The Angel Maker – Chapter One

My name is Brockton Hooker and I was working my first solo case.  For almost three years I had worked alongside seasoned detectives, learning the proverbial ropes and being the second banana.  Many were slowly burning out and more than willing to let me help ease their work load by cutting me loose.  What to them might have been a run-of-the-mill case, was to me a chance to make a name for myself.

Some poor slob had mysteriously died in his sleep and the investigation fell to me.  He lived in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia.  Old money lived there and you could smell it all the way downtown.

The dead man was a third generation real estate mogul named Coleman Stark.  The Stark dynasty had virtually swallowed up the other brokers and created a monopoly that encompassed almost the entire state of Pennsylvania.

As I entered the three-story mansion, I tried to give the impression that I frequented houses of that ilk on a regular basis but I admit that I was intimidated by an elegance that was completely foreign to me.  It was a far cry from my tiny one bedroom walk-up in the seedy part of town.

An enormous chandelier graced the foyer and I was certain that it was bigger than most people’s living rooms.  Light performed pirouettes on the crystals and I thought  “if I had a dollar for every one of those crystals, I could retire tomorrow.”

Like many older wealthy gentlemen, Mr. Coleman had been married and divorced more than a few times.  Against his children’s wishes, he married his much younger secretary shortly before he retired.

There had been whispers about her and Coleman’s children had unsuccessfully tried to convince him that she, who they referred to as Jezebel, was nothing more than a gold-digger.  He had refused their demand to make her sign a prenuptial agreement.  His view was that it would be insulting and told them that he was sure of her love for him, even if they weren’t.  This angered his children, especially since he would become her third husband at the age of only 27.

Shortly after I arrived, I heard the officers whispering about her nickname, “The Angel Maker.”  One of them said her two previous husbands had died of heart attacks and even though in both cases, the coroners’ report confirmed no foul play, there were lingering questions.  Like Mr. Stark, they had been much older men of considerable means but unlike Mr. Stark, they had left her nothing more than a mere pittance in their wills.

The first time I saw her, despite my obvious lame attempt at professionalism, I was immediately captivated by this alluring vision of beauty.  I could feel myself questioning how she could possibly be a murderer but I could certainly understand how a man of a certain age could die of a heart attack.  Getting frisky with her would surely try even a healthy young man, but it would be a marvelous way to go.

She had all the earmarks of what old money could buy.  Her long blonde hair hung loosely around her shoulders.  Her piercing green eyes were almost hypnotic and I suddenly got the feeling that she knew she could have her way with me.

She almost floated as she walked toward me and extended her hand.  For a brief moment, I was unsure whether to shake it or bring it to my mouth and kiss it, while on one knee.  She had smooth, shapely legs that seemed to go all the way up to her shoulders.  With a flick of her hand, she tossed her hair behind her back and in a soft, beckoning voice said “hello.  I’m Emberlyn Stark, and you are?”

I think I said Brockton Hooker but I’m not sure.  She was the epitome of pure, raw sex appeal and I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame.  I fumbled my words as I tried to ask if she was up to answering a few questions about her late husband.  Apparently I managed to get the words out because she smiled and said “of course.”

We sat down and I immediately entered a fantasy world.  I began to play a mental video of writhing naked on the floor with her.  Her long hair would cover me like a soft blanket and her skin would feel like liquid silk as my hungry hands explored her body.  We would fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

I was abruptly brought back to reality when she leaned over and said “are you alright, detective Hooker?”  I managed a polite but embarrassed “yes,” as I began.

“Can you tell me the last time you saw your husband alive?”  I asked.
“Last night,” she said.
“Did he seem to be ill?”
“No.  He was in good spirits and went to bed at his usual time.  I followed later.”
“What time would that be?”  I asked.
“His usual time is around nine o’clock.  With an almost impish smile, she said “I am a bit more of a night owl.”

She had used the present tense about his bedtime, which was an indication of either not yet accepting the fact that he was dead or being a manipulative psychopath, knowing how to use the exact right word or phrase.

I mentioned that the time of death seemed to have been several hours ago and asked why she hadn’t noticed that something wasn’t right when she woke this morning.
“We sleep in separate bedrooms detective, so there’s no way I would have noticed.”

“Who discovered his body?” I asked.
She said “our maid, Helga but she’s understandably quite a mess right now.”  She motioned for the butler and said “Bronson, would you please ask Helga to come here?”

Helga reluctantly came into the room, not really knowing what to expect.  I have to admit that it was difficult for me to keep my composure.  She was one of those unfortunate women you hear described as falling out of an ugly tree and hitting every single branch on the way down.  She spoke with a thick accent, aided by hands that nervously flitted in such a way that it reminded me of an insect trapped in a glass jar desperately trying to get free.

All I could gather from Helgas’ manic sign language was that she had discovered Mr. Stark laying in the bed, clutching a rose.

“A rose?”  I asked.  “Yes,” Helga said.  “A rose.”  She wiped her nose with a tissue, did the sign of the cross and said “now he is with the angels.”

The irony of that statement was not lost on me.  Mr. Stark was “with the angels” and I was sitting in front of the “angel maker.”

 

To be continued_________________

 

 

Everybody Has A Story

When I was twenty years old, my second job was in the credit department at Sears, Roebuck & Co.  I knew nothing about credit but because I had never missed a day of work at the telephone company or school, they hired me.

Back then (way back then), there were two kinds of credit offered.  One was an SRC (Sears Revolving Charge) which worked pretty much like credit cards do today.  The other was EP (Easy Payment) which meant you had to pay an agreed amount every month.

My family never talked to me about anything or anybody so I always had a natural curiosity about other people.  I loved to hear their stories and learn things, like where they got their name.  I never knew where I got mine.

One day a lady walked up to the counter just as I was about to go on break.  I asked her if I could help and she said she wanted to pay her bill.

“This won’t take long,” I thought, so I took her money and asked her name.

“Easter B. Monday,” she said.  I wasn’t sure if she was teasing me but I looked at her and said “what a cool name.”  Sure enough, when I looked up her account, there was her name.  Easter B. Monday.

After I marked her account, I told my supervisor that I was taking my break.  I loved to walk around the store, silently punishing myself by looking at the things I could never afford to buy, like clothes and shoes.

I walked over to the escalators and sitting on one of the many benches flanked by huge metal ashtrays, sat Easter B. Monday.  She looked at me, gave me a smile and waved.

Sometimes I think my daddy was right when he said “you’ve never met a stranger, have you?”  Without so much as a by your leave, I brazenly plopped right down beside her.

I had seen some strange and unusual names.  Names like Hiram, Harlan and Horatio.  They didn’t pique my interest, although if Horatios’ last name had been Hornblower, I might have felt the need to find out more.

I came right out and said, “I’m curious.  Would you mind telling me how you got your name?”

“Chile, I was born at home on Easter morning,” she said.  “My mama said she knew right away that if I was a girl, my name was going to be Easter.”

“What does the ‘B’ stand for?”  I asked.

“Basket.  For the first few weeks, I slept in a basket at the foot of mama and daddys’ bed and my daddy named me for it.  After a while, I slept in a dresser drawer.  Then, I remember sleeping on some quilts that had been folded up and put on the floor.  I don’t know how old I was when I got my first bed.”

She repeated her name.  “Easter Basket Monday.”  She let out a genuine, jovial laugh and said “I’ve been after trying to find me a husband whose last name is Sunday but I ain’t never found one.”

She went on as if hungry for conversation, as was I.  “My mamas’ name was Sunny Ray Munroe.  When she married my daddy she became Sunny Ray Monday.”  She was straight-faced when she said “and my daddys’ name was Poke Salad Monday.”  I couldn’t help but giggle and I thought she must be pulling my leg but she went on.

“His mama was a slave down in New Orleans and she named him after one of her favorite dishes.  He wasn’t sure how old she was when she jumped the broom with his daddy but he thinks she was pretty young.  Neither one of them could read or write so there aren’t any records.”

“He never knew his daddy and his mama never talked much about him.  She only told him that before he was born, his daddy fell out of a tree and two days later, he died.”

“She died when my daddy was about 15.  She got something wrong with her lungs and after she died, my daddy made his way up here.  That’s where he met my mama.”

I didn’t come along until he and mama were might near too old.  When I did, she named me Easter.  She said I was a miracle and I was special because I was born on the day Jesus was resurrected.”

I asked if her mama was still alive.  “Yes’um.” she said.  “She sure is.  She’s nigh onto ninety-eight years old.  I take care of her.  Why do you think I’ve never been able to find a husband?”  Again, she just hollered.

Even at the tender age of twenty, I appreciated the sacrifice she was making by looking after her mama and I hoped that someday her “Mr. Sunday” would find her.

She told me that her daddy had died some years back and they couldn’t hardly get anybody to make him a tombstone.  The stone mason thought they were being somewhat sacrilegious and turned them away at first, when they wanted the name “Poke Salad Monday” inscribed on it.

“Did they do it for you?”  I asked.

“Yes’um.  They sure did.  He’s buried up there at the colored cemetery.  Mama says she wants to lay down right beside him when the Good Lord calls her home and someday, I reckon I’ll be there too.”

Suddenly I looked up and saw my supervisor coming toward me.  I had been gone for more than an hour.  I got a severe reprimand but I didn’t care.  I had no plans to have a career at Sears.

I will never forget that lovely woman who gave everything so freely.  I admit that I secretly wished that she had been my mama.  She gave me the gift of her smiles, her laughter and her stories.  Although it has been more than forty years since that chance meeting, I have never forgotten her.

I never saw her again after that day.  Maybe she came in to pay her bill on my day off or maybe our paths were only meant to cross once.  Sometimes the briefest encounter can have the greatest impact.

Everybody has a story.  This is hers.  The story of Easter B. Monday.

 

The Legend Of Roland Burke – Chapter Six

Powell was a little surprised when Burke called the next day and asked if he wanted to go get a beer.

They met at a local bar and for a few seconds, there was silence.  Looking down, Burke asked Powell how he knew.

“I just put two and two together and it made sense,” Powell said.  Burke asked why he had waited so long.  “Well, there was a renewed interest,” said Powell.

“By who?” Burke asked.  “You know I can’t tell you that,” Powell said.

Burke was almost robotic when he looked at him and said “what are you going to do?”  Powell said “what do you think I should do?”

Burke ran his finger around the top of his glass and said “I think you should do what you think is right.”  Powell asked “and what is that?”

“Whatever your conscience dictates I guess,” Burke said.

When Burke excused himself to go to the mens’ room, Powell thought about what he suggested.  “Whatever your conscience dictates.”

Pittman had promised a bonus of $50,000.00 if Annes’ killer could be “brought to justice.”  This man, this horrible excuse for a human being who himself was guilty of murder, albeit emotional murder, was suddenly a justice seeker.  “If there was truly any justice in the world,” Powell thought, “Karl Pittman would be the one pushing up daisies.”

Burke returned and told Powell that he needed to get on home.  Carol and the boys would be worried.  He mentioned nothing about their short conversation but shook Powells’ hand and said “see ya later, kiddo.”

Powell knew he had a decision to make.  He could turn Burke in and collect a nice little nest egg for his efforts or he could just let Annes’ death remain an unsolved case.

He went back to his hotel room, showered and picked up his phone.

 

Het Einde.

The Legend Of Roland Burke – Chapter Five

Powell had an idea that he knew the significance of the bird bath but he didn’t tell Carol.  She seemed to be genuinely concerned about Burke and her concern was out of compassion and he believed, nothing more.

Powell could only offer bits and pieces of Burkes’ past and didn’t feel that it was his place to dig up old skeletons, at least not the kind that Carol wanted to know about.  But then the shoe dropped.  Carol asked him straight out if Burke had ever had a significant relationship before she met him.

Powell hesitantly told Carol that he thought that question should be answered by Burke.  “I’ve asked him,” she said.  “He’s always said ‘nothing that you should worry about’, but I can tell that he’s keeping something from me.  Don’t misunderstand.  He’s such a good man and he treats us well but there’s something missing.”

With almost childlike innocence, she hesitantly asked “did she break his heart?”  Powell just looked at her.  She knew his silence answered her question and also knew it would do her no good to ask for particulars.

Powell could tell that she loved Burke dearly and he could also tell that she had absolutely no idea that the reason he had so willingly come to see her, indirectly involved the woman who did indeed break Burkes’ heart.

Seeing the look of disappointment and utter surrender on Carols’ face was hard for Powell to stomach but she immediately went back into hostess mode and asked when he would be leaving.  “I’ll be here for a few more days,” he said.  “I have to tie up a few loose ends.”

“Would you come to dinner again before you go back?”  She asked.  “You can’t leave without one more home cooked meal.”

Powell told her that he appreciated the invitation and would try his best, although he knew that when he came back, it wouldn’t be for a meal.

When he got to the hotel and was ready to make his usual update call, he reflected on his first interaction with his employer.  Never in his wildest dreams would he have expected to get a call from Karl Pittman.  He vividly recalled the conversation.

“I want you to find the mother-fucker who killed my ex-wife,” he said.  “She was a raging bitch from Hell but she was the mother of my children.”

Powell was sickened as he thought “yeah, she may have been a raging bitch from Hell but you were the one who put her on the road to perdition.  And now you’re suddenly feeling nostalgic because she was the mother of your children, the children you ignored, belittled and knocked around.”

Powell remembered wondering who Pittman was trying to impress after all these years with his sudden pretentious affection for his children and even more, his sudden pretentious need for revenge for the death of a woman he had all but destroyed.  He remembered wondering if there was any lower piece of shit on the face of the planet and also wondered why he waited so long to find his sudden interest and desire for revenge.  “There’s a back story there somewhere,” Powell thought and wondered what it might be.

He could wonder all those things but he had been hired to find Annes’ killer and his anger toward the repugnant Karl Pittman had to be put aside.

Powell had always known that Annes’ death had not been the work of the Ice Pick Killer nor did he think that it had been random.  The victims of the Ice Pick Killer, including Slaughter, had been stabbed with an ice pick, which had never been found.  Anne Pittman had been shot in the head with a gun, which had also never been found.

After Annes’ death, there had never been another “ice pick” murder.

Although no suspects were ever seriously considered, a mock investigation was quietly headed by Burke, who with no fanfare, subsequently closed the file as unsolved.

Burke had never discussed the case with Powell and although Powell thought it was strange behavior, he never said anything.  He knew Burke was grieving over Slaughter and against his better judgment, ignored the gnawing questions that were plaguing him.

Powell wondered if it had occurred to anybody other than him, that after Annes’ death, Burke left town.

Before Burke left, Powells’ imagination had given way to thoughts and suspicions that could most certainly put Burke in jeopardy but when he approached him with them, Burke had been recalcitrant.

Not until Pittman called and revived those suspicions, did Powell reluctantly revisit those past thoughts and questions.

 

To be continued________________

 

The Legend Of Roland Burke – Chapter Four

Then next morning, Powell went to visit Carol.  He was going to have to take a gingerly approach with her and try not to say anything that would make her suspicious.

Around ten o’clock, he knocked on the door and Carol greeted him with a smile.  She offered coffee and snacks as they walked into the kitchen.  “I am so glad to meet somebody who knew Roland before I met him.  He doesn’t reveal very much about his past and I don’t want you to think for a minute that I expect you to betray any confidences, but I would just like to know a little more about him.”

Powell said “well, he was a dichotomy.  He could be intense and singularly focused but he could also be playful.  He had a strict code of ethics and always tried to do the right thing but under certain circumstances, he would look the other way.”

Carol wasn’t beating around any proverbial bushes.  She bluntly asked, “did something terrible happen to him?”

Taken somewhat aback, Powell was hoping she couldn’t hear his pulse quicken.  He was also curious why she didn’t ask him about any previous involvements.  He said “I’m not exactly sure what you mean.”

She said “sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and he’s standing there, just staring out the window.  When I ask him what’s wrong, he just says he couldn’t sleep.  When he is able to sleep, he wakes up screaming something about us being slaughtered.  He never screams anything about us being murdered…it’s always about us being slaughtered.  I have always thought that he must have seen something horrible.”  She looked down and said “or maybe he thinks he did something horrible.  Maybe he took a life and has never come to terms with it.”

Powell swallowed hard and tried to deflect her disguised question.  He said “if you allow it, that job can take everything from you.  You can’t see the kind of things he sees and not be affected in some way.  Even the most hardened detectives have their dreams invaded.  It’s a coping mechanism, I think.  Your conscious mind blocks things out and they emerge in other ways, such as in your dreams.  I know I had them before I turned in my shield.”

“Have you tried to talk to him?”  Powell innocently asked.  “He won’t talk about anything,” she said.  “He says there’s not very much to tell but I can see a distance in his eyes and right after we moved here, he did something really strange that was completely out of character.”

“What do you mean?” Powell asked.

“Come with me.”  She led Powell out into the back yard and showed him a bird bath.

“See this?  Two days after we moved in, I was unpacking things and suddenly he told me that he needed to pick something up.  He came back with that bird bath and worked all afternoon finding just the right place to put it.  He wouldn’t allow any of us to come outside while he worked.  Then he called the boys out and told them that they must never touch it.  He said it was because he didn’t want them to scare the birds away.”  She nervously laughed and said “I remember thinking that I didn’t realize he cared so much about birds.”

“A few weeks later, the boys were playing and accidentally turned it over. Roland was almost frantic and started screaming at them, which is something he never does.  After that, he put a fence put around it, complete with a gate and a padlock.  He keeps a chair out there and says it’s his thinking spot but he never goes out there.  He just watches it, almost like he’s guarding it.”

Carol didn’t realize it but she was volunteering the very information that Powell wanted.

 

To be continued_______________-

 

The Legend Of Roland Burke – Chapter Three

Burke asked Powell if he would like another beer for the road and Powell agreed.  When he went into the kitchen, Carol took the opportunity to slip in and whisper a question to Powell.  “Could you possibly come by the house, maybe tomorrow?  And, can you not mention it to Roland?”

It was a serendipitous request.  Powell had already planned to try to talk to Carol alone, so he whispered “yes.”

Burke returned with two beers and before Carol took her leave, she expressed the obligatory pleasantries to Powell and then said “I must get these boys bathed and off to bed, so we will say goodnight.”

Powell watched Burke as he watched Carol walk out of the room.  He remembered the look that Burke gave Slaughter when she left a room. That look…he did not see.

In an unguarded moment, Burke looked down and said “Carol is a fine, fine woman and an excellent mother…but.”  He stopped in mid sentence and stared at the floor.

Powell said “but what?”

Burkes’ voice was almost inaudible as he said “but I’ll never love her the way I loved Slaughter and sometimes, I think it’s unfair to her.”

A “goodnight” call from the boys interrupted Burkes’ nostalgic renderings.

They sat quietly and finished their beer.  Promises to get together again soon were pledged with a handshake, a handshake that avoided eye contact.

As Powell walked to his car, he wondered if Burke knew the real reason that he was in Chicago.  If he did, none of his actions had betrayed him.

Burke had been his partner and friend and even though Powell had taken a back seat to Slaughter, he had never completely abandoned that friendship. But now, Powell knew that he was faced with a delicate dance.

He was going to have to tread lightly while bridging the gap between his duty and their friendship.  He also knew that somewhere during that dance, betrayal was going to be his partner.

Powell returned to his motel room.  It wasn’t posh by any means but it was comfortable.  After all, he wasn’t on vacation, he was on the job and it was a job that he knew would torment him and possibly destroy several lives.

After he showered, he took a file out of his briefcase.  The name on the file was “Anne Pittman.”

 

To be continued________________

The Legend Of Roland Burke – Chapter Two

Plans were set for Powell to come to dinner and meet Burke’s family.  They shook hands again and he watched as Burke walked slowly down the street, not turning to take a another glance or give a wave.  He was still an imposing figure but he seemed different somehow.

He was older of course, as was Powell and although he seemed genuinely glad to see him, there appeared to be a hollowness about him.  There had been no sparkle in his eyes when he talked about his wife and children.  For some reason, that bothered Powell.

Burke had never been one to gush but he and Powell had been close and had shared personal experiences, most often while they were drinking. Some were good and some were deliciously wicked but the confidences stopped when Burke began a relationship with Murphy Slaughter.

Powell knew that Burke had fallen hard for her and he knew that when she was killed, it almost destroyed him.  They never talked about it but he had tried to be there for Burke in any way he could and in any way Burke would allow.

After her death, they had been known to toss back a few in complete silence or with Burke uncharacteristically raising hell to the point that they were asked to leave the bar.  A few times Captain Meade had to come to the rescue, smoothing things over by promising to overlook any future infractions that might be committed by the owner of the establishment.

Later that evening, Powell arrived at Burke’s place.  It was a small bungalow-style house with an undersized but well-kept yard and a much lusted after driveway.  In the city proper, driveways were a luxury.  Most of the houses were in very close proximity to each other and could only support a narrow alleyway.

Burke and Carol both greeted him.  Carol wasn’t anything like Powell had pictured and she was nothing like Slaughter.  She was a short woman with a bit of a pooch, probably due to childbirth.  She wasn’t what could be described as beautiful but she had a glow about her that was endearing and she seemed delighted to meet somebody from Burke’s past.

“I hope you like pot roast,” she said as she smiled and shook his hand.  She had a firm handshake, which impressed Powell.  He never understood women, or men for that matter, who had what he called a “pussy handshake.”

She called the boys in and introduced them.  “This is Brian and this little rascal is Barkley.”  They were like two sides of the same coin.  Brian was a timid little boy who hid behind his mother and barely managed a muffled “hello.”  Barkley was a loud, rambunctious little hellion and Powell believed Carol when she said he was making her old before her time.

Carol was chatty, while Burke was more reserved and the boys seemed oblivious to everything.  Barkley spent most of his time flicking food at Brian, until Burke gave him the hairy eyeball and said “that’s enough, Mutt.”

Powell chuckled and said “Mutt?”  Carol giggled and said “we call the boys Mutt and Jeff.”  She glanced toward the ceiling and with a humorous sigh said “somehow, it seems appropriate.”

Carol asked Powell if he was married.  He said “tried it twice and neither one of them stuck.”  Carol asked “children?”  Powell laughed and said “one of them acted like one.”

Burke joined in by saying “I didn’t know you had gotten married, Kiddo.” Carol raised her eyebrows and mockingly said “Kiddo?”  Powell, a little embarrassed, said “that’s what our old Captain used to call me.  Isn’t that right, grandpa?”

Carol chuckled and asked if grandpa was what the Captain called Burke.  “No,” said Powell.  “That’s what I called him.”

“I’m not even going to ask why,” Carol said.

After dinner, Carol shooed Burke and Powell into the living room while she busied herself clearing the table.  When Powell volunteered to help, she said “absolutely not.  The boys will help me and you guys need to catch up.”

Burke offered Powell a cold beer and he gratefully accepted.

While they sipped their beer, Powell looked around at the sufficient but not overly indulgent furnishings. Smiling family pictures were strategically placed throughout the house, even in the powder room.

He asked Burke what he had been up to lately.  Burke said “you know, the usual.  Murder, mischief and mayhem.  Never a dull moment.”

Burke didn’t return the question and for a few moments, there was an uncomfortable silence.  Powell knew there were three people in that room as Burke looked at his beer can and ever so slightly shook his head.  He was deep in thought and his thoughts were not about catching up with Powell.

Powell finally gave the toast gesture to Burke and said “you have a nice family.”  Burke looked toward the kitchen and almost wistfully said, “I know.  I should feel lucky.”

Powell was struck by his statement and said “you should feel lucky?”

Burke quickly retracted his statement.  “I meant to say that I said do feel lucky.”

He wasn’t successful when he tried to deny the Freudian slip.  Powell could hear an almost disenchantment in his voice and could see regret in his eyes. He wondered if Carol could, too.

 

To be continued___________