Chapter Twenty-Seven

“Good work, Manj,” Tully said. “Damn good work!”

Mangiapane smiled broadly. Due mainly to his following his instincts at the service station, his squad-Lieutenant Tully’s squad-had been given the green light to proceed full force on investigating what was now termed the murder of Stan Lacki.

After Pat Lennon had taken Claire McNern away, Mangiapane’s suspicions were aroused. The more he heard about Lacki’s expertise in things mechanical, the more Mangiapane wondered about this “accident.”

For Lacki to have gotten under that car without safety precautions, he would’ve had to have empirical confidence in that hydraulic floor jack. Lacki would have been willing to bet his last dollar on the reliability of that jack. Lacki was a confident mechanic. But he was not foolhardy.

What had happened to that jack?

Mangiapane ordered the jack dusted for prints.

Then he had the manager examine the tool. There was nothing wrong with it. The oil they had found at the base of the handle had not come from the jack. How did that oil get on the jack? Why?

There was fresh oil on the garage floor as well as on Lacki’s uniform. So the missing car probably had been leaking. Could it have been driven far from the station?

Mangiapane established a priority on the prints. He rounded up as many officers as possible to canvas the surrounding neighborhoods for a suspicious or abandoned car.

Now the division was reaping the benefit of Mangiapane’s careful work.

On the jack handle were prints that partially covered Lacki’s. He had not been the last to touch the jack. Additionally, the handle had been turned as far as it would go to the left. The counterclockwise turn had released the jack.

The scenario now played out that someone had lured Lacki from the safety of the enclosure. Lacki had jacked the car up from the floor and slid under it. Then someone had given the handle a turn, and the car had crashed down on Lacki, killing him.

Then the killer drove away. Not because he or she was afraid to stay and explain an accident to the police, but because the murder was done and the killer needed to get away.

A street-to-street check in the vicinity turned up an abandoned Mercury Grand Marquis two blocks from the station. It had a punctured oil pan. Fingerprints on the wheel and the rear view mirror matched those taken from the jack’s handle. On the underside of the car was blood matching Stan Lacki’s, and fibers matching his clothes.

The case had moved from a tragic accident to first-degree murder. Still to be determined were the motive and an identity to go with the fingerprints.

Nonetheless, Mangiapane was enjoying his current fifteen minutes.

“Zoo,” one of Tully’s officers said over the din, “line two for you? Lennon from the News.

“Pat,” Tully greeted her.

“Zoo, I’m calling about that service station death-Stan Lacki.”

“Yeah, we’re on it.”

Lennon hadn’t expected that. She was unaware of the measures Mangiapane had taken after she left to take Claire home. “Have you done anything about the two extra cars in the garage-the ones that occupied the two hoists?”

“No. Is there something?”

“Yeah, I think so. It just seemed too coincidental that the hoists would be occupied so that Lacki had to use a jack that failed. I’ve got a bunch of bad vibes about this death.”

Without hesitation, Tully brought her up to speed on the investigation. “Now, you were saying something about the cars that were on the hoists? They were there to be worked on first thing, no?”

“Yeah, that was the stated purpose. But I thought it was a little convenient. So I took the license numbers. They’re both leased by a GOB Company. You familiar with it?”

Tully smiled. “Yeah. An acronym for Good Old Boys, Inc. A shadow corporation headed by Billy Bob Higbie. Hey, that’s interesting: Billy Bob might not be adverse to accepting a contract on somebody. Vice has dealt with the GOBs before-everything from protection rackets to prostitution to drugs. If I remember correctly, Billy Bob’s underlings take the fall if they’re caught. We’ve never nailed Billy Bob himself-and we’ve never gone after him for a contract killing.”

“There’s always a first time.”

“You think?”

“What if that’s their plan? They want to get Lacki alone in the station. I already checked with the guy whose place Lacki took. He was called out of town in a hurry after he got a message that there was illness in his family. The illness turned out to be nonexistent. But that puts Lacki in the garage alone. Then Billy Bob’s people bring in two cars late in the day to make sure the hoists are filled and Lacki will have to use the jack.”

“So, a conspiracy! Sounds good. But why?”

“At this point, and with no good reason, I’d say it’s got something to do with the Moe Green case … but I don’t know what.”

There was a long pause while Tully seemed to be listening to someone else. “I think we got your connection,” Tully said finally. “They just found Claire McNern dead.”

“No! God, no! When? Where?”

“Within the past hour. In her apartment.”

“I drove her home from the station.”

“Mangiapane told me.”

“I can’t believe it. I asked if she wanted me to go in with her, but she said no. So I sat and waited till she was inside her building.”

“Initial report says it was suicide.”

“Yeah,” Lennon said bitterly, “just like Lacki was an accident!”

“You took her home, so you know where she lives.”

“Yes.”

“I’ll meet you there.”

By the time Lennon, Tully, and Mangiapane arrived in separate cars, the media was gathering. There were more than a few gripes when Lennon walked past them and disappeared inside with Tully. They all knew Lennon had a beat on this story. But seeing her handed another lead on a silver platter rankled. “She’s a material witness,” Mangiapane said over his shoulder as he passed through the journalists.

The police technicians were at work on their various specialties. One officer had been collating the information as the investigation continued. “Whaddya got so far?” Tully asked.

“So far, it looks like suicide.”

“Give it to me from the top.”

The officer consulted his notes throughout. “The couple downstairs heard a shot-or so they guessed-at about seven this morning.”

“Did they check it out?”

The officer shook his head. “It wasn’t their problem. And it wasn’t going to become their problem as long as they stayed out of it.”

“Ummm.”

“It was the manager of the station her fiance worked for who found her. Seems he brought her car to her-it was being repaired. He knocked at the door-says he wanted to make sure she was all right and to give her the car keys.”

“Did he touch anything?”

“Fortunately, no. But he told us how her boyfriend had been killed earlier this morning. And how they were going to get married. That plus no trace of anything else, plus the gun in her hand added up to suicide. She was real depressed-understandable, I guess.”

“When I interviewed her, I noticed she was left-handed,” Lennon observed thoughtfully.

“Huh …” Tully looked more carefully. “She’s holding the gun in her right hand.”

“Zoo,” Mangiapane called from the doorway, “this is Mrs. Bartholomew. She’s one of the neighbors. This is Lieutenant Tully, ma’am. Tell him what you saw, please.”

“A man. He must have jumped from this window up here. I heard the gunshot and I looked out the window. I was in the kitchen starting breakfast.”

“Did he injure or hurt himself when he landed on the ground?” Tully asked.

“I don’t think so. He kind of rolled when he hit the ground. Then he got up and ran away. He didn’t limp or anything like that.”

“Thanks very much, Mrs. Bartholomew,” Tully said. “Now please go with Sergeant Mangiapane. He’ll take your statement.”

“But I just told you-”

“For the record. You understand.”

“Not really.”

“Manj …”

The sergeant took her arm, in a helpful manner. “Ma’am, would you come this way, please ….”

Lennon’s role as a material witness was over. Neither she nor Tully wished to compromise a mutually beneficial relationship. So, after a few more words with Tully, she left and joined her fellow journalists behind the police line.

Mangiapane returned to Tully. Another officer was recording Mrs. Bartholomew’s statement. “She got a pretty good look at him, Zoo. She thinks she’d recognize him if she saw him again. So Ted’s gonna take her to look at some mug shots. She’s not too happy about that. But she’ll go.”

Tully, contemplating the floor, nodded. “In my gut, it’s as clear as can be. It’s a big jump-but … I think Doc Green set this up. Somehow he got a contract out on McNern and Lacki. And, if he did, he probably included his two children and the other guy, Cameron.

“Manj, get in touch with those three. Tell them what’s happened. Suggest they get some protection-at least until we break this.”

“Sure thing, Zoo.”

To no one in particular, Tully said, “I’d give a lot to toss Green’s apartment. There’s gotta be something in there that would tie him to these deaths. But … we haven’t got enough. We can’t ask for a warrant on a hunch. And we haven’t got any hard evidence.”

Sergeant Angie Moore approached Tully just as he was concluding his soliloquy. “The good guys are winning some.”

“What’s that?” Tully was eager.

“The GOB Company. Some of our guys got looking into that. They rousted several of Higbie’s hangouts. One of the girls-a longtime member of the gang-was pretty pissed off because a younger gal-a recent member-got to pull off a hit. And, as far as anyone could remember, it was the first hit ever pulled off by the gang. They say it was the first contract killing Billy Bob ever accepted.

“Anyway, the two gals were at each other’s throats and running off at the mouth. As a result, we have in custody the perp of the Lacki murder, the perp of the McNern killing, a bunch of gang members, some mad at us, almost all mad at each other, and …” She paused to give Tully the benefit of her dramatic conclusion, “… Billy Bob Higbie himself.”

“Anybody tie the doc into issuing the contract?”

“No … not yet, anyway.”

Even though this spreading web had not yet engulfed Dr. Moses Green-in Tully’s opinion the prime mover-they were getting close. The ice under Green’s feet was getting thinner by the minute.

Meantime, the Good Old Boys network was coming apart. Tully expected great things from the women, who were angry at or envious of each other. Just take the caliber of woman who would join a gang like Billy Bob’s and get a couple of them at each other’s throats and watch the Good Old Boys fragment.

Higbie was in over his head. Drugs, prostitution, protection rackets-crimes such as these Higbie could handle; indeed, he was skilled at them. But homicide was something else, particularly for the neophyte. Almost no other crime held so many pitfalls. At every turn was the chance of making mistakes-mistakes that could return to haunt-and trip up.

If Tully was right-and his gut told him he was-the linchpin- Moses Green-was still not in the bag. And Tully knew he didn’t have enough cause for a search warrant.

Someone giving a good imitation of a disheveled bum walked casually into the crime scene. Tully had worked with Tim Fisher years ago in Vice. While Tully had moved on to Homicide, Fisher had stayed with Vice, refining a technique that continued to improve over the years.

“Word on the street is you’re looking for the guy who put out a contract on a couple of people.” Fisher looked around the room and focused on the dead woman. “This looks like maybe one of ’em. But what’s she doing with the gun? Suicide?”

“That’s what the guy who did it wants us to think.”

Fisher shook his head. “The Higbie bunch. The gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”

“Yeah. You got something?”

“Maybe. I got a snitch-very reliable-who says the doc who’s been in the paper and on TV all the time lately-he’s the guy who put out the contract.”

Tully was elated. “Will you go down and help us get a warrant? I really need this.”

“Hey, why the hell do you think I bothered looking you up if I wasn’t gonna do right by you? Sure, we’ll get your warrant.”

“Thanks, buddy.”

Mangiapane approached, looking positively beatific. “Zoo, one of our guys just got this from dispatch. Doc Green died-just a little while ago. A blue-and-white responded. They report the guy definitely is dead. They wanted to know does Homicide want to take a look?”

“Does a politician kiss babies? Let’s go!”

As he turned, Tully added, “Just so there’s no loose ends call Father Koesler. He’s been in this from the beginning-before we even got into it. Ask him to meet us at the Greens’ apartment.”

En route downtown, Mangiapane asked to be patched through to Koesler. “Father? Father Koesler?”

“Yes.”

“Sergeant Mangiapane here. Lieutenant Tully wants you to meet us at Dr. Green’s apartment right away. Can you make it?”

“Yes, I think so. What’s up?”

“Dr. Green died.”

“Again?”

Contents