Wednesday, January 28, 2009


© Marta Stephens 2007 all rights reserved

Count them; two years. Frank Gillies had no reason to die on that miserable March night, but my late partner had gotten it into his head to park in front of the Roving Dog Saloon and wait for an informants. I knew about Gillie’s connections. Not who they were or how he managed them, but that they existed.

Time doesn’t heal, it only distort. It plays with your head and won't let you shake poignant details like smells and sounds; that it was raining like hell that night, and Gillies wasn’t taking no for an answer.

Silenced Cry Excerpt ~ Chapter 2

The Roving Dog was a typical joint. Dark walls and sparse lighting managed to hide the stains, but couldn’t mask the stench of what might have slipped through the cracks in the floor. A couple of old men at the bar were too engrossed watching the small, suspended television to notice Harper as he walked through the door.

Harper scanned the room from his perch on a stool at the far end of the bar while he searched for the face of a killer. Across the room, two others were shooting pool. The crisp, crackling sound of billiard balls hitting against one another; the plunk when they sank, a slight pause followed by another clink, were familiar sounds to him. A handful of patrons sat in the booths along the back wall. Each was at a different stage of inebriation. No sign of Mellow.

Harper grabbed a napkin from a nearby stack on the bar and wiped his face.

“Hell of a night, huh?” The old bartender feigned a smile without looking up from the glass he had polished. “What’s your pick?” he asked, carefully placing it on top of the set of clean glasses on the counter.

“Coffee. Blond and sweet.”

The bartender returned with a mug brimming to the edge. Hesitation washed over his face at the sight of Harper’s badge visible beneath his coat. He slowly pushed the mug and the packets of cream and sugar toward Harper, leaned on the counter, and whispered: “You here on business?”

“Depends, did you call?” Harper blew into the mug then took a sip.

“Where’s Gillies?”

“Outside. What about Mellow?”

The man nodded toward the back of the room. “Got here about an hour before I called. Say, Gillies said he’d handle this himself.”

“An hour?” Harper flashed a look into the old man’s eyes. The words tumbled in his head in search for some logic. He raised his mug again and looked over the rim. Mellow came into focus. He was tucked away in the shadows of a corner booth, sidetracked by the woman sitting next to him and the freedoms she allowed him to take. “You sure he’s been here an hour?”

“Yeah, positive. See that?” The bartender thumbed over his shoulder at the Miller Beer clock above the phone. “I’m sure.”

“Doesn’t seem to be causing any trouble. What made you call?” Gillies’ haste and the old man’s delay to call didn’t add up. So far, nothing had.

“I wouldn’t have, except I heard him tell her a thing or two when I served them their last round.”

“Like what?”

The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Couldn’t tell you exactly.” He explained he only got the gist of the conversation. “Sounded like someone ripped him off. I heard him tell her, ‘… won’t be bothered by that mother again.’”

“You called us on that? How do you know he didn’t buy the guy a ticket out of town or something?”

“Anyone else, I wouldn’t have thought twice. But him? Not about to take any chances. You know what these bums are like. Just out of jail; temper’s as hot as his record is long. I’ve known him since he was this high,” said the man, raising his hand to his waist. “He was a punk then, now he’s nothing but a worthless piece of shit. Never hurts to think the worst.” He paused for a moment then whispered again: “So what’d he do? Kill somebody? Heard about the shooting near the overpass. Was it him?”

Harper took a drink. The bartender with the raspy voice knew more than his customer’s taste in booze and arrest record. “What do you know about the shooting?”

“Me? Nothing.”

Harper heard the denial but caught the man’s sideward glance.

“Someone heard the shots. A couple of the guys were talking about it. That’s all.”

“Which guys?”

“Ah, I don’t know. They weren’t regulars – left already.”

“What happened after you served Mellow that round?”

“Nothing. I acted like I wasn’t paying attention. Came back here. Made the call. Look, news in this neighborhood travels fast. I don’t want any problems. Don’t want him to know I’m the one
who called either, understand?”

Harper nodded. “Who’s the woman?”

“Couldn’t tell you her name. She’s in here with a different john every other night. As long as she pays the tab, what she does is her business. The rest of them,” he nodded toward his clientele, “just want to sit around, have a few drinks, and forget their problems. All I’m asking you to do is get him the hell out of here. So go on. Get Gillies in here and do your jobs already.”

“We’ll be waiting outside.” Harper reached into his pocket, pulled out a dollar, and tossed it next to his empty mug. “You’ve got Gillies’ number. Call the minute he starts to leave.”

“What? You’re leaving?” The man thumbed over his shoulder again. “What about him? Aren’t you going to arrest him?”

Harper pulled up his collar. “On what?” He waited for him to say the wrong thing. He wanted to catch him at a lie, to know what he knew. Anything to satisfy his suspicions that he and Gillies
were in cahoots. When he didn’t reply, Harper said: “You just make sure he walks out the front door. Got it?” He was near the door when he heard the bartender call out to him.

“Hey! Hold up. Here.” He held out a capped Styrofoam cup for Harper to take. “This’ll take the chill off the old man for now.”

“Hey Skip.” One of the gents at the bar waved his empty beer bottle. “Need another.”

* * *

“Well? Is he in there?” Gillies held out a towel in exchange for the steaming cup of coffee.

“Yeah. You could have told me you knew the bartender.”

Harper jerked the towel from Gillies’ hands.

“What the hell are ya pissed at? I’ve known Chuck a while.”

“I’m your partner, not your damned stooge. The guy knows more about what went down tonight than I do.”

“Don’t take it personal. We got the call. That’s all that matters. What’s Mellow doing?”

“Getting drunk with a whore,” Harper said squeezing the water from his hair.

“Shit, don’t need him drunk tonight.”

“Your friend claims he overheard Mellow telling her he got robbed.”

“That a fact?”

“Yeah. Here’s another news flash. He claimed Mellow was in the bar an hour before he called you. How do you figure that? How the hell does a guy kill someone two miles away while he’s sitting in a goddamned bar?”

Gillies took a drink of his coffee and pressed his lips. He stared straight ahead in silence. Harper could see it, even in the dark. How Gillies froze while the wheels in his head turned and the gears screeched into reverse trying to find another way out. Harper had seen that same look on the faces of criminals when the walls of incarceration closed in on them.

“Must be mistaken,” said Gillies.

“Did you tell him about the shooting?”


“He knows. How the hell does he know about a shooting clear across town minutes after it happened?”

“Mellow must have told him,” said Gillies.

“Shit. Mellow shouldn’t even be in there.”

“Don’t start assuming nothing. He’s mistaken, that’s all.”

“I’m not assuming a damned thing.” Harper shook his head. “Gotta hand it to you, that’s one hell of a coincidence.”

“It happens.”

“It’s bullshit and you know it.” He slapped the towel on the seat. “Start talking.”

“There’s nothing to tell. I told Chuck to keep his eyes open for Mellow and Owens. He said Mellow knew where Owens was keeping himself and I’d have to talk with Mellow for the details. Called to let me know about the shooting; said he’d keep Mellow at the bar until we got here. End of story.”

“I thought you said dispatch called you about the shooting? What the hell’s going on, Frank?”

“Nothing. What?”

“You’re lying. What kind of mess are you in this time?”

“What the hell are ya talking about? I just got confused is all.”

“Since when? Next to my dad, you’re the sharpest cop I know. Why did Chuck wait an hour to call?”

“How should I know? Tell ya what, I’ll ask him next time we talk, all right?”

“You do that. And while you’re at it, make damned sure you leave me the hell out of whatever is going down here tonight.”

“Would ya settle down? Nothing’s going on that ya don’t know about. We just need to see what he knows about Owens. That’s it!”

Gillies rubbed his hands together. “Damn this rain.” He raised his wrist and rolled his eyes at the hour. “Man, the old lady’s going to be pissed again tonight.”

Harper stared at the tavern door. His partner was good at changing the subject whenever it suited him. He listened, but didn’t intend to engage in the irrelevant conversation.

“Late nights,” Gillies continued, “she hates them. I’m sure she’d be happier if I had turned out to be a goddamned bean counter or bank teller. Ya know, the old home by five, bored to tears. Can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a fight the minute I set foot in the door. It’s bad enough when I’m not there for supper. On nights like this, she goes through the roof. I can tell ya right now, we won’t be sleeping together tonight. Bet ya a twenty she has my pillow waiting on the damned sofa.”

“Right, let’s hear another one.”

“Ya hear me laughing? It’s getting worse every day. She must be going through the change or something.”

Gillies’ comment made him think of his fiancée, Deanna. How often had they argued over his late hours at work too? “My mother used to worry about Dad all the time. Wouldn’t go to bed until she heard him walk through the door.”

“Not Ruthie. Hell, she’s locked me out more than once.” Silent minutes dragged. Gillies looked at his watch again. “Damn. Almost one. How the hell long is he going to be in there?”

“You never said what your plan is,” said Harper. “You do have a plan, don’t you?”

“We grab him when he comes out. We question him, simple as that.” Gillies gave him another playful punch in the arm. “You just keep your eyes wide open, hear? If he pulls out a weapon, be careful. I hate breaking in new partners.”

“He was soused two hours ago. I say we go in and get it over with,” said Harper.

“Nah, have to assume he’s carrying a piece. He’s a loose cannon. Now he’s drunk and about as predictable as a skunk in heat. You’re asking for a shitload of trouble. Last thing we want to do is rouse him up in a room full of people. We’ll just wait him out. He won’t give us any problems.”

“And if he does?”

“What do ya think?” Gillies rubbed his eyes. “We shoot first ask questions later. Ah, come on. What are ya worried about? We’ve been up against bigger problems than this guy, right?”

“I’m not worried. I’m tired.”

Water rose to within an inch from the top of the curbs, pooling in front of the bar at a clogged drain. Harper swept a glance at the dashboard clock. “One eighteen. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this. Should be home in my warm, dry bed.”

Gillies yawned and stretched then bolted straight up in his seat. “There he is!” he blurted. He reached for his Glock and the extra cartridge he shoved into his coat pocket.

“Damn. I told Chuck to call the minute he saw him leave,” said Harper. “Why the hell didn’t he warn us?”

The men watched as Mellow and the woman staggered out of the bar. He stopped and teetered as he turned up the collar of his jean jacket. He reached an arm around her shoulders and tried to stay on his feet.

“Shit.” Harper braced himself for another drenching and turned to say something when he caught sight of Gillies’ shirt beneath his coat. “Where’s your vest?”

“It’s in back. Look at him. He’s stumbling over his own feet. Won’t give us any problems now.”

“Damn it. Get it on!”

“A lot of good it’ll do if I get shot in the head. In the meantime, he’s getting away.”

“Don’t be an ass. It’s regulations. Put the damned thing on.”

“Ya know, I’d love to have this conversation with ya, college boy. Maybe later – at tea, real proper like,” he sneered. “Come on will ya, I don’t wanna be in this crap all night.” Gillies slammed the door and scuttled across the street.

“Son of a bitch.” Harper clenched his teeth and ran.

We drew our weapons and ran. So much for the element of surprise. Mellow didn’t see us at first. Gillies yelled for him to stop. That’s when Mellow took off like a jack rabbit.
“Freeze! Police!”

Startled, Mellow turned and pushed the woman away from him. She shrieked and fell to her knees. Pools of water had gathered along the ruts in the sidewalk and splashed up around her. She scrambled to get out of the way of the men and their drawn weapons. She cowered against a building and covered her face.

Mellow stumbled and fell; struggled to his feet and ran.

“I said freeze!” Gillies yelled again.

Harper hustled to narrow the gap between them. He charged past Gillies and yelled the order: “Freeze!”

Mellow made a half turn, drew his weapon, and took a blind shot.
Harper returned fire. With both hands on his .357 Magnum, he aimed for the heart. Squeezed the trigger. Reverberating blasts from the shot rang out above the sound of rain thumping against the metal awnings. Mellow buckled then stumbled backwards into a cluster of trash cans. Their rank contents flew out and scattered along the sidewalk. A lid rolled down the street, the driving rain muted the clatter of metal against the concrete. Seconds later, Mellow lay motionless on the heap of waste.

Lights flickered on in the windows of the apartment buildings along the street. Harper felt nameless, curious eyes descend upon him, watching from behind the safety of curtains.

He froze; arms stretched out, legs spread apart, his weapon still aimed at Mellow. His chest ached with each gasp, his lungs tightened with every draw of cold, damp air he sucked in. All he could do was blink to keep the rain out of his eyes. Slowly, without letting go of his gun, he lowered his outstretched arms and ran to the suspect’s side. Harper bent over the body and felt his jugular. It was motionless beneath his touch.

“He’s dead, Frank.” He dropped his head. “Damn it Mellow, you stupid drunk,” he whispered between heaves of air. “What the hell were you thinking?”

He waited a moment. “Hey, Frank. Did you hear me? We lost him. Frank?” In the heat of the chase, he hadn’t noticed his partner was not at his side. He glanced over his shoulder and rose to his feet. A cold taut current ran through him at the sight of a motionless Frank Gillies laying face up on the sidewalk a few feet away.

The gunshots drew curious patrons out of the bar. Gillies’ shirt and cream-colored overcoat looked dark from the distance – dark red. Harper’s immediate thought flashed to the pub’s neon lights. The gawking faces – the sidewalk – Gillies – everything was red.

“Frank!” he screamed and raced to his side. “Get out of the way!” Harper pushed the others away then dropped to his knees.

“Frank, damn it.” Blood seeped from the center of his partner’s chest. “Hold on, Frank. Hold on.” Harper firmly pressed a hand on the puncture wound while he speed dialed for dispatch and shrieked out a 10-55. “Officer down! I repeat. Officer down! Corner of Howard and Third.” Blood gushed between Harper’s fingers and sputtered from Gillies’ lips with each cough.

“I called for an ambulance soon as I heard the shot,” yelled the bartender. “I told you Mellow was no good.”

Harper hadn’t noticed Gillies’ opened eyes weren’t flinching away the raindrops, that his breathing had stopped, and that his hands rested lifelessly at his side.

“Looks dead to me,” said a voice in the crowd. The others agreed.

Surreal sounds drifted around him not meant for his ears.

“Where the hell’s the ambulance?” yelled Harper.

“It’s no good, buddy. You did your best.” The bartender placed his hand on Harper’s shoulder and tried to console him. “He’s gone.”

Harper jerked the man’s hands off and shoved him away. He caught sight of his own hands, his coat, and trousers. It wasn’t the neon lights after all. Lights don’t run between your fingers, creep under your nails, and smear onto everything you touch. And lights don’t wash off. That’s when he knew. That’s when the knot rose to his throat and wedged against his windpipe.

A split second. That’s all it took.

He closed his eyes and lowered his head. The drumming rain concealed his tears and flooded a nearby drain with Gillies’ blood.

Distant sirens were too late.

End of Excerpt

Silenced Cry, the book that kicked off the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series in 2007, went on to receive honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival, and was among the top ten in the 2007 Preditors & Editors reader poll. It is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other online and traditional bookstores.

ISBN: 978-1-905202-72-0
Published by BeWrite Books (UK)

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