Frustration | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Mystery Bookmark and Share


FRUSTRATION Dallas G. Releford After seven years on the Cold River police force as a member of the homicide division, I’d finally found time to take a two-week vacation without being interrupted. Most of the time, since I was the Cold River homicide division, I had to take my vacations one week at a time. Last month, the city had finally agreed to hire another full-time person to help me with my work as a homicide detective. I was promoted to Lieutenant. You don’t know how happy, how elated I was to see that tall, broad-shouldered, well-muscled man walk into my life. Mark Richards stood six feet with dark brown hair, captivating blue eyes and a snugly grin that made you want to smile back at him. His manner was enticing, charming and I knew that I was going to enjoy working with him. I wondered if he had any qualms about working with a woman cop. Most of the other cops I worked with had become used to seeing me around. I was proud to be working with everyone else on the force. They’d accepted me as part of their team and I’d always felt like we were just one big happy family. I wanted Mark to feel welcome and secure in his job, too. After all, my life might be in his hands someday. The first time I met him, I thought that his grin was silk-screened on his face because it hardly changed even when he was talking. His smile just sort of grew on you. Without it, he was just like everyone else in the department, sad, overworked and underpaid. Knowing that he’d graduated from college two years ago with a nice, crisp degree in criminology, I wondered how long it would take his smile to fade once he’d been subjected to as much torture as I had experienced in my brief career. Wondering if I should enlighten him about police work in a small town, I decided that I better let him find out for himself. I needed a partner, needed one desperately and I was sure looking forward to my vacation. If I scared him off before he even got started, then I’d be working my vacation again as I usually did, or most of it anyway. Mark was a pleasant man, easy to work with, eager to learn the ropes and I was eager to teach him. After two weeks of pushing paper, making tedious telephone calls and walking the streets checking out routine, mundane incidents, he seemed to not mind it at all. Generally, not much happened in a small town like Cold River and most of the time, things were boring, routine and sometimes aggravating. Sure, we had the usual assaults, wife-beatings, shootings, and homeless people being robbed, however, murder, kidnappings and rape were uncommon. Even though I didn’t know it then, that was about to change drastically. On a cold Friday morning in early January, I arrived at the office early hoping to get all my paperwork cleared off my desk before I left for a much-needed vacation in Florida on Monday. Dreaming of warm breezes, warm sunshine and handsome men, I vigorously applied my energy toward cleaning up the paperwork, getting my computer records in order and making out a project list for Mark. Watching the stack of folders on my desk diminish as I worked fervently filing them away after entering information into my computer, I almost didn’t hear the phone ring. “Homicide Division, Officer Blair,” I said curtly, unaware that it wasn’t an outside call. “How can I help you?” “You can help me by getting over to Tri-County Bank as soon as you can, Shannon,” Chief of Police Dan Ripley roared. Sounding excited, which wasn’t one of his usual traits, he said, “And take Mark with you. A bank robbery just occurred. I understand there have been several fatalities. I’ll be over as soon as I can get more details and get an investigation organized.” “Goodness,” I stammered seeing no further use for the two airline tickets lying on my desk. As my dreams of a nice, quiet, warm vacation waned over the horizon like the setting sun, I wondered how I was going to handle a trainee, a new recruit, on an actual case. Ripley didn’t seem to mind that he was a trainee, so I figured he wanted him to get some on the job training. He has to learn the ropes sometime, I thought to myself as I prepared myself for what was to come. Brushing my concerns about Mark Richards aside, I asked, “When did it happen, Chief Ripley? I thought I heard something. I just thought it was the construction crew down the street.” “Moments ago,” he said, eagerly, “get over there quickly. I’m hoping you can get some details that might help us find the robbers before they get too far away. Hurry.” He slammed the phone down and the line was silent. So, what could be worse I wondered? Here I was with a working case, a violent one, a new trainee, and my vacation was shot to hell. I looked at Mark Richards sitting at a desk next to me. Well, Buddy, you’re about to begin earning your money, I thought. “Grab your hat, coat and gun,” I said. “We have work to do.” Mark looked at me with those big, blue eyes, heard the blatant tone of my voice, saw the serious expression on my face, and responded. “What’s up?” “Robbery. Bank, across the street.” “Not more than three blocks from the police station,” he remarked as we hurried out the door. “Brave robbers.” “Either brave, or crazy. We don’t get too many brave criminals around here,” I told him. As we ran toward the bank across the street about three blocks from us ignoring the ice on the sidewalks, I wondered what had really happened. Two black and whites were parked in front of the bank and I heard the eerie scream of an ambulance in the distance. More than likely, it was coming from Cold River Hospital over on Fourth Street, I thought as Mark and I stopped to identify ourselves to the uniformed cop guarding the front entrance to the bank. Even though the incident had just occurred and we were among the first to respond, onlookers, curiosity seekers were already headed our way. I felt sorry for the uniform in front of the building. Mark walked in front of me as if he thought he could protect me from something. Pushing the double doors open, he entered the bank. I followed close behind him. I heard him gasp, hesitate and I nearly walked into him before I realized it. Stepping past him, I nearly fainted. People were screaming, calling for help that I couldn’t give them. Bodies were everywhere, many were squirming in pain, some motionless and I wanted to be anywhere else on earth except in that bank. Mark came up beside me and grabbed my arm. “Are you all right?” I couldn’t answer. Standing there for what seemed like forever, I finally managed to get a hold on whatever it took to get me moving. Then, I saw Mary Templeton, the bank manager coming toward me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what she had to say. Covered in blood, dressed in a long flowery silk dress, Mary looked as if she’d been in a war zone. Perhaps she had. Wondering if we’d just had a terrorist attack, I managed to put one foot in front of the other and walked toward her. Wobbly as she was, I didn’t think the poor woman was much good at walking very far in her condition. I wasn’t doing so well myself and I was a seasoned cop. As I stood facing Mary, my entire life seemed to flash before me and I wondered if I was really cut out to do this job. Brunette, deep riveting brown eyes, trim with a figure that I was proud of and a graduate of Center College in Danville, I had always wanted to be a cop since watching old reruns of Peter Gunn with Craig Stevens as a private detective. The closest I could get to that dream was a job with the Cold River police department as a homicide detective. “Two men,” Mary said in a frantic, shaky voice, “came inside, and told us to get on the floor. Both had ski masks over their heads. Both were Caucasian, one wore a dark green parka and the other one had on a long brown trench coat.” “Calm down, Mary,” I said and meant part of that suggestion to apply to myself. The shock still hadn’t worn off yet and I wondered if it ever would. “I know it’s rough. We have help on the way. What happened? Why did they start shooting?” “They told us to get on the floor. They ordered me to open the safe and give them all the money out of the registers at the teller’s stations. I helped them stuff cash from the tills in bags they’d brought with them. Unfortunately, the safe was already open. Two courier guards were unloading bags of money from an armored car in the rear. They were busy bringing it in through the rear entrance and putting it in the vault. As one of the robbers started for the vault, the two guards came in the back door. Terrified, the two robbers shot them without giving them a chance to surrender. They both appeared to be dead before they hit the floor. Then the shooting started. The robbers seemed to blame us for not telling them about the guards. After shooting several of the customers that were unfortunate to be in the bank and many of the employees, they threatened me, took all the cash from the vault they could carry and left. I picked up the phone and called 911.” “Thanks, Mary,” I said. “We’ll talk later after you’ve been checked out. Right now, just try to remain calm until we can get these people taken care of. The ambulance and the rescue units are on their way.” Looking around me, I didn’t know where to start first. In front of the teller stations, several people had been shot and were lying on the floor with pools of blood under and near them. To the right of the teller stations was a small wooden fence with a swing gate that allowed customers access to the desks and offices of the banks financial aid officers. Beyond that divider, I could see several other people on the floor. Some of them were still alive. Since I was the highest-ranking officer on the scene, I knew my responsibility was to get the injured taken care of and then protect the evidence. The chief and other officials would arrive shortly. Glancing at Mark, I observed that he appeared to be collected, calm, and alert. In fact, he seemed to be more organized than I was. Watching him take notes, make diagrams of where the bodies were located, and attempting to calm worried, hurt and frantic people, I was proud of him. While Mark took notes and attempted to control the situation, collect evidence and calm the people in the bank, I went to the front door and directed the life squad and fire department in. Six people were dead; three female bank employees, one little girl that had been in the bank with her mother who was seriously injured, and an elderly man who’d been standing at the counter waiting to cash his social security check. The bloody check was still clenched in his cold hands. Seventeen people had been seriously injured and all required treatment at the hospital. Standing with Mark and Mary Templeton observing the emergency services people doing their job, I knew that what I was seeing was nothing short of a miracle. Several Emergency Medical Technicians were working feverishly trying to stop the bleeding that was threatening the lives of several of the victims, stitching up wounds that would be fatal if not treated, and moving the wounded on stretchers to the emergency units outside the bank. Within ten minutes after our arrival, the interior of the bank was crowded with medical personnel and police officers. About that time, I felt relieved to see Chief of Police Dan Ripley walk in. At last, Mark and I could concentrate on our investigation and Ripley could handle the other details. Ripley had been on the force for twenty-three years. With a balding head, bushy eyebrows, gold-rimmed glasses, protruding stomach and an eye for detail, he looked more like a banker than a cop. The misrepresentation ended there though, because Ripley always wore a light tan trench coat, a .38 revolver in a holster on his left side and a silver badge in a wallet-like case that he clipped onto his coat pocket. Sometimes, when I was in a good mood, I thought that Ripley looked like Al Capone without the scratch on his cheek. However, I wasn’t in a very good mood and Ripley looked just like the person that could take the heat off me so I could get on with my job. People had been wounded, killed and I was responsible for finding out who had done the killing. I wanted to know who had caused all this misery and I wanted to put them in the gas chamber. “Shannon,” Ripley replied walking over to me, “What in the world happened here? When we got the call, I thought it might be just a routine bank robbery. Now, it looks more like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” Two other officers, James Petrie, a county deputy and Ross Lee a uniformed officer stood nearby listening to the conversation, and for my answer. “Yes sir, it sure looks that way. We don’t have much yet. According to Mary, the bank manager, two men robbed the bank. When two armored car guards came in on them from the rear entrance, they killed them and then went crazy. Blaming the bank employees for not telling them about the guards, they began shooting and didn’t quit until just about everyone in the bank was wounded or killed.” I told him about the rest of what had happened and watched a sullen scowl develop on his face. I was probably angrier about what had happened than he was, but I could see that he was upset. “Shannon, I don’t care if you and Mark have to work twenty-four hours a day, I want whoever did this. The mayor is going to have my butt in the meat grinder if we don’t find these murderers. You can have whatever support you need, extra officers, money, or whatever you need. The state will probably send in some personnel when they hear about this. I’ll make sure they hear about it, immediately. I’ll call them when I get back to the office and let them know what happened. We can use all the resources we can get.” “You got it, Chief,” I said. I wanted them, too. Before I could say anything else, Dan Ripley nodded his head, turned, and walked away leaving Mark and me to figure out the finer details. Then I noticed where he was headed. The mayor was standing near the door staring absentmindedly at the traumatic scene evolving around him. News traveled fast in a small town and I didn’t envy Dan Ripley. He didn’t have answers to any of the questions the mayor was sure to ask him. Mary Templeton was the only witness we had that could tell us anything at all. The other witnesses were being hauled away to the county morgue or to the hospital. A medical technician was talking to her treating some minor scratches she’d received from broken, flying glass. Mary was probably the luckiest woman on the planet. She’d escaped a major shooting with minor injuries. Some of her wounds would never heal, and I knew because I’d been in a couple of scrapes that I’d never be able to forget. When the medical technician finished with Mary, Mark and me approached her. I had a couple of questions that I needed to ask. Mary looked as if she’d finally got over the shock and the force of reality had set in. Realizing what she’d been through, the horror of what she’d experienced, she was now shaking all over with her gorgeous blue eyes dancing like two peas dropped into a glass of water. Aware that she’d been through a lot, I tried to be as casual, calm, and straightforward with her as I could. Clearly trembling, almost frenzied, Mary looked at me with pleading, innocent eyes. “Are you okay, Mary? Are they going to take you to the hospital?” “Yes,” she said, almost numb with fear. “They gave me something to relax me. The doctor thinks I should spend a couple of days in the hospital. He thinks I need bed rest and some counseling.” The doctor she referred to was Doctor Rashid Khan, one of the best doctors in our part of the country. Practically nobody argued with him when he told them they needed medical attention. Mary wasn’t an exception to the rule. She’d do what he told her to do. Dr. Khan had arrived from the hospital only a few minutes after the ambulance and fire units had pulled in front of the bank. Confident that she would receive the best medical care, I turned my attention to my business with Mary Templeton. “Mary, I know you’ve been through a lot today. If you don’t feel like talking for a few minutes, then we can talk to you later. I just thought maybe that you might have seen something else that might help us. Did any of the robbers voices seem familiar?” “It happened … so fast, everything is a blur. One of the men did most of the yelling and he seemed to be in command. He was big, well muscled, almost like a wrestler or maybe a construction worker. His voice was rough, loud and it seemed that he was used to giving orders. Everyone did everything that he asked … there wasn’t any reason for them doing what they did. He didn’t have to do what he did.” “Sometime people are just plain mean,” I told her. “Did his voice seem familiar?” I asked the question knowing that robbers sometimes visited a bank before robbing it or even had an account with the bank. As people used to say, they cased the joint. Some people were just that stupid. They had to know how everything worked, about the normal routine and how many employees were normally in the bank. Few robbers would walk into a strange bank without knowing something about it. I was hoping that Mary could tell us something about the robbers that she hadn’t thought of before. “Maybe,” she said, seeming disoriented. “Several customers that I’ve dealt with have voices similar to his. I don’t think that I will ever forget his voice.” “Could you give us a list and description of those customers?” “Of course, Shannon,” she replied. “I’d be happy to do that. There’s something else about him that I noticed. He held his gun, an automatic pistol, with his left hand. When he handed me a gray bag to put the money in, I saw that his index finger was missing on his right hand. That wasn’t the most distinctive thing about him, though.” “And, what was that?” Mark asked, hastily scribbling notes in a little black notebook that he carried. “He had a tattoo on his right hand. It was a small circle with an arrow through it. At first, I thought it was a heart with an arrow through it, you know, like cupid. I glanced at it again and realized that I’d been right in the first place. It was a circle with an arrow through it, just as I said.” Mark drew a circle and put an arrow through it just like she described it on a blank page of his notebook. Showing it to her, he asked if that was what she’d seen. “Yeah, that’s it,” she said. “But, the arrow was pointed the other way; toward the right and upward.” Mark had drawn the arrow pointing to the left and upward. Mark was meticulous, precise, and detailed. He drew the figure again and showed it to her. Mary told him that it was correct. Grinning, he thanked her and returned to writing his notes. I rarely took notes and tried to commit everything to memory. I was going to love working with Mark; he was like my personal secretary. Staring at Marry Templeton, I wanted to take her in my arms, hug her and tell her that everything was all right, that things would get better, that she’d soon forget what had happened here today. Knowing that such an effort would be futile, that she wouldn’t forget about it for a very long time, if ever, I asked her another important question. “Mary, do you have any idea how much money they got away with?” At first, I thought Mary was elapsing into shock again and then realized that her terrified, tired eyes were just reacting to what I’d said. “You know, Shannon, I think it must be over a half-million dollars. Those guards were bringing in sacks of cash for that new shopping mall that’s going in out on Route 42. Those crooks took most of the cash from the tills, from the bank vault and several bags of the cash. They were so loaded down that they could hardly walk and carry their guns. One of them threw several bags out the door into the street and then proceeded to load it into a vehicle. I never saw the vehicle. I just figured that was what they were doing once they left the bank. Yes, they got away with over a half-million dollars.” “Wow,” Mark said, and I agreed with him. “Wow!” Mary couldn’t tell us much more. We walked over to the photographer who’d arrived before they’d removed the dead bodies. Making sure that he had sufficient photographs to show the condition, orientation, and positions of the victim’s, we agreed that we’d done just about all that we could. Later, we’d interview the other witnesses in the hospital when they were able to talk to us. Personally, I didn’t have too much hope that some of them would make it. From previous experience, I knew the State Police Crime Unit would want to look at the crime scene, collect evidence, and talk to witnesses. I wanted to learn everything I could before they arrived. They might not be willing to share. By four o’clock that afternoon, I was sitting at my desk and Mark was sitting in a swivel office chair in front of my desk. We both had hot cups of black coffee and were prepared for a very long night. We were going over what we’d learned, which wasn’t much, and the dozen or so reports of the officers who’d interviewed witnesses to the robbery. These were customary, routine reports taken from people on the street who’d seen something. Most of them didn’t tell us much. One report, however, caught my attention. Mrs. Regina Caldwell, a mother of three had been in the Dollar General Store across the street, had heard the shots and had walked to the door of the business to see what was happening. Several other people in the store hadn’t been so inquisitive. Mrs. Caldwell had reported seeing two men exit from the bank a few minutes after she heard the shooting. Because they were wearing masks, she hadn’t been able to tell much about them except that one man was much larger than the second man. The heavier man wore a brown, long coat, overall pants and had a ski mask pulled down over his face. I figured he was the man in the trench coat that Mary had talked about. Mrs. Caldwell described a weapon that she thought was an automatic shotgun. He also carried a revolver in his left hand. She remembered that he walked with a limp and didn’t seem to be too concerned about it. Mrs. Caldwell provided the only detailed description of the other suspect that we had. Mary Templeton had been occupied with the larger man and hadn’t noticed much about the other robber. According to Mrs. Caldwell, the other robber was about five feet and six-inches tall, about a hundred and eighty pounds, and she guessed that he was in his early thirties despite the fact that he also had a ski mask over his head. The second man wore a dark green parka, overall pants and was agile. She thought that he might have had blond hair. The agility and mobility was what told Mrs. Caldwell that he was younger than the first man. Mrs. Caldwell watched horrified as they got into an old red Chevrolet truck and drove away. She described the truck as being rusty, dirty, and noisy. Mrs. Caldwell was a very observant, calm witness. She even memorized the license plate number, or most of it. They’d already run the license plate number and the results were in the folder. The truck belonged to Eugene Fuller of Morrow, Ohio. A complete dossier had been written up on Fuller and it furnished us with an excellent profile about him. A quick glance at the profile told me he was our man. Who was the man with him? I passed the file to Mark. He’d have to know everything that I knew. After his hard work, he deserved my full cooperation and support. Appreciative for the good luck, the unusual breaks, we dived into the files and soon had enough information compiled to get an arrest warrant for Platt. Notifying the State Police, the local law enforcement officers and broadcasting an All Points Bulletin, we continued to do our homework well into the night hoping that someone, somewhere would find the subjects that we were looking for. We didn’t leave the office until three o’clock in the morning. It had been a tiresome, horrifying day. Mark arrived at the office next day before I got there. His charming smile greeted me before I even hung my coat on the rack and dropped my laptop on a nearby chair. “Good Morning, Mark,” I greeted him warmly happy that he came back. After yesterday, I was wondering if he’d show up. “What’s going on?” “Good news, very good news,” he said still smiling and I wondered what could be better than a cup of hot coffee. The National Weather Service was warning about a serious snowstorm moving in from Texas and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wanted to go to Florida. “What good news?” “Fuller. They checked the address DMV had and it was correct. The Department of Motor Vehicles registration information indicated that Fuller lived in Morrow, Ohio and the State Police found him. They have the red Chevy, two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars of the money taken in the robbery yesterday and some weapons.” “Great,” I said, jubilant. What could be better? Our luck was holding. Now, if I could just wrap up this case and get on my way to Florida before the storm hit, I’d be doing well. “What about the other robber?” “Fuller isn’t talking and we don’t know who the other suspect is or where he is?” “Whoops,” I complained realizing we couldn’t have all the luck. “Maybe Fuller will talk when we threaten him with prison, or worse.” “I doubt it,” Mark replied. “He’s a tough customer, I hear.” “How did you find out?” “The night desk clerk told me. The State Police called him early this morning. They worked fast. Just about everyone has heard about the robbery. There was a shooting. Fuller didn’t give up easy. He killed one of the state officers. Now, we have another murder charge against him.” “Sorry about that officer,” I said, emphatically. I was sorry that anyone had to die, especially a fellow officer. We usually died hard, violently with little or no warning. Then I remembered all those other people that had died and wondered if there was an easy way to die. They hadn’t done anything wrong and neither had the officer. None of them deserved to die. Only the killers deserved to die. If killers didn’t have victims, then they wouldn’t be killers, I reasoned, somewhat saddened as the good news was blotted out by the dark cloud of bad news. We made it through the morning concentrating on compiling a report that was as flawless as possible and going over our evidence. The last thing we wanted were any discrepancies that would allow a smart, sneaky, conniving attorney to get Fuller off on a technicality. That wasn’t going to happen, if I could prevent it. While Mark focused on finding information about his partner, the second man who’d participated in the robbery, I checked Fuller’s background. He’d led an amazing, dangerous, and deadly life. In prison frequently since he was nineteen years old, Fuller had robbed several small stores, raped his bosses daughter, killed a man in a bar brawl with a knife and had been involved in various other felonies. He’d served half his life in prison. I was curious about the missing finger and the tattoo. Mark had spent most of the morning checking on those two clues. What he came up with substantiated everything that we’d learned about Fuller. The tattoo, the arrow in the circle was the trademark of a prison gang in the Texas prison system. Fuller had served time there, too. He’d lost the finger in a fight. Everything added up, everything made sense and the only loose end we had was the other man. We didn’t know anything about him. Mark hadn’t found out anything about him. Our only hope, unless we had a miracle happen, was that we could get the information from Fuller, and that wasn’t very likely. Our concentration was interrupted by the sound of excited voices at the front of the office around three o’clock in the afternoon. Windows surrounded my office that allowed me to look out at the other people in the main office area. Even though I had been a one-person department, the nature of my work did require that I protect the information that I handled on a daily basis. That was the reason I had one of the few enclosed offices on the first floor. The fact that the disturbance was loud enough to be heard through that wall was surprising to me. Mark and me both arose at the same time, walked to the window facing the front of the building to see what was causing the commotion and were completely appalled at what we saw. Near the front desk, beyond the rows of desks, we saw two State Police officers leading a struggling man into the lobby. The man, tall, wide-shouldered and dark haired, yelled at the top of his voice attempting to break loose from the hold the officers had on him. I don’t believe I ever saw anyone try so hard to avoid justice. That was the first time I saw Eugene Fuller. The state turned Fuller over to us and left him in our care. After he was booked and went through all the other formalities, Chief Ripley, Mark Richards and me interviewed him in the large conference room near Ripley’s office. Two armed guards, county deputies, stood on the outside of the door and one was inside with us. Fuller’s hands were handcuffed behind him and he had leg irons on to prevent him from running. Even with all the restraints, I still felt a little insecure. Fuller looked like he might just be capable of breaking a log chain if you got him mad enough. Touching my automatic weapon on my right hip just to make sure it was still there, I felt a little better. Glancing nervously at Fuller as I entered the room, I wondered if even a shotgun blast would stop him. He was bigger than Paul Bunyon. Fuller was given a seat at the head of the table where we could keep an eye on him. An armed deputy sheriff stood near the wall, behind him. Mark sat on the other side of the table with Ripley sitting next to him. Ripley was nearest to Fuller where he could ask most of the questions. I was as close to Fuller as I wanted to be. I was alone on my side of the table. If Fuller got those chains broken, he could easily grab me. That wasn’t likely to happen, though. The deputy had orders to shoot to kill. We weren’t going to be victims of a mad killer like Fuller. I have to hand it to Chief Ripley, he really got right to the point. Looking directly at Fuller, never flinching, he said, “Mr. Fuller, you’ve been properly processed, read your rights and charged with several crimes. Do you understand your rights? Do you want a lawyer present while we ask you a few questions?” “No,” Fuller said, calmly, “I can take care of myself. I don’t need no lawyer. You all just go ahead and ask your questions.” Ripley didn’t hesitate, didn’t give him a chance to change his mind and I knew that he didn’t really expect Fuller to answer any of the questions. We just had to try because we didn’t have any other choice. “Mr. Fuller, did you commit the crimes that you’ve been charged with, specifically, robbing that bank yesterday, injuring and killing those people?” “Yeah, I did it,” Fuller said. Mark glanced at me and I figured we were thinking the same thing. We hadn’t expected Fuller to confess to the crimes. Was he just stupid or did he have another motive? Ripley kept a straight face. “Who was your partner?” Fuller didn’t say a word for a long time. His eyes never stopped staring at Ripley. “I ain’t gonna’ tell you that,” he finally replied stubbornly like he thought we were going to beat the information out of him. I was all for that, if necessary. “I’d be dead in … well, it just wouldn’t go well for me if I ratted on a buddy.” That quickly perked my curiosity and I saw from the dour expression on Mark’s face that he was curious, too. Why had Fuller started to say that someone would kill him if he gave us the requested information? Fuller didn’t seem like the kind of man that was afraid of anything. Was his partner that dangerous? Mrs. Regina Caldwell had told us that the second suspect was smaller than Fuller. Would Fuller be afraid of someone smaller than he was? Ripley asked Fuller many other questions. Fuller seemed to lose his talkative nature suddenly and without warning. Something had warned him that he was treading on dangerous waters and I supposed that it had something to do with someone that had threatened his life if he talked. I surmised that Fuller didn’t care about himself. He was talkative and not too intelligent. Fuller hadn’t planned that robbery no more than I had done it. He was just a good old country boy that had gotten himself into a lot of trouble. Fuller was a braggart. He wanted all the credit for the robbery because he enjoyed being in the limelight. Fuller was clearly not a very intelligent person incapable of planning a trip to the bathroom. Someone else had done it. Who? Was his partner responsible for planning and implementing the robbery? Frustrated, Ripley told the deputy to take Fuller to jail where he hoped Fuller would reconsider and give us some answers. We’d ask him to sign a confession in the morning with his lawyer present. We had to find answers to several questions before Fuller was transferred to the county jail. I supposed they’d move him there because they could provide more security than we could do at the city jail. You’d be surprised at how quickly the news that one of the robbers had been arrested traveled. Fuller hadn’t even been locked up in the city jail more than an hour before the media showed up. By six, it was on all the radio stations in the area, on the six o’clock news, and I’m sure the newspapers were writing their stories for the morning issue. Mark and me were exhausted from lack of sleep, from constantly reading reports, making unpleasant telephone calls and from worrying about catching the other man before he hurt or killed someone else. Wanting to go home early, we filed our preliminary report with Ripley and told him we’d be on the job early next morning. Ripley was getting ready to leave too. He was strictly a nine to six man. I don’t think I ever saw him stay in his office any longer than he had to. Ripley put on his coat, grabbed his briefcase, and walked out with us. He was in a talkative mood. “I think he’ll talk,” Ripley said as we walked toward the gate by the counter. “He’ll talk when he finally realizes that he’s going to suck gas in that chamber.” “Maybe,” I said. “I most certainly hope so. We need to find out who that second man was.” As we walked through the waist-high gate, a tall man with large, eerie blue eyes was yelling at the desk sergeant. Sergeant Bob Armour was used to people yelling at him and he seemed to be handling it with his usual calm attitude. The man with the big mouth, loud voice was pointing his finger at Armour and yelling louder than ever. Ripley walked toward the desk and we followed. “What’s wrong?” Armour looked up as Ripley approached and seemed happy to see him. “What’s going on, Bob?” Ripley stared at Armour ignoring the tall man who had now stopped his rampaging campaign for attention. “Chief, this is Mr. Casey Platt. Mr. Platt is the husband of one of the victims of the bank robbery yesterday. His wife, Emily was killed. He wants a word with Fuller. I keep telling him that we can’t let him see Fuller. He keeps insisting to be let in to see him.” “That’s right,” Platt yelled. “I want to see the bastard that sent poor Emily to her grave. I want to kill him.” Startled, I stepped back and almost stumbled into Mark. He was standing behind me. Platt was clearly an uneducated man, tough, erratic, and angry. Judging from his appearance, his bib overall pants, stubbly beard and tangled hair, I thought that he might be a farmer. Even from ten feet away from him, I smelled alcohol on his breath. Tears appeared in his eyes and I remembered something my father had told me. An angry, crying man is a dangerous man, he’d said. My dad had been a cop too, until a drunk shot him in the stomach with a double barrel shotgun. The confrontation had drawn the attention of several officers who’d been in the office for one reason or another. As they approached, Platt pulled a revolver from under his jacket and waved it threateningly at them. With Platt facing the cops, Ripley pulled his weapon and I thought the Chief was going to shoot Platt in the back. He didn’t though. Chief Ripley hit Platt over the head with the barrel of his weapon and Platt dropped his own weapon before collapsing to the floor. As the three deputies dragged him away to a jail cell, Ripley holstered his weapon and told Sergeant Armour to book him. “Charge him with everything you can; I don’t want him wandering the streets until this is over. We’ll turn him over to the prosecuting attorney tomorrow.” “Yes, sir,” Armour said. “Bring his sorry ass here,” he yelled after the deputies who were dragging Platt down the hallway like a bag of beans. “We have a little paperwork to take care of before you lock him up.” As we walked down the hall toward the exit, I wondered what would happen next. Platt would clearly have killed Fuller, if he’d been able to get close to him. “Can you believe that?” I asked nobody in particular. “That man walked right into the courthouse, into the police department and threatened to kill a prisoner.” “Happens all the time,” Ripley said. “People are losing faith in the judicial system. Platt probably figures that Fuller will get off with a slap on the hand and he might be right if we can’t get his accomplice.” “Do you really believe that, Chief Ripley?” Mark picked up his pace to catch up with us as we walked down the steps from the courthouse toward the street. “I mean we have several witnesses who saw Fuller inside and outside the crime scene.” “Stranger things have happened,” Ripley responded, “and don’t forget, nobody saw him at the actual crime scene without that mask on. We can connect him to the truck, the money, and the descriptions witnesses gave us are accurate. However, a sharp lawyer might be able to get around that. That’s why we have to cover every angle that lawyer might try to free Fuller. I need a conviction on this case.” “We need the other suspect,” Mark replied. “He might tell us what we need to know.” We knew we had a lot of work to do. With that in mind, we headed home to get some rest. Tomorrow might be worse than today had been. I never slept much that night. All I could think about was that big brute with a shotgun in his hand shooting people. When he’d finished with them, he was coming for me and I was running down a dark hallway without any doors or windows. Awakening, I found my feet on the floor and my blanket at my feet. The monster was getting to me and I knew then as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, that I had to get him first. Convincing myself that Fuller was safely behind bars, I tried to tell myself that he couldn’t hurt me. That was little consolation after the dream I’d had. After going to the bathroom, I tried to sleep again. Sometime in the early morning hours, I drifted off to sleep. Mark picked me up next morning. We’d agreed that since he only lived a few blocks away, that we would take turns driving to work. He hadn’t slept much more than I had. I could see it in his eyes and in his demeanor. His usually pleasant smile had waned and he didn’t talk much. As we turned the corner at Main and Huston, we both gasped. Standing in front of the courthouse steps was several television news crews and a dozen or so bystanders, people interested in what was happening. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was only a little past seven in the morning. Why would people get up so early just to be where a dangerous murderer was in jail? None of those people had been at the scene of the crime when we needed witnesses. Most of them wouldn’t have remembered anything anyway, I decided. People were sometimes amazing, unpredictable and often troublesome. Sometimes, they were stupid. Mark parked his Impala down the street. We wanted to get by the news people, the onlookers and the hecklers without them noticing us. Sadly enough for us, those people blocked all three of the entrances to the courthouse. Walking up Main Street, we braced ourselves for a deluge of questions. Every reporter in the county knew who I was. I couldn’t think of any way of remaining inconspicuous and the only thing I wanted to do at that moment, was to become invisible. As we approached the crowd milling around on the street and the lower steps, I noticed a man carrying a sign that said, Death to Fuller. Below that in smaller letters was written: Girlfriend Killer. The man carrying the sign seemed agitated for some reason. Long blondish hair, deep blue eyes and a hawkish nose set him aside from most of the crowd. The reporters and media people were well dressed and the onlookers were just plain, ordinary citizens with normal hair, clothes and dispositions. Indiscriminately, they looked normal to me. The character with the sign didn’t look anything like them. That man looked like a druggie out of the sixties with long hair, moustache and a full beard. The only thing missing was the bellbottom pants and necklaces. Surveying the rest of the crowd as we walked slowly, purposefully up the sidewalk, I noticed several other similar signs. People wanted blood. People wanted Fuller dead and that sudden realization frightened me. Papa Joe Larson, a potbellied, balding reporter in his early fifties, was interviewing one of the protestors who held his sign up for the camera. Larson worked for one of the local television stations and the residents of the community idolized him. The cameraman moved the mobile unit back and forth covering the man as he spoke, the crowd and of course, the sign that said: Fuller the Killer, SHOULD BE KILLED! Jeez, I thought, Larson always digs in the garbage to come up with his stories. Dread overtook me before we reached the crowd. Not minding the camera’s that were being directed toward us, I was more fearful of the questions that I’d be asked that I didn’t have the answers for. Mark walked alongside me quiet, reserved and expectant of anything, of any eventuality. Seeing a cautious expression on his face as his eyes surveyed the crowd, I became more alert. Perhaps his surly, austere stance made me realize that we were always in danger. The men with the threatening signs didn’t encourage me to feel any differently. We’d reached the first step when the reporters began to approach us and I braced myself, attempted to mentally prepare myself for the worst. Suddenly, the onslaught of reporters turned the other way like a tide retreating in a full assault on the beach. They somehow reminded me of a herd of buffalo turning at the sight of a prairie fire. Wondering why they had lost interest in us, I glanced up at the top of the steps and saw why we’d become less interesting. Chief of Police Dan Ripley and Mayor Max Stephenson were coming down the steps. “Ah, your fine mayor appears,” Mark commented, smirking. “Charming little weasel, isn’t he?” “Better not let him hear you say that,” I told him. The mayor was not a person you wanted to mess with. As a homicide detective, I learned to stay out of politics and keep my nose to the ground. “He’s a personal friend of Ripley’s. They went to high school together.” “Is that right? I heard he nearly lost the last election because some nice folks in the community accused him of, well, let’s say, corruption.” “Yes,” I said recalling the shady events of the last election. “Some of the local opposition forces, namely the people that backed Jim Bentley, accused our honorable mayor of stealing money. Over two hundred thousand dollars was missing from the town treasury and it was never; has never been recovered, as far as I know.” “Nobody has ever investigated?” “Well … yes, sort of. During the campaign, Stephenson claimed that the money was spent repairing roads, removing snow and things like that. He said the computers were to blame. By the time the election was underway, he’d managed to place the blame on so many people—everyone except himself—that the issue was so confused that most people forgot about it or just gave up in complete frustration. Oh, the media ate it up for a while, but Stephenson attacked Bentley so badly bringing up everything negative about him that he could that the media just quit talking about the scandal. Bentley lost that election and won another one.” “Yes, the governor gave him a job as director of fraud investigations under the attorney general. I heard that he’s conducting an investigation aimed at Stephenson and others in the local area.” We’d stopped at the bottom of the steps and were now alone. The crowd, along with the sign-wavers, had moved about halfway up the steps and was listening to what the mayor and Ripley were saying. I was giving what Mark had said some consideration before answering. Yes, I’d heard that the mayor was under investigation because of the missing money. That, however, didn’t mean they would prove that he’d done anything wrong. Politicians were always misplacing money. That was an accepted way of life for the taxpayers. Spending hundreds of dollars for a toilet seat was an accepted practice and nobody complained about it anymore. “So, Mark, why are you interested in the mayor? Do you suspect him of being a bank robber?” I smiled, jokingly. Mark didn’t get it. He thought I was serious. “Of course not. Don’t be absurd,” he said, seeming offended. “I was just thinking that with the State Attorney General’s Office putting so much pressure on him, he’ll have a difficult time winning the election this fall. He’d do well, though, if he could catch the bank robbers and convict them. That just might swing public opinion in his favor.” “Yeah,” I replied, thoughtfully. “That would help him to win and most people around here have probably already forgotten about the money scandal. You’re a good observer, Mark. I need to keep my eye on you.” Blushing, he turned toward the crowd. “Guess we better get to work, huh?” “Unfortunately,” I agreed. “If we can get through this crowd.” Ripley and Stephenson ignored us as we walked by them. Amused by the spectacle of Ripley and Stephenson facing dozens of protruding microphones and cameras, we stopped abruptly and listened. Stephenson was enjoying his time in the limelight. After a deluge of excited questions, he calmly held his hand up to silence the crowd. Enjoying the attention, he said, “Fuller will see the error of his ways, he’ll meet the fate that he assigned to himself when he injured and killed people in our town. He will not get away with it. You have my word on that. Fuller will be taken to see the judge that has been assigned to this case at twelve o’clock today. After entering his plea, he’ll be arraigned for trial and then taken to the county jail down on Dana Street. He’ll be well guarded at all times.” Mark tugged at my arm pulling me away and up the steps. “Jesus. Does he have to tell the whole country about our business?” Following him, I looked back at the circus in front of the courthouse. Mark was right. He shouldn’t be announcing to the world everything that we did. Visions of Jack Ruby pointing that gun at Lee Harvey Oswald flashed into my memory like a cat pouncing on a mouse. “I don’t like that either. Stephenson has a big mouth.” “Do you think someone will try to kill Fuller?” “They already have,” I said. “He will be guarded, though and I seriously doubt if anyone can get to him. Those county deputies are good at what they do. The State Police will be here, too.” We walked on in silence, not saying anything and thinking many things. In our office, we settled into another day of checking background information, interviewing witnesses and cracking silly jokes to keep each other in a good mood. Hating doing paperwork, especially sorting and opening the deluge of mail the homicide division received every day, I assigned that grisly task to Mark. Most of the mail was stupid advertisements, magazines we subscribed to, official police business correspondence such as circulars, letters from the state and things like that. Mark dived into the chore eagerly. I didn’t envy him. After ten minutes of brutally attacking the pile of mail, Mark tossed two letters over on my desk. One of them was from a person named Freddie Vilas. Opening it, I was shocked. Noticing the grim look on my face, Mark arose from his desk, walked over and stood beside me. “What is it?” Mark was curious. He didn’t attempt to read the letter I held in my hand. Mark stood near me curiously staring at it. “I’ll be darn,” I said bluntly. “This letter is from some person named Freddie Vilas and he’s threatening to kill Fuller. How dumb can you get? Doesn’t he know that’s a serious offense?” “Maybe he doesn’t care or maybe he’s just trying to force us to do something?” “Either way, it’s still something we can arrest him for, if we can catch him.” “What else does it say?” Mark stooped over reading the letter while I skimmed down the lines of typewritten text. I ignored him figuring he had a right to know. “Apparently, Jill Claiborne was his girlfriend and she was one of the victim’s in the robbery. He wants to get even with Fuller for killing her.” The department received all kinds of hate mail and nothing became of most of it. I usually filed those kinds of letters in my filing cabinet after sending a copy of them to Ripley. It was up to him to file charges or conduct an investigation. Handing the letter to Mark, I opened the other one. The letter was from a man named, Virgil Blanton and it said about the same thing. His wife, Mary Jo had been killed in the robbery. Although, he didn’t come right out and say he was going to kill Fuller, he did say that he’d like to see him in his grave. I took that to mean that he’d kill him if he got the chance. Handing the second letter to Mark, I instructed him to run the names through the state and federal databanks and see if we could come up with anything on the two men. “And while you’re at it, Mark, why don’t you run Casey Platt’s name, too. He’s that character that threatened Fuller last night. Maybe he has a history of violence or something. The FBI, the IRS or even the armed forces might have something on them. After you’ve done that, we’ll start our search for the second bank robber.” Puzzled, maybe a little ashamed that Cold River had turned into a murder zone, I sat back in my chair and tried to relax for a few minutes, let it all sink in. I, Shannon Blair, detective, was missing something. The world was made up of people, places and things. My father always said that religion, politics and government were the three entities that caused most of the trouble. Which of those three subjects did I need to address to find the answers I was looking for? The way I saw it, I needed to find out who the second man was and hope that he’d tell us what we wanted, needed to know. Lost in my own world, my own problems, I glanced at Mark and saw that he was immersed in the two letters. He read one, laid it down and then read the other. Repeating the sequence of events, he wrote notes in his notebook. I figured that he read those letters at least five times before I finally asked him what he thought. “Looks like they might mean it,” Mark said. “Should we warn Ripley?” I thought about it before answering. “No. We still have a couple of hours yet before they transfer Fuller to the courtroom. Let’s see what we can find out about those three people. We need descriptions, pictures and any other information we can find out about them.” Quietly as a mouse, Mark booted up his computer and began his search. I sat back and thought some more. The world was a ball of mud spinning around in space inhabited by billions of life forms. Everything could be classified as good or evil depending on how you determined good and evil. Men and women made laws that were meant to direct the general population into some kind of order. Men and women broke those laws. That was where I came in. I was supposed to enforce the laws that men and women founded. Somewhere out there was one of those men who’d broken those laws. In order to solve the puzzle, I needed to find him. That wouldn’t be easy and I knew it. Putting the philosophy aside, I made several telephone calls talking to some of the witnesses. While Mark worked on finding out about the three subjects who’d threatened Fuller, I paid a visit to the hospital hoping to talk to some of the other survivors. Only one of the women who’d been seriously injured in the incident was able to talk. The doctor gave me fifteen minutes. I knew I’d have to talk fast. The woman had a brain injury. Shotgun pellets had entered her skull through her left eye and had torn into part of her brain. Dr. Khan told me she would live. I was happy about that. The downside was that she was and would be handicapped. Her left eye was gone and she was paralyzed from her left shoulder down to her left foot. Mrs. Ann Martin had difficulty with her speech because of the incident. The story wasn’t a rosy one and I felt depressed as I followed a nurse into her room. “Mrs. Martin. This is detective Shannon Blair. She’d like to ask you a few questions if you feel up to it.” Mrs. Martin nodded her head and I felt sorry for her. Tubes were running from nearly every part of her body and numerous electrodes were attached to various places giving me the impression that she was more mechanical than human. “I just have a few questions, Mrs. Martin,” I told her, cordially. “Then, I’ll leave you alone. If you get tired and don’t want to talk then just let me know. I don’t want to aggravate you any more than I need to. Do you understand?” She nodded. Walking closer to her bed, I sat in a chair next to her as the nurse left the room. I didn’t want to shout my questions at her so I leaned over and put my head as close to her as I could get without invading her space. Resting my hand on her arm, I applied a gentle pressure to let her know that I was there. She stared at the ceiling. Mrs. Martin appeared to be weak and I didn’t want her to have to expend any more energy talking to me than was necessary. “Mrs. Martin, I know it’s painful for you to recall what happened the other day and I sympathize with you. Do you remember anything about that incident that might help us to catch the men who did those terrible things?” She shook her head. I tried again. “Mrs. Martin, do you remember anything specifically about the big man that robbed the bank?” “He gave orders,” she said trembling. Her voice was weak, almost inaudible; her breathing shallow and her face was pallid. “He … told the slim one to kill … to kill the bitches.” “He meant you and the rest of the women in the bank, is that right?” She nodded. “Did you hear him call the smaller man anything such as a name?” She nodded again. “Filas,” she said. “He called the slim man, Filas.” “Filas?” I’d never heard a name like that. Of course, I was sure that many names existed that I didn’t know about. “Yes, he told Filas … shoot us. I was standing with three … women. Filas pointed a shotgun at us and fired. Most horrible … horrible thing I’ve ever experienced.” “Do you remember anything else? What did he look like? Can you remember that?” “Blond hair, long blond hair, beard maybe. His head was covered with a ski mask. I could see the long hair sticking out from under the back of his mask. Beard seemed to push out the mask in front. It was horrible. I passed out quickly after the pellets hit me in the face. I was lucky, I guess.” My mind was racing almost as fast as my heart as images of the man passed fleetingly through my mind. Seeing the long haired little bastard pointing that shotgun at those women sent chills all over me and my blood ran cold, colder than ice water in Antarctica. Something else bothered me, too. Filas wasn’t the bastards name; his name was Vilas, Freddie Vilas. “Mrs. Martin, could that man’s name have been, Freddie Vilas?” She nodded. “Could have been Vilas.” It was all coming together now. That was the way it was with me. That bank robber had sent us a letter stating that he was going to kill Fuller, but why? Why would he want to kill his own partner unless he was afraid that Fuller would squeal on him? With as much grace and charm as possible and trying to hide my exhilaration, my excitement, I thanked Mrs. Martin for her time, her kindness in seeing me and left the hospital. Why had Vilas said he was going to kill Fuller? Probably to throw us off so we’d do what he wanted us to do, I thought. He wanted us to move Fuller so he’d have a better chance with a long-range weapon. Deer rifles were good for more things than killing helpless animals. Knowing that the threat was real, that the danger was present, that Vilas was really going to kill Fuller, I leaped down the steps from the hospital and walked hurriedly toward my car. Driving into the traffic, the usual mayhem, I headed down Laker Street toward Main. Peeking at the clock on the dashboard, I was appalled to see that it was eleven thirty. I’d intended to be back at the courthouse before they moved Fuller to see the judge. Facing the devastating bumper-to-bumper traffic, I wondered if I were going to make it. While sitting at a red light behind several other cars waiting to make a right turn onto Main Street, I suddenly thought about the crowd at the courthouse that morning. For some reason, I just couldn’t get that kid with the sign off my mind. He had long blond hair, a moustache and a beard. He clearly wanted Fuller dead. God, I thought, what am I going to do? Picking up my cell phone, I called my office hoping Mark would answer. He didn’t. Mark was probably already headed for the courtroom. Amazingly, I couldn’t remember Mark’s cell phone number. Everything was a blur in my mind. I had to hurry. Fuller didn’t have much time left. As I approached the courthouse on Main Street, the traffic just got more congested and slower. Despairingly, I decided to park the car and walk the two blocks to the courthouse. I could probably walk faster than I was driving, I thought as I got out and ran up the street. Several people stood at the top of the steps, at the entrance and I thought maybe they were waiting to hear news about Fuller or perhaps see him. One lone figure stood out from all the rest. Freddie Vilas, short, slim and with long blond hair stood near them. I was halfway up the steps now running faster than ever. I wanted to talk to him and if he was who I thought he was, I wanted to arrest him. Vilas started toward the big double doors and my heart skipped a beat. I was going to be too late. Almost out of breath, my hose tugging at my cold flesh, and my high heels clicking loudly on the concrete steps as I climbed, I yelled out his name hoping that he’d hesitate long enough for me to get to the top. He turned, looked at me and then pulled a gun from under his coat. He fired. As the red-hot lead buzzed like an angry bee through my long black hair near my right ear, I dropped down on the steps while pulling my own weapon. Using the steps for cover, I returned his fire as the people on the landing scattered. Vilas had moved toward the right, away from the double doors and my bullet struck a brick wall behind him. I could see the powdery flakes emanate from the wall. Vilas ducked, fired another shot at me and ran through the double-doors into the courthouse. Vilas was a good shot. He wasn’t good enough. I was still alive and I hastened up the steps with my gun in my hand. I wanted the bastard and I was going to get him. Before I realized it, I was inside the building chasing Vilas down a long hallway. My high-heeled shoes clacked on the shiny tile as I ran. The hall was crowded with people, some of them were law officers, several were onlookers and others were city employees. Vilas shoved his way through the throng of human bodies before anyone realized what was happening. Following him, I finally got through the crowded area of the hall and the only people in front of me now were several deputies standing down the hall talking. Vilas was approaching a deputy sheriff standing by the courtroom entrance. I had to warn him to stop Vilas. I couldn’t yell or even scream. I was almost out of breath. Before Vilas reached the courtroom door, the deputies realized what was happening. Drawing their weapons, they ran toward him. The deputy at the door attempted to stop Vilas. The effort was futile. Vilas shot him in the chest and then shoved the limp body aside as it slumped to the floor. Blood was splattered all over the walls, on the door and blood ran from the deputies wound onto the tiled floor. Vilas ran into the room. I followed him with my weapon held in both hands, ready to kill him, when I got the chance. Inside the crowded courtroom, I stood looking intently for my target. Confusion and horror reigned supreme in the once orderly courtroom as people attempted to grasp the meaning of the armed, blood-splattered man rushing down the isle toward the front of the room. Who was Vilas looking for? Fuller? Moving cautiously, I approached Vilas as two alert deputies at the front of the courtroom pulled their weapons and yelled for Vilas to drop his weapon. They never had a chance to realize their mistake. Their hesitation—because they were afraid they might hit an innocent bystander—cost them their lives. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. I was going to kill him. Vilas turned around facing the first table at the front of the room. With a great amount of apprehension, I saw Fuller sitting there with his lawyer. Directly behind him, I observed Dan Ripley and Max Stephenson. Their faces were turned away from me. For some insane reason, I wondered what they were thinking. The old gray-haired judge was pounding away with his gavel demanding order in his court. I didn’t think that Freddie Vilas was going to cooperate. Within twenty feet of Freddie Vilas, I dropped to my knees on the red-carpeted floor, took careful aim, and froze. The damn judge was in my line of fire. If I missed Freddie, the bullet might just take the judge’s head off. A bullet from my automatic had that terrible capability. It came with the territory. I’d have to get closer, stand up and shoot him from another angle. Before I could do anything, Vilas yelled for Fuller to stand up. Fuller obliged. Fuller was unafraid, disciplined by a hard life in and out of prison, fully aware of his capabilities. Even in cuffs and leg irons, he tried to go after Vilas calling him a traitor, a little scumbag and the mayor’s assassin. Vilas pulled the trigger. Red splotches appeared on the yellow jail clothes that Fuller wore. Fuller slumped over the table knocking a microphone, books and other assorted items on the floor. I moved forward, dropping to the floor as near to the people sitting near me as I could, I aimed and squeezed the trigger. Vilas’s head disappeared. I heard the bullet tear into the paneled wall somewhere behind the judge. Blood, pieces of bone and brain matter splattered on the desk in front of the judge. That old judge was a very wise man. Realizing my predicament, he’d ducked behind the tall desk just before I squeezed the trigger relinquishing control of the situation to me. He’d also saved himself a costly cleaning bill on his attire. The blood and other gore had missed him entirely. As Vilas’s body sailed over the maple-colored, wooden fence in front of him and fell to the floor on the other side, I regained my composure trying to ignore the throbbing feeling in my heart and rushed toward Fuller. If he was dead, we didn’t have anyone left that could tell us anything. Maybe someone wanted it that way, I reasoned. Fuller’s lawyer, Ripley and several other men had taken charge of Fuller before I could reach him. Two medical technicians who’d been in the courtroom were trying to save his life. He wasn’t dead. Mark was beside me with his gun drawn before I knew it. He’d come in the door behind me. “What’re you doing here?” “Catching up on my homework,” I said, despondent. “Lady at the hospital told me about Vilas. I was lucky enough to chase him into the courthouse. Where have you been?” “I was looking for Vilas. He’s got a long history.” “I bet,” I replied moving around the front of the table toward Fuller. They’d taken everything off the table and had placed Fuller on his back on the table. Someone had put his jacket under Fuller’s head. Fuller was breathing deeply, quickly and his chest heaved up and down as if he’d been running for miles. I heard sirens outside. The two medics were frantically working trying to save his life. Blood gushed from a small hole in Fuller’s chest. I could easily imagine that the hole on the other side of him was much larger. Shrugging it off, I told myself that I didn’t even want to imagine that. Ripley and Max Stephenson had taken a position on the other side of the table. Standing over Fuller, Stephenson’s face was as pallid as a marble statue. Fuller opened his eyes and glared at Stephenson. Mark moved closer to Fuller. He stood near Stephenson. “Why?” Fuller still glared at Max Stephenson. Stephenson appeared nervous, shaken by the sudden attention that was drawn to him. “Why did you want me killed?” Max Stephenson glanced around at the people near him. “I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Stephenson declared. “He’s in shock and thinks I’m someone else.” “You, you planned that robbery,” Fuller said. “I’m dying. I know that and I don’t intend going to Hell alone.” “What are you saying, Fuller?” Chief of Police Dan Ripley moved closer and took fullers hand in his. “Surely, you don’t think Mayor Stephenson would do a thing like that. Think about what you’re saying, man. It just can’t be true.” “Yes, it is true,” Fuller proclaimed slowly, weakly, but loud enough for those around him to hear him clearly. “Stephenson was in hock to the city for a lot of money and he wanted to get reelected this year. He hired Vilas and me to rob the bank. We got half and he got the other half. You have to believe me. Stephenson has the money in his safe in his office.” By now everyone was looking suspiciously at Stephenson, including me. Everything was beginning to make sense, at least, some sense. Stephenson was an investor in the bank as well as many other businesses in town. He might have had knowledge about the money shipment and had received the wrong information about the time the armored car guards would arrive at the bank. Perhaps their timing had been off a few minutes. Maybe they were supposed to have arrived hours earlier and had been delayed. I wondered about those things as I stood watching Stephenson’s face change from a pallid ghostly color to crimson. I could see that he was angry and that he wanted to kill Fuller. “I believe you, Fuller,” Mark said. “Stephenson had many motives for doing exactly what you said. If the money is in his safe then he’ll pay the penalty for all that he’s done.” “Thanks,” Fuller said as his breathing became less intensive. Struggling for breath, he said, “Stephenson gave us the wrong information. He said the money would be in the safe. We got there just as the guards were unloading it. That complicated things and I went berserk. I guess I took my frustrations out on all those poor people. I deserve to die because of what I did. I could die in peace if I knew that Stephenson will pay for what he did.” “You can bet on it,” Mark said. “I’m arresting him for planning the bank robbery, for murder, for stealing money from the Cold River treasury and for many other crimes. You can bet he’ll pay for it all.” Fuller spoke no more. He lay still, silent as a beacon on storm tossed seas; dead. Nobody spoke for what seemed like an eternity. Then Ripley said, “Mark, just what do you mean about what you said about Max. Do you have any proof other than what Fuller has accused him of?” “Chief, I have lots of proof,” Mark said sullenly, pulling a badge case from his jacket pocket. “I’m an investigator from the Attorney General’s Office. I’ve been investigating Stephenson for a very long time. Taking a job here was my way of getting close to the mayor so I could find out how he swindled people in this county. I never suspected that he was capable of murder. I guess I was wrong about that part of it. As for proof, yes, I have plenty of that. Several agents from my office have been working clandestinely in various city offices collecting information about what happened to that money. We discovered that Stephenson invested the money in some business deals that went sour on him. In order to finance the businesses and his political activities, he skimmed the money from the city treasury. Several other people in his camp, including the city treasurer, are currently being arrested. When he became alarmed that his activities would be discovered, he planned the robbery and contracted those two men to implement the plan. With Fuller in custody and a threat to him, he ordered Vilas to kill him. Vilas had hoped to kill him when we moved him out of the courthouse. When Shannon approached him, he panicked and ran into the courthouse after Fuller. He probably hoped to kill him and escape before he could be shot or captured. Surprise wasn’t on his side and he got killed. Stephenson probably promised Vilas Fuller’s share for carrying out the contract. Who knows? Maybe Stephenson planned on killing Vilas and taking all the money. Regardless, it’s all over and the state will take charge of Stephenson now.” Looking coldly at Max Stephenson, Chief Ripley said, “You can have him. I don’t have anything to do with criminals except to put them behind bars.” “I sort of thought you might feel that way,” Mark replied. “Most people will see him in a new light. Maybe this will put an end to their frustrations.” Two weeks later, with Max Stephenson scheduled for trial in three months to answer for his crimes, Mark Richards and me went out to dinner for the first time. Luckily for me, it wasn’t the last time. Mark was handsome, intelligent, had aspirations and ambition; just the sort of man I was interested in. Not wanting to spend my life in Cold River, I had a few aspirations of my own. With the case solved, I slipped back into my old routine of investigating such mundane things as stolen cars, convenience store holdups and drug dealers. I wasn’t due another murder for at least a year and maybe not then. Mark was kind, charming and conversational as usual. After dinner, we sat sipping the best champagne the establishment had. Was I surprised to find out that Mark worked for the Attorney General’s Office? You bet I was. I never would have guessed it in a million years. He’d cracked the case before I even had time to consider it, or almost. I admit that I was on the ball and if it hadn’t been for me, Vilas might have killed more people than he did, however, Mark had as much to do with it as I did. As we sat there talking about our future, I was busy trying to think of a way to get him to stay in Cold River a little longer when he solved that problem for me. “I forgot to mention this to you, Shannon,” he said, smiling heartedly, “but the governor liked the way you worked on this case. I’ve been authorized to offer you a job working for the Attorney General’s Office. Will you accept?” “Me? Do you mean that you want me to work with you?” “Of course,” he said, complacently. “You’d probably be working in the same department with me. Then, you’d have to look at me every day.” “Aw,” I stammered, teasing him, “that wouldn’t be so bad. I think that we work well together.” “Sure must be true,” Mark offered. “We solved our first case. Other mysteries must exist that need two good detectives to solve them. We could become a team. I hope you don’t mind paperwork because there’s plenty of it involved in state investigations. We follow paper trails.” He had to mention that word to me. It sort of broke the romantic atmosphere, sent my compassionate thoughts, my emotions asunder, and rendered my vision of a happy relationship into the realm of distress. Although I hate paperwork, I figured that working with Mark would be worth it. As we sat sipping our drinks and enjoying each other’s company, I knew that we had a future together. Mark liked me and I liked him. He was a mover and I was a shaker. With qualities like that, how could we ever be frustrated with each other? The End
Click Here for more stories by Dallas Releford