if I was going to be late. We talked about it a lot…well, it was more fighting than talking, and we finally decided to split. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again, so I never tried to find anyone else.”
“You don’t miss it like I do?”
“Being married? Not like I was.”
“No, I mean…being with here.”
“You mean sex? I used to, but it’s been so long, I’ve about forgotten.”
Rhonda giggled then.
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how.”
“No, I haven’t forgotten that part.”
Rhonda’s voice got a little lower and softer then, and Ron felt her touching his hand.
“If you haven’t forgotten how, could you…it always made me feel better, and I really need to feel better.”
She didn’t wait for Ron to answer. She moved to his side and put her arms around his neck.
“Make me feel better…please.”
Ron started to say he couldn’t do that, but when she kissed him, he realized he didn’t want to say no. He hadn’t really forgotten how it felt to have a woman’s breasts pressed into his chest and he hadn’t forgotten how it felt when she gasped and shook as the orgasm swept through her body. It had been a long time, but with her soft voice and kiss, Rhonda had made him remember like it was yesterday.
As Ron walked to Rhonda’s bedroom with her, he was thinking this was a stupid thing to be doing. Nothing can come of it. It’s just her needing to feel like somebody still wants her. He changed his mind when Rhonda pulled the top over her head. It wasn’t just her wanting him. It was him wanting her too.
Rhonda felt great lying beside him with her full breasts against his bare chest and her thigh over his. She rocked her hips when he brushed her left nipple, and he felt the coarse hair on her mound against his thigh. As he kissed her, he moved his hand down over her hips until his fingers brushed that same coarse hair. Rhonda moaned when he stroked the thick lips under the hair, and then pushed her left breast up to his face.
She moaned again when he closed his lips around her nipple and pinched gently, and when he pinched her nipple again, he felt her hand working between them. When she found his cock, she circled the head with her fingertip and then started stroking it with feather light touches.
For Ron, making love with his ex-wife had been an exercise in finding out what she liked and what she didn’t like at the particular time. That was made more difficult because she hardly moved until the orgasm hit her.
He didn’t have to wonder with Rhonda because she seemed to like everything he did. She also didn’t just lay there beside him. She was either kissing him or stroking his cock or both, and every time he touched her, Rhonda would catch her breath or moan.
Ron stroked her breast, then gently rubbed the nipple. Rhonda moaned and then whispered, “more”. When he sucked on that nipple, Rhonda moaned and rocked her pussy up into his hand. When he slipped a finger into her entrance, Ronda gasped and stroked his cock a little faster.
Rhonda started to breathe hard when he slipped a second finger inside her, and she gasped and jerked when he stroked her clit. Ron felt her getting wetter at the same time Rhonda whispered, “Oh God, I want you.”
Before he could do anything, Rhonda pushed herself up, straddled him, and reached for his rigid cock again. For a while, she rubbed the head between her hair-fringed lips, but when she started to shudder every time she stroked his cock head over her clit, Rhonda pushed his cock back, moved her hips around, and then took a deep breath.
When Ron felt his cock slipping inside her, he had to fight the urge to just ram his cock up and as deep inside Rhonda as he could get it. That urge got stronger as soon as his cock was buried in her depths. She raised up and bent over at the same time. Ron felt her nipple brush his cheek, and when he found it and sucked it between his lips, Rhonda made double lurch and gasped.
After that, it was either Rhonda pushing one nipple or the other into his face or bending low enough to lock her lips on his mouth and chase his tongue with hers, and all the while, she moved her body slowly up and down to stroke his cock inside her.
Rhonda was a fantasy come true for Ron. While he hadn’t tried to meet any women since his divorce, he hadn’t stopped thinking about them. In his mind at night, he’d lull himself to sleep with the vision of a heavy breasted woman on top of him, riding his cock, and moaning and jerking every time he touched her thick, stiff nipples.
That was what Rhonda was doing, and it was taking him to the end too fast.
Ron stroked her left breast and whispered, “Rhonda, slow down a little”.
Rhonda gasped, then murmured, “I can’t. I’m almost there”.
Ron felt her hand between them and massaging her clit. Three moans and two slamming strokes later, Rhonda threw her head back, cried out, and started to shake. The contractions and the jerking movement of her passage around his cock took Ron over the edge.
Rhonda continued to make little mewing noises and kept rocking her pussy over his cock for a while, but then eased down on his chest and nestled her cheek against his.
“I feel better now”, she whispered. “Stay with me and make me feel this way again.”
When Ron left Rhonda’s house the next morning, he knew he was going to be late, but he didn’t care. What could the Captain do except chew him out? In another three weeks he was going to retire anyway.
Ron didn’t care because he’d just been with a woman who was more than he thought he’d ever find. They’d made love and then Rhonda had fixed breakfast for them both. When he left, she kissed him goodbye and asked him to come back when he was done working.
Ron had liked Rhonda since they first met, and though he’d only talked to her a few times, he’d started thinking of her as more than just a potential witness. After last night and then this morning, he was thinking maybe she was a woman he could spend his retirement with. It was too soon to ask her anything like that, of course, but she seemed to like him a lot. If they kept seeing each other and it went further than just one night of sex, he knew he’d want to ask her if it could be permanent.
It was silly, he knew. Love didn’t happen that quick. It took getting to know the other person, especially the things they didn’t show to other people, and then deciding those things didn’t matter. He couldn’t help the way he felt about Rhonda though.
When he got to his desk, there was another note from Cindy that said “Call me. It’s important”.
Ron didn’t call. He walked down to the lab. When Cindy saw him she dropped her face and slowly walked over to the door.
“Ron, I might have screwed up. When I dusted the knife for prints and found the full prints on the handle, I stopped looking. This morning, I was boxing it up as evidence and saw what looked like a fingerprint in one of the grooves where your fingers go on the handle that I hadn’t seen before. There was only about half a print, but I lifted it and sent it to the FBI for identification.”
“So you missed a print. It’ll just match the others, and what you already found is enough to convict my suspect.”
“It didn’t match, Ron. It came back as a forty percent match to a woman named Rhonda Richards.”
Ron took the report on the partial print to the DA. The DA shook his head.
“This case was iffy to begin with because Mr. Allen didn’t have total control over the box knife. The defense will probably claim that since the box cutter was outside the building anybody could have picked it up and used it to kill the guy.
“I could have explained that away because it’s not likely anybody else would know where the box knife was kept except Mr. Allen and Ms. Richards. Mr. Allen’s prints were the only ones on it and he was the only one in the pawnshop when the murder occurred.
“With another print on the knife, the defense will argue it was her and that Mr. Allen just used the knife after she did. I can argue that Ms. Richards probably used the knife at some time or other and that explains the partial, but that argument is going to fall apart. If they can’t lay the blame on Mrs. Richards, the defense will claim that the other print could be anybody’s print since it’s only a forty percent match.”
The DA scratched his head.
“Think you can get anything more to confirm the guy was the killer?”
Ron shook his head.
“You know how it is down there. Nobody sees anything or hears anything. I’ve talked to the girls and I’ve talked to the pimps and they don’t know anything. There’s nobody else to talk to unless there was a junkie in that alley, and no jury is gonna believe a junkie. Besides, they don’t shoot up there anyway. They shoot up on the street where there’s enough light to let them find a vein.”
The DA looked at Ron and frowned.
“I guess you let the guy go with our apologies and keep investigating. We can still charge him if you find more evidence.”
Ron couldn’t tell Harry much about why he wasn’t being charged. He just said some new evidence had come to light that made them unable to hold him at this point in the investigation. Ron was careful to add “at this point in the investigation” so Harry wouldn’t think it was over. If Harry thought he was still being investigated, he might do something that would lead to enough new information to convict him. If he thought he’d been cleared, he’d just go on about life as if everything was back to normal.
Harry was still pissed, but he was happy to be out of jail. Ron walked him down to Property, watched Harry sign for his personal belongings, and then watched him leave.
When Ron got back to his desk, he re-read everything he’d written about the case so far. He was looking for some detail he’d missed, something he’d ignored before.
What he found wasn’t in the report. It was in his memory, and when he found it, he knew Harry probably wasn’t the killer. Walt had said the killer was left-handed, but Harry had signed for his belongings with his right hand.
That made Ron think back to the day he’d gone to the pawnshop and Rhonda was busy with a customer. He’d seen her writing something on a form. It didn’t register then because he was in a hurry, but now, it did. Rhonda had been writing with her left hand.
Ron went back to his notes from the first time he’d talked to Rhonda. He’d thought it odd then that she knew what had happened in the alley behind the pawnshop, but her explanation had seemed logical. When he looked at his timeline, it wasn’t logical from a timeline perspective.
He’d gotten to the alley about nine and it was cleared as he expected it would be. There was no crime scene tape and only the faint remnants of a blood pool because the fire department would have washed it away. The problem with Rhonda’s story was the officers would have kept the crime scene tape around the crime scene until after the fire department flushed away the blood. For at least an hour afterwards, the asphalt would still be wet and the faint outline that remained wouldn’t have been visible. It was still a little wet even when he got there.
If Rhonda had seen a blood pool, she had to have been there earlier and she wouldn’t have seen police officers taking down the tape. She’d have seen either crime scene techs collecting evidence or the fire department flushing the site. It was either that or she’d been there before the officer had found Shank. That meant Rhonda had lied to him, and Ron could think of only one reason she’d have done that.
She’d said she wasn’t going to open the pawnshop because she was still shaken up, so Ron drove to Rhonda’s house. She was happy to see him.
“Was last night so good you couldn’t stay away? It was for me.”
Ron put on his stern cop face.
“No, Ronda. We have to talk.”
The look on her face told him Rhonda knew he’d figured it out.
“You better come in. I can’t do this on my porch.”
Ron followed Rhonda inside, and when she didn’t stop to shut the door, he did. When he turned around, she was sitting on her couch with her face in her hands. Ron sat down in the chair beside the couch.
“Rhonda, I think I know part of what happened in the alley that night, but I want to hear it from you.”
Rhonda looked up at him.
“I just wanted him to go away. I didn’t want to kill him. If he hadn’t tried to make me…”
Ron calmly said, “Let’s start at the beginning. Why were you in the alley that night?”
“Because he told me I had to be or he’d burn down the pawnshop.”
“Why did he want you there?”
Rhonda had tears streaming down her face.
“He walked into the pawnshop that morning and said he had a job for me. I told him I already had a job, but he laughed and said it didn’t matter. I was going to go to work for him. He said he had two clients who wanted an older woman and he didn’t have any. He said I looked pretty good and they’d probably like me. Then he said he’d try me out and if I was good enough, he give me to those clients.
“I knew what he was so I told him I was going to call the police if he didn’t leave. He just laughed and said for me to be in the alley at eleven or he’d burn down the pawn shop with Harry still inside.
“I thought he was probably going to rape me right there in the alley, so I took our box knife home with me. I thought if he tried to do that, I’d just cut him on the arm and that would let me get away. Then I could go to the police and they’d arrest him.
“That’s what he was planning to do. He told me to get down on my knees. He said if I couldn’t suck his cock good enough, he’d teach me how, and he was going to fuck me after that. I wasn’t going to do that even if he killed me. I did get down on my knees, but when he unzipped his pants and pulled up his shirt, a swiped my box knife at him.
“I thought he’d just yell and run away but he didn’t. His insides started to fall out and he was squirting blood all over. He stayed standing up for a few seconds, but then he fell down on his back and stopped moving.
“I knew he was going to die, but since nobody had heard what he said to me, it would be like in Louisville. He’d be dead and I’d say what happened, and they wouldn’t believe me and they’d put me in jail for the rest of my life.
“The next day, I went to the pawnshop at seven instead of eight and cracked the back door to see if he was still there. He was but there were police and people walking around so I didn’t go out. I didn’t think they’d suspect me, but I’ve watched enough crime shows on TV to know about fingerprints and blood. I took the box knife and washed it off. I was going to take it back outside when I took out the trash.
When I went outside to take out the trash, the officers were about done and nobody had talked to me, so I thought maybe it would just go away. When you came to the pawn shop and talked to me, I knew why you were there. I just didn’t think you’d accuse Harry.
He told me what you talked about, and when you arrested him, I thought if we got to know each other better, I might be able to convince you he couldn’t have done it. I guess I should have known better and just left town. Now, it’s going to be just like it was in Louisville.”
“What happened to you in Louisville?
Rhonda wiped her eyes with a tissue.
“This guy came up to me after I finished dancing and asked me how much it was to fuck me. I told him I didn’t do that sort of thing and that made him mad. He called the police the next day and told them I’d propositioned him.
“He was the son of some big business owner in Louisville, so the police believed him and arrested me. The only thing that saved me was Reggie found out and somehow got them to drop the charges. That’s when he asked me to come to Bowling Green with him. If he hadn’t done that, I’d have gone to jail, but now, it’s going to happen again and Reggie’s not here to help me.”
“Then last night, that was all fake?”
Rhoda’s face was pleading with him.
“No. It started out to be, but when we…it just felt like I think it’s supposed to feel, and then when you stayed with me…it wasn’t fake, Ron. It was more real than anything I’ve ever done.”
“Am I supposed to believe that?”
Rhonda shook her head.
“No. I know you don’t believe me. It’s true though. I lied to you before, but I’m not lying now.”
Ron knew what he had to do. It was going to be hard for him to do it, but there was no other way.
“Rhonda, you need to come with me now.”
The next three weeks were a whirlwind of activity for Ron. He’d put his house on the market the day after he submitted his retirement papers, and it sold two weeks later. That meant he had to start getting ready to move to the cabin on Kentucky Lake, so he spent one weekend sorting the things he’d need and the next having a garage sale. By the day of his retirement ceremony, he’d hired a mover to pack up everything, haul it to the cabin, and then put it inside.
Ron was proud of the cabin because it was more house than cabin. It had two bedrooms, two baths, a nice kitchen, and a living room with a fireplace. It was high enough off the river it probably wouldn’t see any water if the river flooded, and it sat in the middle of twenty three acres with a view of the lake from the living room windows. It was secluded enough he and Rhonda wouldn’t have to worry about nosy neighbors.
That day when Rhonda told him what happened, he’d made a decision that hurt his professional pride but was the only decision he could live with for the rest of his life. He’d looked at her crying, knew she was telling him the truth, and then considered the situation she’d been in that caused it all.
Rhonda was a nice woman trying to make a living in an area where nice women were rare. She’d done nothing to cause Shank to do what he did, and she’d only been trying to defend herself.
Shank was an infected boil on the ass of society. There was no next of kin that Ron had been able to find, and nobody down on Sixth was going to miss him. In fact, the lives of the girls who’d worked for him had improved. It was just like Ricky C had said – Shank got what was coming to him. He’d be cremated and his ashes put in a vault with all the other unclaimed people. He was no loss to the world. He was just a malignant blip in time.
The case probably wouldn’t go to trial before Scotty took office, and Ron knew that even Shank was what he was, Scotty would charge Rhonda with at least manslaughter to show everybody he was just as tough on murder as he was lax on drugs and prostitution. If he found out Ron and Rhonda had spent a night together, he’d also accuse Ron of being an accomplice to the murder.
Rhonda’s lawyer would claim she feared she was going to be raped so it was self defense under current Kentucky law, but Scottie would just say she’d gone into the alley willingly, probably because Scottie was going to pay her for sex, and had changed her mind. Ron knew the law wasn’t always fair, but he could make it fair in this case.
That afternoon, he’d put Rhonda and her clothes and other things she wouldn’t leave behind in his car and took her to his house. He couldn’t let her try to get her car running and it wasn’t worth much anyway. She was only renting the house, so that wouldn’t be a loss either except for her furniture. He left Rhonda there while he went back to work, and that night, they drove to his cabin. He couldn’t spend the night with her, but promised he’d be back on Friday night and they’d have the weekend together.
The rest of that week, and for the next one, Ron continued talking to the prostitutes and pimps down on Sixth. He knew he wasn’t going to get any new information but it looked like he was doing something to solve the case and it kept him out of the station. Scottie was already issuing new directives about who the police could arrest and who they couldn’t once he took office.
Ron wasn’t worried that another detective would follow any leads to Rhonda. His own notes had nothing in them other than his two conversations with Rhonda at the pawnshop, and he hadn’t added that Rhonda was left-handed. Another detective might talk to Harry and find out Rhonda was gone, but Rhonda had given him a good reason she’d left. Ron had Rhonda call Harry and tell him her mother was sick and she had to go home and take care of her. Somebody might track her back to Olney, but she wouldn’t be there and her parents wouldn’t know where she was.
Two days before he retired all that became insignificant anyway. Micky the Mouth, one of the pimps Ron had talked to, was found dead behind one of the bars on Sixth. His girls said he seemed worried that night, but he didn’t say why. The only other thing they knew is they saw him walking into the alley with a short guy who looked Hispanic.
Micky the Mouth had been nearly decapitated by one hell of a big knife, and like Shank, his pants were down a little. The difference was just like the drug dealer a couple years before, Micky’s dick was stuck in his mouth. That pretty much convinced everyone in the department as well as the DA that there was a cartel takeover going on. It wasn’t likely anybody would spend any more time trying to find out what really happened to Shank.
The night after his retirement celebration, Ron drove to the cabin. It was dark by the time he pulled into the drive and it didn’t look like there were many lights on inside. When he walked in the door, he saw why.
There were candles on the fireplace mantle, candles on the coffee table, and when he walked into the kitchen, there were two candles on the table along with two plates and silverware.
Rhonda was wearing a tight black dress and high heels. Ron didn’t have to look very hard to see she wasn’t wearing a bra under the dress. Even in the candlelight that lit the room he could make out the bumps her nipples made. Rhonda smiled as she handed him a glass of wine. “The steaks we bought are about done, so if you’ll go get out of that uniform, we can eat”.
“The way you’re dressed, I should probably put on a suit and tie.”
Rhonda stroked his cheek.
“This dress is to tease you during dinner. After that, if you’ll light a fire in the fireplace, I think the dress is going to be laying over a chair and I’ll be laying over you, so find something easy to take off.”
They’re happy together there in the cabin on the lake. From Spring through Fall, Ron does a little fishing and raises a garden. Rhonda paints scenes of the lake and surrounding woods. During the winter, they stay inside except to bring in wood for the fireplace and a weekly trip to town. They always need a few groceries and Rhonda needs to make the rounds of the tourist traps where she sells her paintings. People seem to like them and she’s happy about that. It’s what she always wanted to do.
That fireplace gets a lot of use. Rhonda says she likes lying with Ron in front of it and just staring at the flames. When he asked her why, she said they remind her of her life – flaring up only to flicker out again, but then coming back as bright and hot as ever, over and over again.
Ron just smiled when she told him that. Rhonda’s life didn’t do that to her. It was Rhonda dealing with whatever life gave her and coming out on top, and now, she was doing it for him. He thought after one woman he’d never find another, but Rhonda had stirred the embers of his life into flames again. He couldn’t think of anything he could have wanted that would have been as great.