James Cowie and the Case of the Midnight Job (short story and opportunity)
|The real James Cowie.|
Former homicide detective, James Cowie, sat down in the small living space beneath the deck of his boat, the Edmond Dantès. He crossed his long legs. He had saved up for the boat during his tenure and used it as both a means to get away from the job and deep dive into a case. After his retirement, he moved out of his small apartment and into the Edmond Dantès on a dock just off Pier 1. He sold his car, a lot of other things, and what little he couldn’t get rid of for nostalgia sake he kept in a storage unit a few blocks from the dock. Pier 1 provided him with what little groceries he needed, and he just made it work. It had been the most peace he had enjoyed since he joined the Babylon police force so many years ago.
He took a sip of wine and sat the glass on the table next to him. He picked up a book he’d read countless times, but couldn’t get enough of, a classic from hard-boil author Dashiell Hammett. He flipped to chapter one and stroked his white beard. The color had faded his last few years in the force but had gone all-white in retirement.
He had only made it a few paragraphs into the book when he heard the shriek of a woman, immediately followed by multiple gunshots. He opened a drawer on the small table next to him, he pulled out a small pistol and holster. He stood up and clipped the holster onto the belt holding his white shorts up. He loosened the safety strap on the holster. He slipped on his flipflops atop the deck of his boat. He looked about in the night and he could hear multiple voices shouting from various points.
“He’s over here!” A man shouted.
“I got him!” Another man shouted to the east.
He stepped over onto the dock and slowly moved towards the sobbing of a woman. He turned a corner and could see Mrs. Bates was the source of the wailing. James hurried to her and asked what was wrong.
“Look—” she said and pointed to the Chandler; a yacht owned by one Maximillian Crenshaw. A young playboy.
James looked onto the deck and he could barely make out the remains of Crenshaw on the deck. A light above James and Mrs. Bates kept swinging to and fro, only shining light on the scene of the crime for seconds at a time. James looked up and took a hold of a rope that was swinging, knocking the light about. Once the rope steadied, he took ahold of the light with the orange bulb inside. He shone it on the deck.
Crenshaw had laid to rest in a pool of his own blood. There was a steady stream of blood pouring out of his neck, a second wound—and cause of death likely—was a gunshot to the chest.
James hopped over onto the Chandler’s deck, he looked back to Mrs. Bates. “This is a crime scene, Mrs. Bates,” he said, “Don’t let anyone near the boat.”
“Of course not.” She said and turned around to stand guard.
He knew she’d keep everyone away, she relished in any power given her. But in that moment, that is what Crenshaw needed. He needed privacy. And his neighbors weren’t keen on privacy. There would be rubberneckers coming over to investigate and give their two cents before the police would ever arrive.
James hated to climb into the scene of the crime, but he had to be certain he couldn’t help Crenshaw more. He knelt and felt for a pulse on Crenshaw’s warm neck. He confirmed he was dead and checked the time on his watch, 12:07am. Assuming the first two gunshots he heard were what struck Crenshaw in the neck and chest, time of death was somewhere around 12:06.
There was more shouting near the west entrance to the dock, followed by one more gunshot.
James stood up and walked to the edge the boat, “Who are they chasing, Mrs. Bates?”
“The killer, of course.”
As he had expected, a crowd of nosey neighbors gathered at the Chandler. Bates had stood her ground, snipping and yelling at anyone who got too close to the Chandler. She would look back after snipping at someone, nodding gently to James. He would smile and nod back.
The noise was all about Crenshaw. Nobody on the dock had liked Crenshaw. He was younger than everyone, seemingly richer, and he changed girlfriends daily. And occasionally, a boyfriend. He didn’t discriminate.
James never had a problem with him, and Crenshaw knew that. James had figured he might be the only one on the dock Crenshaw would willingly start a conversation. Most the time, they’d just nod and say good morning in passing. Crenshaw behind his Oakley shades, a different pair for each day of the week.
The one thing people had always nagged over was where Crenshaw’s money came from. He had no background that anyone knew. No family. No business ties. He just existed there on their dock.
Furious disagreements broke out over what the killer looked like, where he exited the dock. Some described a fit, tall man. Others described a slow man with a beer belly. But one thing that all agreed on was that he was wearing a ski mask. Some had claimed to chase the killer out the west entrance, others out the east entrance. Some were red in the face at the idea that the other party were shooting at an innocent man.
“Who screamed?” James finally spoke up.
The crowd went silent and looked to Mrs. Bates. She turned around to James. “I did. I was taking my midnight walk, as usual, and there he was on the boat. He had his gun aimed on Crenshaw. Poor boy. I guess I just didn’t know what to do. I screamed.”
John Grey stepped forward and put his arm around Mrs. Bates. She planted her sobbing face into his armpit. “She did the right thing. You leave her alone.” Grey had always been looking for a way in with Mrs. Bates. Even during a murder.
“I have no problem with you Mrs. Bates, but I have to ask,” James said, “Did you see it?”
She looked up from Grey’s arms. “Yes, and no. I saw the first shot, but after that I just panicked and don’t remember what I did.”
“I found her laying down, scared for her life in the commotion.” Grey said.
Finally, James heard the sirens, he looked at his watch. 12:21am.
Detective Palmer came strutting along, later than everyone else. He was sweating and eating French fries. When James saw him, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He had hoped to never set his sites on the lousy detective that was Palmer. He recalled he would always grab a box of French fries to munch on when he was nervous. It was an odd tick, but somehow the grease got him through the hardships of being one of Babylon’s worst detectives.
Palmer looked upon James with a mouth full of fries, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I live here.” James said. “And I have witness testimony to give, if you recall what that is, Palmer.”
“Don’t tell me you’re one of the idiots that was shooting off their guns,” Palmer chided. He turned his head back and shouted loud enough for everyone in vicinity to hear. “Does everyone on this dock own a gun?”
“Yes,” James said. “Sometimes two or three.” That wasn’t true, but James always figured for cops like Palmer, it was good to think there were. Palmer was an itchy trigger, but if he knew others were packing heat, he crapped out and recoiled. He couldn’t stand the thought of being overpowered or outgunned. He liked it better knowing the perpetrator was unarmed.
Palmer cleared his throat at the thought and shoved some more fries in his mouth. “I take it you’ve been a busybody and are trying to solve the murder yourself? I’m sure you’d just love to tell me how to do my job.”
“No desire there,” James said. “Just need to do my part as being a citizen and get to bed.”
Palmer laughed. “Old man.” He laughed and choked on the fry in his mouth. Mad at it, he spit it out into the water. “Alright, tell me your version. Was it little, green men?”
James returned to the Edmond Dantès after sunrise. He could feel the weight of being up all night bearing down on his eyelids. But as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was wide awake. Maximillian Crenshaw had money; everyone knew that. How much? No one knew that. Where it was kept? How he invested it? No one knew those either. What if his money was on the Chandler? Everyone had always assumed he was some sort of mafia connected, rich man. But what if it wasn’t as glitzy as his lifestyle? What if he was laundering money? What if it was drugs? It could have been a lot of things.
Frustrated at his mind, James got up and made coffee.
He sipped all the way through a cup, stirring over the possibilities. Who the hell was Maximillian Crenshaw? He poured another cup of coffee. And another. Halfway through his third cup of coffee, it struck him. The girls Crenshaw would bring during the day, have them all day and night, and be rid of them the next day. The boyfriends only ever came over in the night, late. The more he thought about it, the more he realized it might have always been around midnight.
He picked up his phone and called Mrs. Bates.
“Hello,” she answered. Her voice was hoarse.
“You’re still awake, I presume.” He said.
“Yes,” she replied. “I can’t get that visual out of my head. Seeing Max’s face, and then—” she choked up.
“I’m sorry,” James said. “Witnessing a murder for the first time is hard. I’ll be over later today; we can talk about it. I’ve been there.”
“Thanks, I’d appreciate that.” She said.
“But first I want to ask you a question, it may seem odd,” he said.
“Of course,” she sighed, “What’s one more?”
“Do you know for a fact Crenshaw was bisexual?” He asked.
“What the heck, James?” she replied.
“I know it sounds odd, but it’s important.”
“Oh heck, I guess not,” she said, “He was always having the boys over in the middle of the night and what else would they be doing, but the same thing he was always doing with the girls?”
“Was it always in the middle of the night?” He asked.
“Yes,” she said, “Whenever he had a boy over, it was always around midnight. I know, because I’d pass them on my walk.”
“I see.” James stroked his beard.
“Poor kid,” she said, “I feel so bad I always talked ill of him. All I can see now is his face right before—”
“Take your sleeping pills, Mrs. Bates,” he said, “Lay down, close your eyes, and just breathe. I’ll bring you lunch later. Sound like a plan?”
“Of course,” she said, “Thanks.”
James was sitting with his book again. Biding the time. He had taken lunch to Mrs. Bates earlier in the day, as promised. All of her gossipy and melodramatic self was gone. Witnessing the murder of Crenshaw had taken that from her. Not a total loss, but not the desired way one would want to go about improving themselves either. She had made it clear time and time again, that she wished she could take back the previous night. That if she could go back in time, she would tell herself to stay home.
He knew there was someone else who wished they could take back the previous night. The killer. He presumed the killer was not there to kill in the first place, otherwise he would have used a subtler method. No, he presumed the killer was there to collect Crenshaw’s money. But Mrs. Bates happening upon their exchange changed all that. The killer panicked and pulled the trigger. The first shot only grazed the neck, not necessarily fatal. He had to put the second in the chest to finish the job. But that was never the job. That job was to collect the money. The money he had to abandon in a hurry.
The killer would be back one last time. In hopes the cops had missed the money, in hopes it was still there. The newspapers had not reported anything concerning large sums of money, or a cache of cocaine, or some other nonsense Crenshaw might be mixed up in. Either the cops were keeping that close to the chest, or they didn’t find what the killer was looking to find.
He put a bookmark in the book and rested it on the table. He opened the drawer and pulled out the revolver and holster. He stood up and clipped it to his belt. He had never made an arrest in shorts, plaid shirt, and flipflops. But there was a first time for everything, even in retirement.
He looked at his watch, 11:55pm.
James had directed Mrs. Bates to stay indoors, an order she didn’t mind taking. She had no desire to wonder out in the night after what had happened. Probably wouldn’t for a while.
He laid down on the deck of his boat and watched with binoculars for the killer to return. The orange light was illuminating the Chandler, which was wrapped in police tape.
The waiting was always the worst part of a stakeout. Not knowing if anyone was going to show up. If anything was going to happen. Not sure if he’d be laying on the deck all night, waiting for something that would never come. A very valid possibility. He hoped it wouldn’t happen that way, because his back would be in so much pain. Better to toe off with a masked killer, than spend the next day in bed, popping painkillers.
He checked his watch.
He saw a shadow bouncing near the west entrance. He looked down his binoculars and saw the shadow of someone coming, but a boat stood between the two. He waited for the shadow to turn to man at the edge of the boat. But it didn’t.
It turned into two men.
One was tall and lean. The other was shorter and had a beer belly. The contradicting testimonies weren’t contradicting at all. There were two perpetrators.
He followed them with the binoculars until they reached the Chandler. They raised the tape and ducked under. They entered the boat and vanished into the shadows.
James sat up and climbed out of the Edmond Dantès. He scurried down the dock, hand on his gun which was still holstered. At the edge of the Chandler, he loosened the holster and pulled his revolver. Six shots. That was all he had to work with. He hadn’t really intended on needing the little revolver when he bought it. But he didn’t want to take a chance with an angry criminal he’d locked away or bitter family member taking him off-guard.
He leaned over the water and looked in on the deck of the Chandler. Like the evening before, he couldn’t see much on the deck itself. But below the deck he could see lights were on. And he could hear them moving around, tossing the place upside down. He could see shadows bouncing around the floors and walls.
He slowly and carefully stepped onto the deck of the boat. He made his way to the top of the stairs. He listened for a moment. It was a clear night, and he just might hear some dialogue between the two.
“It’s gotta be down here somewhere.” An older voice said.
“We checked everywhere, where else could it be?” Another voice said.
James thought for a moment. He recognized the two voices. He was sure he knew who the men were. A few more complaining words tossed about between the two men, and then it finally hit him. He knew who the killers were.
He slowly descended, one step at a time. The complaining between the two men kept getting louder, which helped mask his intrusion. He entered a lush kitchen compared to his own. The two men had their backs turned to him, tossing around through the cabinets.
“Don’t. Move.” James spoke loud and forcefully. The two men stopped dead in their tracks. “Place your guns in the sink.” They hesitated. “Now. One after another.” They complied. “Now turn around, slowly.”
They turned around and looked upon him for the first time. They didn’t speak, they just continued to breathe heavy under their ski masks.
“Take those masks off,” James said, “They must be itchy. And hot.” Neither complied. James looked at the tall, lean man, “You are John Grey.” He looked to the man with the beer belly. “And you are the worst cop I know.”
The two men looked at each other, puzzled. They removed their masks. It was as he had said. The killers were John Grey and Detective Palmer.
“So what is this all about?” James asked.
“Screw you,” Palmer said to him.
“Fine, let me help you,” James said. “Whatever you are looking for you’ll find under the refrigerator.” They both looked at each other, wondering how he’d know where the goods were. James continued, “If you’ll notice, there are some scratches on his otherwise immaculate floor. No doubt from the constant back-and-forth of the refrigerator.”
The two men looked at the floor and the refrigerator. They looked up surprised and excited. He motioned for them to continue to it. The two men rushed over, and Palmer let Grey move the refrigerator alone. Palmer took his time kneeling down to his knees on the floor. There was a hole in the floor. From it he pulled out stacks and stacks of cash, along with bricks of cocaine. He tossed the bricks of cocaine aside haphazardly; they were just in it for the cash.
“Here’s what I get,” James started, “Palmer, you’re scum, so of course you’re in this for the money. Grey, rumor has it your retirement fund is almost gone, which means you’ll have to move in land. Probably sell of the boat. That takes you away from Mrs. Bates, and you can’t have that. How romantic. But what I don’t get is how Palmer even played into this. How do you know Palmer, Grey?”
The two men were staring at him, he thought, but in reality they were looking beyond him. To a third perpetrator.
“Don’t. Move.” A voice said behind James. “I’ve got a gun aimed at your head. I’ll use it.”
James recognized the voice immediately. And something he had dismissed clicked into place. Grey had said he found Mrs. Bates laying down, in shock, and that he had helped her. But when James had first laid eyes on Mrs. Bates, she was all alone and standing near the Chandler. Not in a state of shock at all and there was no Grey around. He had dismissed Grey’s statement as false. But he had neglected to consider that Mrs. Bates had not contradicted Grey’s statement. Either she would have known it to be false, or indeed would have been in a state of shock when he found her and not realized what had transpired as they had claimed.
“I’m disappointed, Mrs. Bates,” James said to the third puzzle piece in the room. She was the killer who didn’t flee the scene of the crime. She stayed behind to set up and frame the scene.
“I don’t care what you think of me, James,” she said. “I never did. Now give me your weapon.” James complied. “And Palmer, as you call him, is my nephew.”
“Of course,” James said.
“Shut up.” Mrs. Bates said and hit him in the back of the head with her gun.
James fell to the floor and rolled over, he felt behind his ear and could feel the blood. He put pressure on it. He looked up at Mrs. Bates. “Just one card left to turn over I suppose.”
“Yeah,” she said, “What’s that?”
“Who screamed?” James asked.
“Who else?” Mrs. Bates scoffed. “Crenshaw’s girlfriend of the night. We didn’t know she was there, and she walked up on us.”
“Trigger happy jack here,” Grey pointed at Palmer, “Panicked and shot Crenshaw.”
“The girl jumped ship,” Mrs. Bates continued, “My boy pursued her.”
Palmer chimed in. “I caught up to her. Eventually.”
“Yeah,” Grey bickered, “But you left me to deal with the wounded Crenshaw. You couldn’t even do that right.”
The three of them started arguing over how the previous night had gone down. It went on for some time, but finally ended when Mrs. Bates told them all to shut up or go to hell. “What’s done is done, and thanks to James, we have what we came looking for.” She looked down at him. He was still laying on his back on the floor. “So thanks for that.”
“Just shoot me and get it over with,” James said. “You’re killing my back.”