Death at Winter’s Dawn
Published by Pointblank Comics
Distributed by Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Hughie Gibson
Also by Hughie Gibson
Pine Bluff Mysteries:
His Father’s Eyes (short story)
A New Man Jacob Mallory Mystery #1 (crossover novel)
Jacob Mallory Mysteries:
A New Man (crossover novel)
An Innocent Man (coming summer of 2016)
Hemingway’s Poison: a collection of poems
Adrenaline Gold Rush issue #1
Adrenaline Passing the Torch issue #2 (coming February 2016)
Death at Winter’s Dawn
A Pine Bluff Mystery
A late October breeze blew quietly in from the west, rustling the leaves of the turning trees. Early morning darkness was made darker by a heavy fog as it settled down upon the town, blinding whoever attempted to peer into its depths. I tried my hardest as I moved slowly along the sidewalk, feeling the unevenness of the blocks that had, overtime, given way the to the earths forces and pushed them from their home by large tree roots and distorted their appearance, tilting them this way and that.
Water gathered on the branches of the trees until they grew too heavy to hang on and plummet to the ground making a ticking sound that fills the air. Orange, Red, Yellow, and Brown leaves are beginning to fill the yard of Hickory Street, only allowing the last bit of green grass to poke through their smothering grip. The last ray of light before the death of winter.
A large yellow Victorian, built in the early part of the twentieth century sat like a gothic reminder of the season. Its front yard a stony graveyard scene of sheet ghosts, and cotton woven spider webs and skeleton hands protruding from the soft wet earth, reaching, grasping for my stumbling feet. I bury my hands deep into my jacket pockets for warmth.
I shake off the thoughts of October and concentrate on the task at hand. It should be just up ahead. When Sheriff Rachel called I told her I would walk, being that my tiny apartment was only three blocks away on Madison Ave.
Peering through the thick fog I was finally able to make out the distinct red and blue flashing lights just ahead, maybe another two blocks. New here I’m still learning block numbers then suddenly I hear the swooshing sound of a car on wet pavement and turn to see a Sheriff vehicle pull to a stop near the street parking spots.
“Dewey, hop in,” It was Sheriff Rachel
“No thanks, I enjoy the walk.”
“It’s an order,” She said. I hadn’t heard her give many orders so I took this serious.
Dinging echoed throughout the block as I opened the door to the Tahoe. It wasn’t a ’cops’ car, it smelled of new car and a sweet perfume I couldn’t make out, not stale coffee and cigarettes, or the common smell of puke from a patrolman’s car from picking up drunks. Rachel was always ‘put together’, makeup just right, and her hair always pulled back in a tight ponytail, her black hair shining even in the dark.
“He’s just up here. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“You’ve been here already?”
“I responded and when the crew got here I left to get a cup and pick you up. Crime scene should be finishing up now.”
I could see the scene better now that we were within feet of the house. Rachel parked her Tahoe just in front of the house in the home owner’s street parking spot. The small driveway, big enough for one small car, was void. A large work truck, littered with ladders, sat just up the street on the other side of the entrance to the drive.
Rachel was right, it was bizarre, gruesome to say the least. It was the classic graveyard scene that filled every second or third yard in town. Two large oak trees stood like pillars at the entrance of the stone walk leading up to the door of a small two story house with a large front porch. Foam headstones claiming “here lies Ima Getcha” and the generic “R.I.P.”, skeletons in a pine box lay with the same spider webs as their block neighbor. What no one else in Pine Bluff could say was, “I have a fat man with a hole in his chest sitting in a rocking chair by my front door.”
“What the hell is that,” I asked.
“That, Dewey, my friend, is a dead body.”
I moved closer making sure not to touch or disturb any markers the C.S. guys had placed, I entered through the pillars and noticed the common yellow triangle marker with a number 4 posted on it, it hung, attached to the tree near a hole. I gazed in amazement at the body and its largeness. He had to be three hundred pounds, and hairy. His hands placed in his lap, crossed and his head hung lazily facing his chest, his hollow eyes staring at his large hands. Blood pooled underneath the rocking chair, his bare feet resting silently in it. Next to his feet, floating in the now congealed blood was a large manila envelope, written on it, sitting face up, was a single word “Jimmy”.
I peered at the man’s face. His patchy unkempt beard, his now glassy blue eyes and his yellowish teeth, and his crooked nose and a mole on his left cheek made me realize two things about this case. First, I hate October, and second, I knew very few places in Pine Bluff and even less people, and one of the few that I did know just ended up dead.
It appeared obvious, if one were to look at Freda Dotson, that she had very few days left upon this earth. Her hair silver from time and her back hunched over in a low stoop. She couldn’t stand more than four foot five and came to my chest. Her body rested heavily on her walker as she stood on her front porch as I repeated myself for the half-dozenth time.
“My name is Detective Theodore DuPont, but my friends call me Dewey.” I said, “may I ask you a few questions?”
Her voice ragged, replied, “sure have a seat there in that chair,” she pointed to a weathered old chair, its white paint nearly all flaked off exposing the grey rotted wood underneath.
As I sat in the chair she took a spot near me in a swing that hung from the ceiling of the porch. The swing itself looked almost as bad as the chair in which I had taken up residence.
“Ms. Dotson, is it?”
“Yes, dear, but a handsome man like you can call me Freda.”
“Well, Freda, did you happen to see or hear anything last night?”
She leaned closer to me, “What dear?” she said.
I repeated my question and she shook her head to the negative.
“No, no I didn’t. I went to bed at about nine last night, like I always do.”
“Nothing woke you?”
“No I slept like a baby.”
“Have you ever seen this man at that house?” I showed her a picture of the deceased.
“Not until yesterday.”
“Oh I don’t know, perhaps around three o’clock. He was talking to that nice young man, Parker.”
Parker Cole was the owner of the home.
“What were they talking about?”
“I’m sorry, I’m getting hard of hearing in my old age, could you repeat the question.”
With a sigh I repeated the question again.
“Oh, heavens, I couldn’t say. I assumed it was about the house. That man in your picture was driving that truck there.” She pointed to the truck down the road. “They walked around pointing at some stuff on the house while that man took down notes. I thought maybe he was a handyman or something.”
“Did you hear anything that might be a gunshot?”
Again she didn’t hear me and again I repeated.
“ummm, no sir, I don’t believe so.”
The rest of the neighbors were as much of a help as Ms. Freda Dotson had been, no one saw or heard anything.
Jimmy Ray Allen, fat bastard and my landlord, lay on a cold metal table in a cold metal room. His gray face staring blankly at the ceiling. One would call this a coroner’s office or a morgue, but it was in fact a room of the funeral home where they do their work. Small town like these don’t have much use for a true coroner. The room served its function I suppose, he can, most times, determine cause of death, a couple doctor’s in town work with Grayson Lewis, the young mortician there, as consultants if need be. In some rare cases a body has been known to head up north to St. Louis for a more detailed autopsy.
Alice Palmer and Bobby Cooper stood staring at the face that stared at the ceiling as young Grayson held the sheet back. Like in every movie and perfectly on queue miss palmer placed her hand over her mouth and gasped in shock, turning her head and burying it into Mr. Coopers shoulder. He gently rubbed her head and turns and escorts her out the door and into the carpeted hallway.
In the hallway it looked more like a funeral home and less like a morgue. Potted trees sat in the corners and tight green carpet laid on the floor. Chairs with cushions that matched the carpet sat sporadically about the hall.
Leading her by the shoulders Bobby pushes Alice out the door and toward the street to a truck that resembled Jimmies.
“Excuse Ms. Palmer could I have a few minutes of your time,” I asked. “I understand you have a lot to do but if I could just steal a moment of your time while things are still fresh, it would help me out a lot.”
Bobby, who appeared to have at one time played football, stepped between Alice and me. “I think now is not a good time Detective Dewey.”
“You sound a little sarcastic, Mr. Cooper.”
“Not at all.”
“It’s okay Bobby,” Alice said stepping up. “Go home, I’ll call you when we decide on arrangements.”
Bobby leans in and gives her a hug, a long snug hug. He places his left hand on the side of her small round face, “you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I won’t, thanks for everything Bobby,” she said.
Bobby speeds up the downtown street past cars parked at the storefronts.
We sat in the sanctuary of the funeral home near the back, Alice’s tiny body as far away from me as she could get. Her small hand sat on her skinny legs. Alice appeared to be several years Jimmy’s junior. Her long blonde hair curled and fell in ribbons around her small round face. When she smiled dimples formed near the point of her mouth and her cheek. She was a next girl beauty and I wondered instantly what attracted her to Jimmy. I, however, knew what attracted Jimmy to the young Alice.
“Mrs. Parker, how long have you and Mr. Allen been together, a couple so to speak.”
“Going on five years now.”
“Wow, Mrs. Parker, you don’t look old enough to have been in a five-year relationship.”
“It’s Alice, please, and I am twenty-five, Detective,” she says with a smile. “What a tricky way to ask a lady her age.”
“And your Mr. Allen’s, girlfriend, fiancée?”
“Fiancée,” she said, bringing her hand up to her mouth again. “Two weeks ago.”
“You’re not wearing an engagement ring.”
“He said he had something better for me.”
“Not sure, he was supposed to give it to me tomorrow at our engagement party.”
I adjust in my pew slightly, the hard wood bench making my butt go numb.
“They are uncomfortable aren’t they,” she asks. “That wouldn’t be good for the visitors. You know of another funeral home here?”
“I heard they are really good here. It’s a good thing you have a friend like Bobby. You know someone you are close to help you in your time of need.”
“He is okay,” she says wiping her eyes with a tissue. “Are you implying something Detective?”
“Just that he seems very friendly.”
“He is a friend. Actually he is a friend of Jimmy’s, I barely know him.”
“He seemed like he knew you.”
“Detective DuPont, if you think for a minute…” she stopped and placed the tissue to her eye again. “Well you are crazy.”
“Mrs. Parker, do you own a gun?”
Alice stood, her thin legs shaking beneath her short skirt. She turned and headed down the aisle to the back of the room. She stopped and turned back to me.
“Detective, I finally got what I wanted, why on earth would I have killed him?”
Alice had a good point, why indeed would she kill Jimmy?
The brisk morning breeze began to pick up and blow the leaves around, whooshing them around downtown Pine Bluff which was two story brick storefront after storefront all crammed together in a strip of five blocks. This downtown was no different than any other Midwestern downtown, it too at one time was dying because of the big box stores opening up near the interstate, it however found new life with artsy and specialty shops, catering to the upper echelon of the community. This is not where I had expected to find Bobby Cooper, he was standing in front of a store talking to an older man, had to be in his late fifties. They were pointing and discussing, Bobby was taking notes with a pen and notebook. They shook hands and Bobby went back to his truck. His right arm rigid at his side.
I stepped up and said, “Hello Mr. Cooper, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
“I’m sorry Detective, but I am really pressed for time.” he said throwing a leather pouch into the bed of his pickup. “Make it quick, Dewey.”
“I’m sorry, do I know you? You have always known my name, but I never introduced myself.”
“Lewis Cooper was my father.”
I knew Lewis Cooper. I knew him well. After Katrina, Lewis hosted me through his church. Came to stay with him and his wife for about six months thinking I wasn’t going to be a refugee forever, I had all intentions of going back to New Orleans. Instead I became a transplant.
“Your father was a good man; I miss him dearly.”
“What can I do for you?”
“Well, tell me about your relationship with Jimmy Allen.”
“I guess I’ll take that coffee.”
After we found a table at a little coffee shop on a corner near the end of downtown where the blocks turn to houses again Bobby begins to tell me about him and Jimmy.
“After I got back from college with a bachelor in science I realized there wasn’t really anything I wanted to do. Lewis said I had to find a job and find one quick before the economy dried up, he saw it coming.”
“That when you started construction?”
“No, my first job was at Wal-Mart. Took a job as a manager. Good pay, crappy job. They shipped me up to the city and I was walking around all day with nothing to do but tell high school kids who hate you to get to work.”
“So then you got into construction.”
“No then I got into a car wreck, drunk driver hit me, t-boned me on the passenger side. He drove right through a stop sign, fast asleep and doing nearly sixty miles an hour. It shoved the console of my little car up into my right arm, dislocating it and breaking my collar bone. I was lucky the doctor said, said I coulda died. Told him I wish I had.”
“Came home, bought a house with the settlement money. Got bored so I fixed it up a room at a time. Some guy stopped by one and day and made me an offer. Three time what I paid and had in the house. I took it and ran. Bought another house and did the same thing. Fixed it up one room at a time. Sold and moved on.”
“Then you met Jimmy.”
“Then I met Jimmy, had a house he wanted me to fix up. Sold it and we kinda fell into flipping together.”
“So I guess with your condition it’s pretty hard to shoot a gun?” I asked as a took a swig from my pumpkin spice mocha latte, whatever happened to good ole black coffee?
“Well I can fire a handgun, but with my left hand, which ain’t crap for aiming. But I ain’t fired a deer rifle in twenty years, even ‘for the accident. But now I really can’t.”
I took another drink, it wasn’t getting better, “Tell me about Alice.”
“What about her? She’s great I guess. She seemed to care a great deal for Jimmy, I can’t say as to why.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well you’ve seen Jimmy, and you’ve seen Alice.”
“I’ve also seen Beauty and the Beast.”
“That is a fairy tale, Detective, I think we both know that.” He finally took a drink of his coffee. His face told me he felt the same as I had about the coffee. “Alice is fifteen years younger than Jimmy. Has a body to die for. She could have anyone she wanted. But she picked Jimmy? I think it was something else.”
“You know of another reason,” He said pushing his cup to the middle of the table.
“Sure,” he looked at the table. “Jimmy changed his will to Alice as the sole beneficiary of his estate.”
“Two weeks ago.”
“That when he proposed. Was that his engagement present to her?”
“If only, he bought her that house.”
“Parker Cole’s house.”
I pushed my coffee to match Bobby’s and thanked him for his time.
As I pulled up to the Cole home Rachel pulled to a stop behind me. I could see the light shining off of her black hair, it still in that ponytail on her head. She stepped out of the Tahoe her black boot hit the pavement I followed it up her brown uniform pants that fit snug to her thick thighs, her uniform hugged her every curve, and she was curvy. Thick thighs, bubble butt, flat stomach and nice natural C breasts.
It had been a long time since I felt this way about someone. And frankly I wasn’t comfortable with it, she was a co-worker and friend, and worst of all, she had no idea.
“Dewey, he said he would meet us here in ten, I think I’ll look around.”
“I think I’ll…,” I was cut off by a small Honda car pulling into the drive.
It was Parker. His short blond hair sat combed neatly on his head. He carried his briefcase and his sport coat as he got out of the car. Standing at an impressive 6’5” it is a wonder he fit into the tiny car. He wore a blue pressed shirt tucked neatly into designer jeans and a white tie hung from his neck pointing like an arrow to his chiseled physique. He was thin like he played basketball.
I looked and Rachel was already gone.
“Mr. Cole may ask you a few questions?”
“Detective DuPont, I presume,” he said extending his large hand.
“Not what I expected.”
“Well you don’t look like a coon-ass, or sound like one.”
“I try hard not to slip into that dialect, not sure anyone here would understand me,” I said with a chuckle.
We stood by the front door, I waited for his invitation to enter, it became a hopeless cause.
“I’m sorry Detective, but unless you have a search warrant, I’m going to have to ask you to stay on the porch.”
“You have something to hide Mr. Cole?”
“I don’t see how that would be possible. Considering I just returned from a business trip and left here early yesterday. I haven’t even been my house to take an inventory of my personal property,” he said turning the key. “If there are no more questions I would like to get busy and call my insurance company, if that is okay with you Detective.”
“Mr. Cole what time, exactly, did you leave for… where did you go again?”
“Boston, and I left here around nine a.m. to make my plane in Memphis by one.”
“Some neighbors said they witnessed the deceased here yesterday morning talking with you. Why was he here?”
“He was looking at the property, possibly to purchase it from me. I’m making the move to Boston next month, transferring with my company.”
“I was told that he already purchased it.”
“We were in the contract phase only. I was still taking offers.”
“Mr. Cole, do you own a firearm?”
He opens the door but doesn’t allow much of a view, and I am unable to see anything.
“I’m sorry to disappoint, Detective, but I do not and I can honestly say that I have never fired a weapon in my life.”
Why when people are trying to hide something do they always say ’honestly’?
“Oh, Detective. You might want to have a word with Bobby Cooper. I saw him and Alice having a cup of coffee yesterday morning.”
Alice’s small apartment was filled with family and friends. They huddled around the small kitchen island counter consoling each other. Her face flush and wet with tears from throughout the day and her body hung on to the counter bracing herself from crawling up in the floor. She seemed genuinely distraught.
“I am sorry Ms. Palmer but I need to ask a couple more questions about yesterday.”
As she showed the ladies out she quietly thanked me for giving her a reason to ask them to leave. I promised it wouldn’t take long.
“Alice, Parker Cole said he saw you and Bobby having coffee downtown yesterday.”
“You stated that you didn’t know him.”
“I stated that I barely know him. That is correct.”
“But yet you found yourself on a coffee date with your fiancée’s partner the day before his death?”
“Don’t be silly Detective. Bobby called me to plead with Jimmy about a house he was thinking of purchasing.”
“The Cole home?”
“I believe so.”
“Alice did you know that two weeks ago Jimmy made you sole beneficiary of his will?”
“Uh yes the oldest motive in the book. The will.”
“So you knew?”
“No but I assumed he would at some point. But that doesn’t mean anything Detective.”
“If you would bother to look at Jimmy’s financials, you would find he didn’t have anything to leave me. He was up to his eyebrows in debt with the business. The only thing I will get is a dozen rent houses that the bank still technically owns and a beat down work truck and business partner that can’t keep his eyes off my chest. I think I would rather have Jimmy.”
I have looked into the eyes of many liars and Alice didn’t appear to be lying. However, I have looked into the eyes of many liars whom I didn’t know were liars at the time. I noticed that her hands sat clenched into a fists resting on the island. After her statement she relaxed and wiped her hands down the front of her pants, drying the sweat from the palms. She was nervous or angry. Possibly at my allegations.
“Alice, did you know that Jimmy was planning to purchase the Cole home for your engagement present?”
“No, but that shows me level of awareness. I had once told him I loved that house and someday wanted to live there.” She placed her hands back on the countertop. “Was that the house that Bobby was trying to get me to convince Jimmy not to buy?”
I told it was and left her to mourn her loss.
I sat outside the Cole home waiting for Parker to return. His attitude on the phone was not the most pleasant and felt put out to have to return and answer more questions about the dead man found on his doorstep.
The house looked immaculate, everything about the home screamed I’m for sale. The hedges were trimmed perfect, the yard raked and was the only home on the block that wasn’t covered with leaves. The house looked like someone lived here in all aspects except the curtains, there were none on the windows. Parker was trying hard to sell this house. And I knew that Alice would have made the perfect owner. I could tell in her eyes that she loved this house.
The Honda Civic pulled up into the drive and Parker Cole lumbered out of the car again. Once again holding the briefcase, swinging it back and forth in a hurried pace. I headed him off at the door, making sure to avoid the blood on the front porch.
“What could you possibly want now Detective? I thought that I cleared everything up at our last meeting.”
“Well, I have that search warrant now and I thought I would come in and check it out. That is if you have had the opportunity to survey your belongings and confirmed you had no missing items.”
“Everything is here Detective.”
“Good I will just let myself in then. If you could wait out here that would be good.”
The house looked as immaculate on the interior as it did on the exterior. The house smelled of pine cleaner and light shown in through the windows throwing light on the walls and showing of the lovely turn of the century trim work and in one corner of a spare bedroom I saw thirteen curtain rods leaning in a corner. As I explored the house I did not find any firearms or weapons of any kind.
I met Parker outside by his car. “So Mr. Cole, tell me about your relationship with Jimmy.”
“There was no relationship.”
“Other than he wanted to buy my home.”
“And did you sell it to him.”
“We were just in the contract phase like I said before.”
“So nothing was final?”
“Everyone around Jimmy seems to think the deal was done.”
“Well I was rushing it along. I was to leave for Boston soon and I felt we needed to get it sold.”
My phone vibrated in my pocket and I excused myself from Parker for just a moment. After I spoke with Sheriff Rachel I had a couple questions for Parker.
“Mr. Cole I suggest you start being honest with me.”
“How do you mean?”
“First the envelope retrieved from the pool of blood beneath Jimmy was a contract stating his intent to buy the home. Both of your signatures were on that contract. Second the sheriff just talked to your employer after you left and discovered that you in fact were not going to Boston that the job had been given to someone else.”
He turned and rested his weight on his tiny car. Ran his fingers through his blond hair and whispered. “I didn’t get the job.”
“And you wanted to back out of the contract?”
“This home has been in my family for a hundred years, detective, if I’m going to be in Pine Bluff I am going to live here.”
“Jimmy didn’t want to back out of the contract did he?”
“Nope. He said that it was gift for his fiancée and that a deal was a deal.”
Sheriff Rachel pulled into the drive behind Parkers car. She got out and put her hand on her gun.
“Parker how many windows do you have?”
“You know what bothered me? I was trying to figure out how someone could have shot someone in this neighborhood and no one hear anything.”
He shook his head.
“Well it wasn’t a gunshot. The coroner seems to think he was impaled with something. Like a metal rod perhaps.”
He shook his head.
“Where is the other rod Parker?”
“The other curtain rod. You took every curtain down. At first I thought it was to let light in but I think you took them down thinking you were leaving. Then you got word that you were not moving to Boston.”
“So you called Jimmy to tell him you were backing out of the deal, he brought the airtight contract over to show you that it couldn’t be broken and that he expected you to leave the house to which you refused. The two of you started arguing and one thing led to the next and you stabbed him with the curtain rod, falling onto the rocking chair on your front porch. You left him there and faked your business trip to Boston in hopes it would be an alibi.”
Parker didn’t say a word as the cuffs clicked down tight on his wrists. A swirling breeze blew down my jacket collar and leaves had already begun to accumulate on my car. I closed the door to the autumn breeze and thought that this day had led me to two conclusions. I guess I have a new Landlord and I hate October.
Theo DuPont hates the cold Missouri mornings in late October, and he hates Mondays that start with a murder and unfortunately that is exactly what he gets on his first day as head homicide detective with the Pine County Sheriff's Department when a local real estate tycoon is found brutally murdered on the steps of a home he had intended to purchase. Theo finds himself navigating a town full of people who do not take kindly to outsiders and Theo, a transplant from southern Louisiana, if far from a local.