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The Last Killer Standing, written by Edward J. Coburn, is a story of murder and mayhelm.

   The case begins as a simple, although profoundly gruesome, murder of a homeless person in downtown Denver, Colorado. Soon, everyone realize that the Cherry Creek Choker is back. His original killings of four hookers, their bodies left at Cherry Creek Park for anyone to find, scandalized and terrified the city. Josh Brayburn, the lead Denver detective, thinks the Cherry Creek Coker may be the same sleazebag, Roger Gibbons, who killed Josh’s wife and been sentenced to five to ten for the crime. When Josh finds out that Gibbons has been granted early parole and his release corresponds with the new Choker killing he is almost certain Gibbons is the killer. The problem is, there is no proof. No clues have been left at any of the crimes, including the latest one. When a state senator’s daughter is kidnapped, Abby Swope, the lead Ft. Collins detective, is called in to try to help solve the case. Josh and Abby feel an immediate, mutual attraction. Then the senator’s daughter is ransomed but found murdered. Unfortunately, this killing has nothing in common with the other ones Josh has been investigating. Thus, no one, including Josh, has any idea that the killings, are done by the same maniac. When a schoolteacher, who had previously been convicted of child molestation, is killed, the mystery deepens. Josh eventually discovers that to learn who the killer really is and what motivates him, he must travel a path that leads through Jacksonville, Florida. This is where his grandfather, who is an ex-cop, and his murdered wife’s grandfather, who had gotten rich in real estate, both live.

Here, read the first five chapters of The Last Killer Standing. Then, if you like the book, you can order the ebook in Kindle format at Amazon.com .




Chapter 0

     Robert Harrison sat on the bench waiting his turn for the batting cage. An ordinary man’s mind would’ve been sifting through any number of random thoughts such as reliving the day at work, how he would be greeted by his pissed off wife because he stopped at the batting cage again instead of coming home right away, or possibly, how cute his secretary looked today in her sexy, low-cut dress. But ordinary didn’t describe Robert Harrison. No such mundane thoughts passed through his mind.
     Instead, he thought about the next step in his plan. he carefully noted which bats were used most often, how many people used the bats without gloves, and where their hands were when they picked up the bat. He wanted to double check that some bats were picked up by the barrel, instead of the grip.
     The last man exited the cage on the left, but Robert didn’t get up immediately because the man took his bat with him. Robert knew the bat belonged to the man as he’d seen him bring the bat to the cages with him. Thus, he waited until the man in the cage on the right came out of the screened-in enclosure to put his bat back in the box with the rest of the loaners. Instantly, Robert sprang to his feet to retrieve the bat before anyone else got the chance. Grasping the bat at the very tip with his gloved hand to avoid disturbing any fingerprints on the barrel, he kept his head tilted away from the area’s one surveillance camera. As long as he hid his face from that camera, there would be no record of his being there or of his stealing the bat.
     He entered the enclosure, put some quarters in the machine to enable him to take a few cuts with the bat to avoid suspicion, and stepped up to the plate. After he hit several machine-pitched balls, he surreptitiously watched the booth until the young punk working there got distracted by another customer.
     Before he left the batting cage, however, he picked up a discarded baseball cap. He smiled to himself when he saw several hairs inside the cap. A couple seemed to have the follicular tags important for DNA testing. As he stared down at the hairs, he wondered what had caused the strands to be pulled out by the roots. In truth, he really didn’t care. He only cared about the presence of the hairs. Stuffing the cap inside his pocket and exiting by the gate farthest from the booth, he walked directly to his car and threw the bat in the back seat. Driving away, he carefully avoided breaking the speed limit.
     
     

Chapter 1

     Robert Harrison looked around to make sure they were absolutely alone. “In the alley,” he said to the homeless man.
     “Why the alley?” Ian Vander asked the stranger.
     “We need a little privacy or everyone will want a drink of your bottle.”
     “Good idea.”
     After they’d walked about three quarters of the way down the alley, Harrison unscrewed the lid of a small bottle of whisky he pulled from his pocket. “Here you go,” he offered the bottle to the homeless man while slipping his hand under his coat.
     “Don’t you want some first?” Vander asked.
     “Nope. The bottle’s all yours.” Harrison knew the vagabond wouldn’t be able to resist.
     As soon as Vander tilted the bottle back to take a drink, Harrison whipped out the softball bat he’d stolen from the batting cage. He smashed Vander in the face faster than he could react. The shattering sound of the bottle made him smile. The smashing of Vander’s head reminded him of the melons he used to pulverize with a stick in his youth. The erupting spray of blood proved to be remarkably satisfying, especially the spurt from his neck caused by the shard of glass severing the jugular.
     Before Vander crumpled to the pavement, Harrison hit him again. This second strike, plus the tear in his neck from the glass, made Vander’s head settle on the pavement at an unnatural angle. The sharp crack of the bat against Vander’s skull had made Harrison’s blood run hot with a quickened pulse that caused him to hit Vander three more times. A slightly insane grin creased Harrison’s face as he said, “You deserve this punishment for wearing that jacket.” He couldn’t believe the ugly sports jacket with the checked design of dark red, orange, blue, brown, and possibly other unseen colors.
     Sure is nice to have such an enjoyable job, Harrison thought, tossing the softball bat into the nearby Dumpster.
     He hoped he hadn’t smudged too many prints when he hit the homeless man. Even if he did smudge a few of them, there should still be enough fingerprints to drive the police berserk. He smiled.
     He walked to the street carefully looking around. No one. Back at the crumpled form, Harrison pulled out a digital camera, and took a number of snapshots to keep as evidence of his kill. Damn the stupid bastard’s rule of taking pictures of the body, Harrison thought. The need for the flash made him the slightest bit nervous which is why he’d picked this particular dead-end alley with only one way in. Because neither of the buildings had windows facing the alley, no one could possibly have seen what he’d done.
     Not only did he have to take the pictures, but he also had to find some type of souvenir on his victim of which to take a picture. Satisfied he had the pictures to please the ‘Bastard with all the money’, he carefully checked the body for something unique to take back with him. Stupid requirement, Harrison thought. But if he wanted his money, he knew he’d better follow his boss’s instructions.
     He’d seen his victim wearing a rather distinctive ring. In the dim light he couldn’t see the ring very well but it did have a big gem. He doubted the authenticity of the gem, but he didn’t care because he only needed the proof.
     Harrison moved the man’s ring finger into plain view, taking more photos. He made sure he got several shots of Vander’s face as well as the hand bearing the ring. Then he removed the ring which came off easily, indicating the wrong size. At a different time in Vander’s life the ring had probably fit more tightly. While leaning over the body, he noticed fuzz on the jacket. Curious, he pulled out a small flashlight to shine on the fuzzy portion.
     “Ah ha,” he said to himself. Hairs.
     The coat seemed to be covered with them. Since Vander had a scalp as bald as a billiard ball, he really doubted the hairs were his. Perfect, he thought, pulling out a small plastic zipper bag containing a pair of tweezers. He picked up several of the hairs, put them in the bag, then shoved the bag back in his pocket. Maybe these hairs, much like the hairs found in the baseball cap, would allow him to indulge in his favorite pastime which had to be, without a doubt, screwing with the cops. He relished in the thought of the confusion he deliberately caused the detectives. He often wished he could be the proverbial fly on the wall to watch first-hand what he put the men in blue through. Though he didn’t get to watch, the knowledge made excitement rush through his veins. He knew they had to search based on his completely irrelevant clues.
     Done taking his pictures, Harrison placed the camera on the ground, a few feet away from the body before walking over to the Dumpster where he pulled off the top black ski mask to shove under the bat in the Dumpster. He relished the thought of the cops harassing the guy who’d originally worn the ski mask. Then he walked to the other side of the alley to carefully pull off the other ski mask he’d hidden under the first one. This he stuffed in the black-plastic bag he had brought along for the purpose. He followed with the blood-spattered long coat and coveralls he wore over his own clothes, being careful to transfer the plastic bag with the hairs he’d gathered from the coat. Even the small leather harness he’d created to hold the bat under his coat went in the bag. He exchanged his shoes for ones he’d left near the Dumpster. The ones he took off also went into the bag along with his rubber gloves. No fingerprints.
     He retrieved the camera which slid neatly into his shirt pocket. He buttoned the pocket to avoid any possibility of losing his proof.
     He thought about what he could buy with the $10,000 cash he would, theoretically, be getting in his mailbox in the next few days. He had faith the money would appear. After all, everything else had been carefully orchestrated. First, he’d been paroled from his ten-to-life term after only two years when all reason dictated that as an impossibility. Even the envelope he received as he checked out of the prison was an oddity with the tagged car keys to direct him to the vehicle in the parking lot. The Honda proved to be in excellent condition with a souped-up engine as he discovered when he drove out of the parking lot. On the front seat he discovered an envelope containing $5,000 in cash, a fake driver’s license with his picture in the name of Robert Harrison, several credit cards with the same name, and a short note instructing him to drive to Denver, get settled into a nice apartment, and then call the enclosed number within three days. The envelope even contained a list of suitable apartments. The final item turned out to be a job reference for the inevitable background check.
     Without a clue about what was happening, he did as the instructions said since he had no other plans. He drove to Denver from Canon City where he’d been paroled. Then he chose an apartment from the list which turned out to be much nicer than any apartment he’d ever lived in. He discovered the driver’s license, credit cards, and references worked like magic. Finally he rented a rat-hole of an apartment not much better than the prison cell he’d been in. For this he used his own name.
     He immediately called his parole officer, whose number had been given to him before his release. The parole officer informed him of the home visit within two weeks. Harrison gave him the address and phone number of the phone in the hallway of the rat-hole. The parole officer said he’d call before he came, to avoid wasting his time visiting an empty apartment.
     
     

Chapter 2

     Josh Brayburn lay there for what seemed like hours deciding whether to answer the call of his bladder or succumb to the heaviness of his eyelids. Finally, yielding to the inevitable victor, he plodded toward the bathroom, looking back at the emptiness on the opposite side of the bed. Even though two years had passed since Jennie, his wife of less than a year, had been killed, he still sensed her presence in the shape of her body making indentations in the bed.
     With a sigh, he turned to continue his trek. Flipping on the light, he winced at the sudden brightness. He didn’t really need to see, but could still hear Jennie’s admonitions about his inaccuracies in the night. Thus, his habit to turn on the light required no conscious thought.
     The jangling phone disturbed these and other thoughts streaming through his mind.
     “Brayburn,” he said as he picked up the handset.
     “Danvers here,” said Tom, his frequent crime-scene partner.
     “Yeah, Tom,” Josh said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “What is it?”
     “Sorry to call so early.”
     “No problem. I was already up. Had to pee.”
     “Regardless. You shouldn’t get called out at 4:00 in the morning.”
     “But you’re going to anyway, aren’t you?” Josh switched the phone to his other ear.
     “Yeah, unfortunately.”
     Josh could hear Tom shuffling papers on his end. “What’s the problem, Tom?” He sighed.
     “A homeless person was killed downtown.”
     A weariness overtook Josh as he said, “Okay.” He hated investigating such killings because they seldom got solved because the homeless were notoriously closed mouth even when the victim was one of their own. Working on such cases almost seemed like a waste of time. He knew some of his police brethren gave them short shrift sort of like the murder of a hooker. They generally didn’t think the slaughter of such people really mattered in the grand scheme of things. But Josh felt the homeless and the hookers were people like anyone else deserving of no less than full police efforts. It would help if the people on the shady side of life would be a little more forthcoming when asked for help.
     “How soon?” Tom interrupted Josh’s musings.
     Josh mentally went down a check list. “It’ll take me about forty-five minutes. As I—”
     “No problem,” Tom interrupted. “I’ll tell them.”
     “Thanks. I’ll be there sooner if I can.” He glanced at the clock.
     “Understood, sir.”
     “Stop that,” Josh said holding up his hand, palm out, in the universal stop signal even though Tom was on the other end of the phone, not standing before him. Even though Tom’s senior, he hated to be called sir which Tom only did to irritate him.
     “Sorry, sir.”
     “Enough, Tommy.” Tom hated the nickname as much as Josh hated to be called sir. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
     “All right. You win. Just don’t call me that!”
     “Fair enough.” Josh hung up.
     He threw on some clothes saying, “All right, Missy. Time to go out. Sorry about this, but I don’t know when I’ll be home.” He opened the kennel door for the miniature beagle, who took her time by stretching every few steps as she walked to the kitchen door to be let out.
     “Come on, slow-poke,” Josh said to her. She looked up at him but did move a bit faster.
     Missy had been Jennie’s dog. He’d never been a pet person, especially because his job kept him away from home for long stretches at a time, but he couldn’t bear to part with Missy. Missy provided a constant reminder of Jennie.
     He waited by the door until Missy had finished her business. Then he put her back in her kennel which he didn’t always do. Considering the time, he thought it best.
     He grabbed a medium weight jacket on his way out the door. Even though October hadn’t brought winter to Denver, the nights were still a bit too chilly for him if he didn’t wear one. Some of the guys at the precinct seemed comfortable when they were out, sometimes in short sleeves, but he’d rather be warm since he didn’t believe in pretending to be macho to show his toughness.
     About to step out of the door, his phone rang again. It had to be Momma he thought. If he ignored the call, she might intercept him outside. She knew he was up. She always did.
     
     

Chapter 3

     “Brayburn, here,” he answered with a deep breath.
     “What are you doing up at this ungodly hour?”
     As he suspected, the call came from his neighbor, Mrs. Jessie Franklin. He wandered over to the window and saw several lights on at her house.
     “What are you doing up?”
     “I couldn’t sleep, so I’ve been reading a book. It’s a good one and I couldn’t stop reading. I’m guessing you got called in.”
     “Yes, ma’am, I did.”
     “Why so formal, Whitebread?”
     “Sorry, Momma,” he used the name he’d adopted the year Jennie had been killed.
     “That’s better. I hope you weren’t planning on sneaking away.”
     “I’m not sneaking anywhere,” he said defensively. “As you said, I got called in.”
     “But you ain’t leaving without a snack.”
     “No, Momma.” He knew better than to argue with her. “What do you have in mind?”
     “Why don’t you come over on your way out and see.”
     “I’m about to leave now.”
     “I’ll be at the front door.”
     He slipped on his jacket as he went out the front door. Then he walked the few steps to her house to knock, but before he had a chance the door opened and a small black woman so slim she looked almost emaciated, stepped out. Many years older than his mother would’ve been, she still had a smooth, unwrinkled face with an ever-ready smile. “What you got for me, Momma?”
     She held the door wide, beckoned him in, and indicated he should to sit on the couch. She turned heading toward the kitchen.
     “I can’t stay long,” he said as he walked to the couch, glancing at the picture near the door. He’d seen the picture many times showing her and her husband along with their two boys on a beach, all smiling. “I’ve got to—”
     She turned quickly, stopping him short by fixing her gaze on him. “You’ve got to take the time to eat a muffin or two,” she said in a tone he knew would brook no argument.
     I knew it, he thought. “When have I not taken time to eat your muffins? Blueberry?”
     She didn’t say anything for a moment as she disappeared from sight in the kitchen. “What else would they be?” She handed him a plate with two large muffins and a cup of fresh coffee.
     “Coffee?” he said quizzically.
     “I made a pot for myself. I told you I couldn’t put the book down.” To illustrate the point she picked up a book written by the most popular author of the moment from the table beside her chair.
     He nodded. “I’ve heard he’s good. I haven’t had the chance to read him yet, however.” He took a big bite of the first muffin.
     “Well, you can have this book after I’m through.”
     “That would be great.” He motioned to the plate of muffins. “And these are great, too, as always.”
     “Thank you kindly.” She smiled. “Happy to be of service to our boys in blue.”
      “I’m hardly a boy anymore, and when’s the last time you saw me in uniform?”
     “Beside the point,” she said with a dismissive wave.
     “Anyway, these are wonderful, as is the coffee,” he said sipping the coffee.
     “Glad you like them. Where you going?”
     “Now, Momma. You know I can’t talk about the case.”
     “I didn’t ask about the case. I’m only curious as to where you’re off to.”
     He knew there couldn’t be any harm in telling her the location. “Downtown Denver.”
     “Bad?”
     “I don’t know anything yet,” he took the last bite of muffin. “And I’d better be on my way.”
     “Want another muffin?”
     “Trying to make me fat, Momma?” He patted his flat stomach.
     “Not a chance,” she said, glancing at his muscular, 6’2”, 180 pound frame while passing over his Caucasian, thirty-three-year-old face as well. His face had always been blemish free which he freely admitted was pure luck. Bright blue eyes sparkled above his medium-size, almost too-straight nose. Cavity-free teeth showed when his easy smile split his face above his square slightly dimpled chin.
     “There would be if I ate too many of these luscious muffins,” he handed her his plate while taking his last sip of coffee.
     “Some more coffee at least?”
     “No, thank you.” He stood up.
     “What’s happening with your love life?” She giggled softly. She frequently asked him such questions even though he seldom gave her a straight answer.
     “Come on, Momma. I don’t have time to get into that now. I’m due downtown.” He took several steps toward the door. He reflected, not for the first time, how she’d taken him under her wing and been more of a mother to him than just a neighbor and friend after his wife had been found murdered. It had been at that time when he’d, jokingly, called her Momma for the first time. She’d simply smiled, nodded, and said, “That’s right, honey.” From then on, Momma stuck.
     She’d continued to take care of him during the funeral process, and then afterward through the long trial for Jennie’s killer. She, as well as some of the other neighbors, had brought him more food than he could’ve ever eaten. He’d been forced to take some of the food to the precinct to share. They’d also provided constant support throughout the ordeal.
     He continued in a softer tone, “How are Ben and James doing?” He knew asking about her sons to be a safe subject that would get her mind off him and his love life, or lack thereof.
     She knew his tactic. “They’re just fine,” she continued with that small giggle of hers. “Trying to change the subject are we? Pretty slick, Whitebread.”
     “Yes, I am,” he admitted. “Besides, I’ve got to go, and you need to get some sleep. You have to stop letting those books keep you awake.” He almost added, You also need to keep your nose out of my business, but…
     “It doesn’t matter. Nothing to get up for anyway.”
     “That may be, but you still need sleep,” he said as he opened the front door.
     “Yeah. I suppose so,” she said, tilting her cheek for a kiss.
     He obliged, planting a brief kiss on the proffered cheek. “Thanks again.” He slipped out of the door.
     “Any time.” She gave him a small wave and guided the door closed
     
     

Chapter 4

     Josh worked for the downtown district, but he actually lived in Brighton, a few miles north of Denver. Before getting married, he’d lived in downtown Denver, but Jennie wanted to live outside the city. He had to admit, after living there for the past couple of years, he actually enjoyed being away from the traffic and the rush of people.
     While on his way, he called in to get the precise address of the killing where he arrived about thirty minutes later. As he pulled up, he immediately spotted his partner. Tom waited until Josh approached.
     “What we got, Tom?” Josh said as he drew near.
     “Homeless. And it’s bad.”
     Josh nodded, following Tom into the alley. One cop car had pulled into the alley to provide lights for the scene. There were also several tripods bathing the area not illuminated by the headlights. Josh spotted Harold Spivak, the head medical examiner, leaning over the body, as well as one of the CSI techs, Katharine, or Katie, Keys taking multiple pictures.
     “What do we have here, Harry?” Josh asked.
     Before he could answer, someone hollered from halfway down the alley, “I think I’ve got something here!”
     Josh, Tom and a couple of patrol officers all walked over. Katie, and her boss, Joe Cummins, also walked over to the Dumpster, where the cop had been standing when he had called out.
     “What you got, Farley?” Joe asked.
     Farley Burgins shined his flashlight into the Dumpster. There, on the top of the trash, laid a softball bat with blood on the barrel.
     Joe said, “Looks like you may have found the murder weapon.” Katie immediately took several pictures of the trash container— a couple from the front and a couple from each end.
     “How do we get the bat out of there without disturbing anything else in the Dumpster?” Josh looked at Joe.
     Joe looked directly at Katie. “I guess someone will have to go Dumpster diving.”
     “And that someone would be me, I presume,” Katie said with a half-smile.
     Joe shrugged. “You presume correctly. It is your turn after all.”
     “Yes.” Katie sighed deeply. “I suppose it is.”
     She handed her camera to Farley then went back to her car to don her protective coveralls. Joe and Josh helped her over the edge of the Dumpster. She then maneuvered as well as she could over to where the bat lay on top of the trash. Gingerly she picked the bat up by the knob below the handle.
     Joe shined his flashlight on the bat, saying, “This is a lot of blood. As I said before, I think we may have found our murder weapon. We’ll bag the bat, tag it, and get the evidence back to the lab. We’ll let you know what we find,” he said to Josh and Tom. He held out a large evidence bag into which she promptly dropped the bat.
     Katie shone her light where the bat had been. “There’s more blood here.”
     “Take pictures, Farley,” Joe said.
     “Absolutely.” He snapped several pictures of the other trash where the bat had been laying in the Dumpster.
     “There’s a black ski mask with what looks to be blood spatter on it,” Farley said.
     “Already saw it,” Katie said. “Open an evidence bag and I’ll drop it in.”
     “Right away,” he said, handing the camera to Joe.
     “Anything else of interest?” Joe asked as she cautiously picked up the ski mask, careful not to smear any of the blood.
     “Nah,” Katie said, “But I think we had better print the entire Dumpster. Who knows? We just might get lucky.”
     “Good idea,” Joe agreed. “Farley, why don’t you take care of that?”
     “Will do, sir.” Farley walked to the CSI van to get his kit.
     “And,” Joe added, almost as an afterthought, “You better bag the rest of the trash to see if there’s anything else with blood. You can process it better back at the lab.”
     Katie glared at Joe for a moment before she said, “No problem,” even though she was knee deep in trash already and would probably stink for hours.
     Josh walked over to the body again. “What’ve you got for me, Harry?”
     “Well,” Harry said, looking up as he pulled the temperature probe out of the body, “I would say he died about two hours ago, which,” he looked at his watch, “was about 2:30. Though I wouldn’t be willing to sign a paper to that effect, I’m certain COD was blunt force trauma.”
     “That’s pretty obvious,” Josh said as he leaned over the body to get a better look. “How many times was he hit?”
     “That’s hard to judge at this point,” Harry said, “But I would guess at least three or four times with extreme force.”
     While they were talking, a patrolman Daryl Zank walked up saying, “Yuck.”
     “Yeah.” Harry nodded. “Pretty gruesome, isn’t it?”
     “That,” said the newcomer, pointing to the blood. “Sure is, but I was actually referring to the jacket.”
     “Watch it,” Harry said. “I used to have one just like that.”
     Daryl looked at the medical examiner with a rather startled expression, but didn’t say anything. He simply moved off, presumably to see if he could help someone.
     “Well,” Josh left the subject of the jacket alone, “I think we found the murder weapon.”
     “Good.” Then, turning to his assistant, he said, “Let’s get him out of here.”
     “Yes, sir,” Johnny Blevins, Harry’s assistant said.
     “Be careful not to disturb any evidence we might’ve missed, because the lighting isn’t too good here.”
     Johnny looked insulted for a moment before the look passed. After all, he was fairly new and Harry sometimes bordered on over-cautiousness. He said, “Of course…”
     “Who arrived first on the scene?” Josh said.
     “The patrolman over there.” Harry indicated a tall, slender, uniformed patrolman standing off to one side.
     Josh nodded moving off in the indicated direction. “You were first on the scene?”
     The patrolman nodded. “My name is Alex Lender and this is my beat.”
     “Did you know the victim?”
     “About as well as I know any of these people down here. His street name was Bowler.”
     “Bowler?”
     “Yeah, he had a ring that’s usually only awarded to people who bowl a perfect game, but I didn’t see the ring on the body. He was very proud of that ring, so I’m sure he wouldn’t have willingly parted with it.”
     “Well, maybe the ring was the motive,” Josh said.
     “Possible, but I really don’t think so. The ring was pretty worn and I doubt if it would have been worth anything to anyone except Bowler.”
     “Regardless, you should keep your eyes open for the ring. You never know what the homeless will think is valuable.”
     Alex nodded.
     Harry said, “Josh!”
     “Yeah?”
     “I think we may have found the cap to the bottle under the body.”
     “Good. Joe!” he called, turning in the direction of the Dumpster, “Can you handle the bottle cap Harry found? I’m going with Alex here.”
     “Of course,” Joe turned to where they were carefully placing the victim in a body bag.
     “Tom!” Josh called.
     Tom looked over from his discussion with the CSI people. “Yeah?”
     “Alex and I are going to see if we can find anyone who might know what happened. See you back at the station.”
     “Want me to come with you?”
     “No, you finish up here. We can handle this.”
     “Okay.”
     Josh turned from the scene noticing someone at the end of the alley. “Oh great. The fourth estate is here.”
     “Sir?” Alex asked.
     “Please don’t call me that. Lieutenant or just Lieu or even Josh will do.”
     “Yes, si…,” he started to say but caught himself, “Lieu.”
     “The fourth estate refers to newspaper reporters.”
     “And that’s her?” Alex pointed to the person they could now make out plainly to be a woman at the end of the alley.
     “Yes and I know her. She works for one of the local newspapers still surviving.”
     “Hello, Josh,” The tall, slim woman said as they approached.
     “Hello, Heather. What are you doing here?”
     “Well, I’m a reporter and this looks like news to me. Who’s the victim?”
     “No comment.” He looked back down the alley.
     “Come on, Josh. That’s no way to talk to a friend.”
     “Friend? Are we friends?”
     “Ouch,” she said with a half-smile. “That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?”
     “Yes. Maybe it is.” After all, he’d gone out with her several times a while back. “Okay,” he added. “A homeless person has been killed. That’s all we know right now.”
     “Okay. At least that’s something.”
     “The captain will probably hold a press conference about the murder in the morning anyway. How did you get here so soon, and before the rest of the vultures?”
     “Now let’s not be nasty. You know I have a police scanner.”
     “I remember,” he said. He did remember the scanner as one of the reasons they only went out a few times. Every time they seemed to be getting close, either his pager would go off or, more often than not, she’d jump up to turn up her scanner to catch a call. “I imagine the others have scanners as well. Why are you the only one here?”
     “I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’m the only one listening to it at three in the morning.”
     “I doubt that very much.”
     “Well, maybe I’m just more on the ball then the others are.”
     Then Josh heard the screech of brakes as a television van arrived at the scene.
     “See,” she pointed to the van.
     “I guess you’re right. But I’m out of here.” He crooked his hand to indicate he and Alex were leaving. “Lead the way Alex.”
     “Yes, si…Lieu,” Catching himself again. He took off down the street at a brisk pace with Josh close behind.
     
     

Chapter 5

     “What do you know about Bowler? Do you know who he hangs out with?” Josh asked.
     “As I said, I know him about as well as I know any of the guys down here. I think he generally hangs with a guy named Whitie.”
     They’d turned a corner and Josh could see a few cardboard boxes and a few people standing and leaning against the buildings or sitting in doorways.
     “Have you seen Whitie tonight?”
     “Nope. But he doesn’t necessarily hang out in this area. He usually stays about four or five blocks from here.”
     Alex stopped and looked around for a few seconds before continuing down the street. Together, they walked up 17th Avenue. They were both looking, but neither saw any other street people at all. After they’d gone about five blocks, they turned south on 12th Avenue to walk to a small park with a fenced-in baseball diamond. There were a lot of cardboard boxes with people curled up in them. Their feet were generally sticking out, covered to their waist or lower by a coat, jacket or ratty-looking blanket. The truly unfortunate ones seemed to be covered only with newspapers. There were also a number of them leaning against the fence.
     “Is he here?”
     Alex looked around shaking his head. “No, Lieu, I don’t see him anywhere.” Then he walked over to a large cardboard box with someone sleeping under a red blanket. He gently prodded the person’s foot, causing the person to roll over groaning. “All right, Dobbins, get up. We’ve got some questions for you.”
     Dobbins groggily sat up, wiped his bleary eyes saying with very slurred speech, “Whad’ ya want?”
     “Have you seen Whitie tonight?” Alex asked.
     “I da know. I don’ ‘member.”
     Alex pulled a one-dollar bill out of his wallet to point at Dobbins. “Would this help your memory?”
     Dobbins brightened a little, but shook his head. “Sorry. I really don’ know if I saw ‘m.”
     “All right.” Alex handed him the dollar. “Go back to sleep.”
     Dobbins grabbed the dollar, lying back down. “This is where he and Bowler usually stay. I’m not really sure where else to look, but we can wander around the neighborhood if you like.”
     “Might as well. I’d like to find him before we go back to the station.”
     “Let’s go this way then. There’s another place where the homeless congregate.”
     They walked a couple more blocks to another cardboard town. Alex wandered amongst the boxes as Josh watched. A small dog was disturbed. He wandered over to lick the neck of a small boy who giggled slightly and then sat up. He smile faded immediately as he eyed Alex suspiciously. Alex gave a small wave but didn’t stop.
     In a few moments he signaled Josh over. There, with his back against a building sat a man with the whitest hair Josh had ever seen.
     No wonder they called him Whitie, Josh thought.
     Alex leaned over, shaking Whitie’s shoulder.
     “Wha…?” Whitie said, coming half awake.
     “Did you see Bowler last evening, Whitie?” Alex asked.
     “I don’t know. Leave me alone.” He closed his eyes again.
     “Come on Whitie, wake up. We’ve got some news for you.”
     “Huh?” Whitie opened his extremely blood shot eyes to glare at Alex. “What ya got ta tell me?”
     “Bowler’s dead. He got himself killed earlier.”
     “Say what?” Whitie came a bit more awake now. To Josh’s eyes, Whitie had to be anywhere from fifty-five to seventy-five, skinny but not cadaverous, with skin that was heavily pockmarked. “Ba… Ba… Bowler’s dead?” He shook his head as if trying to clear the fog.
     “That’s right, Whitie, somebody killed him. Did you see him earlier?”
     Whitie scratched his head. “Nooooo…Wait a minute, yeah, I did see him earlier. Some guy offered Bowler a bottle if he’d go with him.” He pointed at an empty cardboard box. Then he pulled his threadbare coat father up around his neck.
     “And so he just went?”
     Whitie nodded.
     “What’d the guy look like?” Josh asked.
     “Who’s he?” Whitie asked, seeming to notice Josh for the first time while raising a weathered hand to point.
     “I’m Lieutenant Brayburn. Can you describe the man Bowler went away with?”
     “Naaaa. I didn’t pay no attention.”
     Alex shook his head. “The guy was waving a bottle around, and you didn’t pay any attention?”
     “I wasn’t feelin’ good.” Whitie slipped his hand under his coat.
     “You didn’t see them leave?” Josh said.
     “Naaaa. I weren’t payin’ no attention. I just wanted ta sleep.”
     “So you have no idea what the guy looked like?”
     “I said, ‘I didn’t pay no attention’.” Whitie closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall.
     “I don’t think we’re going to get anything out of him,” Alex said.
     “No I suppose not. Think anybody else around here saw anything?”
     “Oh, that’s hard to say. Somebody might’ve seen the guy with the bottle. Who knows?”
     “How many of these people do you know?”
     “Quite a few since it’s mostly the same crowd. Take Mary over there.” Alex indicated an old lady with her arm wrapped around the leg of a shopping cart. “She’s been here as long as I’ve been on this beat. She knows just about everybody and pretty much all their comings and goings. I can ask around if you want to go back to the station, or you can hang around, and we can ask Mary together.”
     “Let’s ask Mary.”
     They walked over to her. Alex leaned over reaching to shake her shoulder, but she shrank back. “Sorry, Mary. Did you see Bowler tonight?” She didn’t say anything. “Mary,” Alex said gently. “Someone killed Bowler tonight.” Still she said nothing, but her eyes widened. “If you saw Bowler tonight, it would be very helpful if you’d tell us.”
     “I saw him,” Mary said, almost too softly to be heard. “He left with a man. A big man.”
     “How big?” Alex asked.
     “He was taller’n Bowler.”
     “What else, Mary? Did you see his face?”
     “Nah. I only seen him from behind. They went that way.” She pointed south. “Man had a bottle.”
     “Yes. We know about the bottle. Are you sure you didn’t notice anything about the man?”
     She shook her head.
     “What was he wearing?”
     “Dark coat, dark pants, darks shoes, or least ways I think they was dark. Course it was dark out. He had a hat or a hood, so I didn’t see his hair neither.”
     “Okay, Mary,” Josh said, “That’s fine. Thank you very much.” He gave a dollar to her. This brought out a smile that showed her crooked, broken, and yellowed teeth.
     Mary seemed to notice Josh for the first time, even though she’d snatched the dollar from his hand, she looked up at him suspiciously.
     “He’s okay. He’s with me.” Alex straightened up indicating they should be moving on.
     “Anyone else you know that might be able to give us any information?” Josh said.
     “I doubt it. Mary’s about the most observant of all the homeless. It’s always possible, but we’d have to interview every one of these people.”
     “I think perhaps we should. I’ll get the captain to assign a few more men to help you. Why don’t you hang here for a while and get started. I’ll have the other men join you soon. Meanwhile, I’m going to head back to the station and see what the ME has to say.
     “Will do, Lieu. I’ll let you know if I find out anything at all.”
     “You do that,” Josh said as he walked away.
     By the time he’d walked the several blocks to his car, the body and those that’d been in attendance were gone. A few techs were left. Katie and Farley were still emptying the Dumpster into several large trash bags. Farley noticed him giving a slight wave of acknowledgement. Josh waved back, got in his car, and carefully backed out into the arriving morning traffic.
     He drove straight to the precinct.