Joe’s World: a Detective Series, #1
The world, according to Joe, was a world that didn’t make sense and he didn’t like that. Not at all. Joe was a detective with the Silver City police force, Silver City was barely a small town really, hardly a “city.” But he was a detective, none the less, and laying on the ground in the alley in front of him was a seriously dead woman. Her demise was vicious. Knife wounds everywhere.
Her name was Dotty. Dotty McGinnis. Dotty was the best waitress in town. She worked at the “Eat More Café,” an old greasy spoon that had been in business for as long as he could remember. The café was pretty much where everyone went for breakfast and often as much for lunch. He knew Dotty since she first came to town about a year ago. Even then, he remembered thinking she was running from something or someone. She had that look, anxious, looking over her shoulder, noticing whenever someone would come in the door. After awhile he just chalked that up to being a good waitress because she always knew where someone was sitting.
Looking at her body, he noticed several stab wounds. There were indications she had put up a bit of a struggle. One hand open, the other in a fist. Slashes on both her forearms. Her wedding ring was missing, and her bag torn apart. Dotty wasn’t married but wore a ring to help her brush the flies away. That’s what she called them, the men who would hit on her from time to time, because after all, Dotty was a very attractive woman for her age, which Joe reckoned to be in her mid-forties. What man asks a woman her age?
Joe didn’t want to touch Dotty’s body until the medical examiner had a chance to take a look. By now a small crowd of lookie loos had gathered, many with cell cameras out doing their thing. Joe asked an officer standing nearby to push back the crowd and turned his attention back to Dotty. He noticed something else besides the ring. Her ankles were bruised as if someone had gripped them tight and there wasn’t a lot of blood around her body. Clearly, she wasn’t killed here in this alley.
Joe didn’t have a partner. People said he was too intense or something. No one wanted to work with him, which was alright by him. He actually preferred to work alone.
“Just when the hell is that Doc gonna get here?” he asked out loud and not to anyone in particular. “She should be here any minute now Detective.” He heard a female voice coming from behind him say. Joe turned around to see a female officer looking directly at him.
“And who the hell are you?” he questioned rather sternly.
“Officer Johnson.” She stated matter of factly.
“How long ya been here?” Joe asked. Followed by, “How long you been on the force?”
“I was the first officer on the scene.” She replied, “And only six months.” She added somewhat meekly. “Well, officer,” he began, standing next to Officer Sheila Johnson, who appeared to be about five foot five, blond, and quite stiff, “what did you see when you got here?” “The victim was just as she is now. There were no people around, I didn’t see a weapon of any kind, no footprints or scuff marks.”
Joe motioned for Johnson to follow him. As they walked back to his car, Johnson listened to him chatter, basically to himself, “this doesn’t make sense. Dotty was a waitress, she wasn’t married or dating anyone.” Johnson wondered how the detective knew that or even if it was true. “Her money was still in her purse, so it wasn’t robbery” Joe continued, “And it was up close and personal…if I didn’t know better…” Joe stopped muttering. “Johnson, I want you to canvas the area. See if you can find a witness or something. Let me know. I need some coffee.”
Joe climbed into his car, an old Studebaker, and turned to smile at Johnson then thought better of it and drove off. Officer Johnson turned around, saw some guys on the corner and walked over to them. As she did, she kept wondering what the relationship was between the detective and the victim. It bothered her somehow.
Joe was a burly man. A veteran and he showed it by the way he carried himself. Tallish, with a beard and longish hair, often not particularly combed. He smoked, but didn’t think anyone cared about that, but they did. Either way really didn’t matter to him. He simply did whatever he wanted to do and often told people the rules don’t apply to him.
Arriving at the Silver City Police Department, he quickly went upstairs to his office in the squad room, reviewed his mental notes of the crime scene, and considered what to do next. This was hard. Dotty was a friend, though no one knew it. They had been dating for about six weeks, but it wasn’t anything he talked about so, he thought, no one knew. Joe preferred it that way.
While Joe was reminiscing, Officer Johnson had interviewed several people in the neighborhood of the crime scene. When she returned, Dr. Trish (everyone called her that) the M.E., was just finishing looking over the body. Johnson asked her what she had found.
“Not much” Dr Trish said, “clearly there were defensive wounds. She put up one heck of a fight.”
“Do you have a time of death?” Johnson asked.
“Yeah, between one and two o’clock last night.” Dr Trish stated while still examining the body “I’ll know more when we get her back to the morgue.” With that, Johnson thought she’d better get back to the station and report to the Detective. Climbing in her squad car, she took one last look back at the ME standing over the body. This was her first murder scene, and she knew she really wasn’t prepared for it but believed she could be up to it.
One sip of the squad room’s coffee and he knew he made a mistake pouring it. As he set the rank cup down, Johnson came into the room. Funny, every cop in the place stopped what they were doing to watch her walk across the floor to Joe’s office. Joe cleared his voice loudly and they all turned away.
“You have something for me, officer?” Joe asked. “Not really, Detective,” she said as she looked down at Joe’s full coffee cup, “ the coffee not to your liking? I can absolutely understand that. Anyway, I did talk with the ME and she said our vic fought back hard, but it was up close.” “And what’d that tell you Officer?” Joe asked. “That our vic knew her killer” Johnson replied. “Right!” Joe exclaimed as if to mock her. “You knew that…how did you know that?” she stuttered. “Oh, come on, what? Johnson, is it?” he added, “let’s go.” And with that, it seemed Officer Johnson was becoming the detective’s partner, or so it seemed to her.
In Joe’s car she let Joe know the time of death. They didn’t speak much because, as we know, Joe’s not a talker. So, they drove quietly to the café where they sat at a table, ordered coffee and breakfast. They ate quietly. Joe noticed she drank her coffee black which pleased him somehow. She noticed he was scanning the room. What was he looking for? she thought. Maybe faces that didn’t fit? That’s what she’d be doing, but she wasn’t as she was studying him as they sat there.
Joe fixed his gaze on Johnson. “How long you been on the force?” he asked in a way that made Johnson feel a bit uncomfortable. He noticed this but let the question hang. She decided to put the question back on him, “Why do you ask?”
For an instant he thought, ‘smart move, answering a question with a question,’ but he pursued it. “I’m serious” he asked. Johnson looked at Joe, “8 months, does that help? I know you are sizing me up.”
“Not really” Joe responded, looking into his empty coffee cup, “I’m just trying to get to know you.”
“Nonsense” she countered, “I’ve heard stories about you. You don’t have a partner. You’re a ‘lone wolf’ people say.” “But you’re not my partner” Joe shot back. He could see her recoil just a little. “But you’re right, I do work alone. I haven’t met anyone who can keep up with me” he added with a wry smile. “Can you keep up?” I like how you took charge of the crime scene by the way.”
“People often judge me over my looks, they say I’m just a pretty face, got a nice ass, great boobs, and that’s all they see. I get that. Had to deal with it all my life. But I say, fuck them! And you if that’s what you think.” She sat back in her chair and just stared at him.
Joe got up abruptly, picked up both checks and tossed hers down on the table for her. “We have work to do he snapped.” She got up as their waitress came over to Joe.
“I heard about Dotty” Betty whispered to Joe, “terrible! God, who would do such a thing?”
Betty was a waitress at the Eat More Café since it opened. She was tall and thin and smoked a lot. Joe and she would smoke out back of the kitchen. Joe learned a lot about the townspeople from these smokes together.
“How was Dotty last night? Did she seem more anxious than usual? Did anyone bother her? You know what I mean.” Joe asked.
“No, but there was something” Betty offered. She gave me this…”and pulled an old-fashioned pocket watch out of her apron “she said to give it to you if anything happened to her” handing it over to Joe. Joe looked at it, flipping it over a couple times. “OK, thanks” Joe simply said. “You guys had something together?” Betty asked, almost nervously. Joe didn’t answer.
In Joe’s car, he struggled to open the watch. “There must be some trick to this” he muttered, and pulling out his Swiss Army knife, he was able to break it open. Inside there was a small picture of two girls, probably somewhere around eight and ten years old. He showed it to Johnson as he started driving. “I wonder who they are?” Joe said aloud. “Daughters maybe?” Johnson suggested. As she fingered the watch back she felt something else. With her fingernail she picked out a small, folded, piece of paper. She unfolded it to reveal an address written on it.
“24 Hampshire Road,” she read, almost in a whisper. “What was that?” Joe asked, a little annoyed at her whisper and probably because Johnson had found it instead of him.
Special Agent Gloria Dumas had just got back from lunch when she saw the message light blinking on her desk telephone. She picked up the receiver and pushed the message code. “Hello?” an anxious woman’s voice said, “I hope you remember me. I’m in trouble!” she sounded frantic. “24 Hampshire Road, in Silver City Pennsy. Please help me!” Then she heard a muffled voice and the phone went dead.
Dumas faintly recalled that voice but couldn’t be sure. She called her tech people and asked if they could track the call or get anything off the message itself. Pulling her pistol out of her locked desk drawer she got up to leave, That address wasn’t too far away.
Gloria Dumas had been a field agent for about fifteen years. She had had the experience of working on robberies, assaults, kidnappings, and even a few murders --- as long as they all were in Federal jurisdiction, no problem. A little chubby, she fooled a lot of people. She was particularly strong and could outrun many other agents. On the drive she wracked her brain trying to put a face to the message she heard. The woman certainly sounded as though she was in trouble.
It took about two hours for her to get to Silver City and find the address. As she pulled up she noticed a car in the drive. It was an old house needing repair. The lawn desperately needed help. She got out of her car, pulled out her badge and gun and approached the front door.
She knocked on the door, “FBI, Anyone home?” She waited a little. “FBI, I’m coming in!”
As she called out the second time, Joe opened the door with his badge in his hand and Officer Johnson behind him, weapon drawn. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Gloria demanded. “Well, damn, if it isn’t the FBI coming to save the day!” Joe said in mock relief.
“Cut the shit” Gloria barked. But before she could get another word out, Joe said, “I’m Detective Joe Montana and this is Officer Johnson of the Silver City Police Department. We are here investigating a murder, and you?”
“I see,” said Gloria, “I’m Special Agent Gloria Dumas. I’m here because I received a message from a woman who was frantic asking for my help. Who was murdered?” “A woman here named Dottie McGinnis, a waitress at the Eat More Café.” Joe replied. Gloria then asked, “Is this where she lived?” “We’re not sure…but wait a minute. This is our case, what are you doing here?” Joe asked in a rather Joe-like gruff voice.”
“Frankly, I’m not sure. The name you gave me doesn’t ring a bell. All I know is a frantic woman left a voice message on my message service at the FBI leaving this address.” Gloria responded.
“Well, that’s interesting” Joe said, “Can we hear that message?”
“Let me check on that.” Gloria said. “I’ll call my office.” With that she took out her cell and made a call, walking away from Joe and Johnson.
“I don’t trust her” Johnson whispered to Joe. “Me either.”
Gloria returned and said her office would send the audio file in a few minutes. “Is there anything here in this house?” she asked both of them. The house was very dark. Gloria switched on the light switch in the hall several times and apparently there was no power in the house. They all took a few minutes to open the drab curtains over the windows. The house hadn’t appeared lived in for months. Dust everywhere, but there were papers strewn around the floor in the living room and the desk drawers had been emptied.
Gloria’s phone chimed a ridiculous chime and Joe couldn’t help himself; he chuckled when he heard it. “Dumas here” Gloria answered, “yes. Yes, OK” she put the phone on speaker so they all could hear the message the frantic woman left. Johnson had noticed Joe’s eyes squinting involuntarily when he heard Dottie’s voice.
“Can I have a moment with my Detective?” Johnson asked and without hearing a reply from either, she grabbed Joe’s arm and pulled him back into the hall. “What’s going on?” she demanded, “I saw your reaction when you heard that voice.” “It was Dottie” Joe whispered.
“Should I be worried about you?” Johnson asked while looking at the road in front of them. Joe was driving, heading back to the Café to get some lunch before connecting with that field agent at the station. Trees and traffic, that’s all Johnson saw, her mind wondering what was going on. She thought, we had a murder of a waitress, apparently Joe knew the victim in some other way than as a waitress, and the victim had called the FBI without calling Joe, or had she? And there was the mystery watch with the hidden address. It seemed to Johnson “Agent Gloria” also knew the victim, well enough to have called her for help. Johnson wondered what all of this meant.
“I asked you a question!” Johnson repeated, but Joe just kept his eyes on the road. “Joe!” Johnson insisted. Joe slammed on the brakes, put his light on the top of his old Studebaker then spun it around, nearly colliding with on-coming traffic. He put the pedal to the metal, forcing Johnson deep into her seat as he sped back down the road to the old house, a house as much of a mystery as anything else in the case.
“There must be something in that house!” Joe practically screamed at Johnson, “If you must know, Sheila, I’d been seeing Dottie for several weeks now.” Johnson turned to look at Joe, “You should’ve said something” she replied, “And you called me by my first name.”
Special Agent Gloria Dumas was on her way to the county morgue. She hadn’t told Joe that when she talked to her office, they had identified the caller as Erika Streeter, whose family had been killed by what they suspected was an unidentified female serial killer. Streeter was at work when a woman slipped into her home and stabbed to death her two kids. There didn’t seem to be a motive except the sheer desire to kill. There had been several other such killings in Pennsy and Jersey which is why the FBI was involved.
“So, what have you found?” Gloria asked Dr Trish who was standing over the victim’s body. “There was some blood under her fingernail we sent off to the lab. One thing is for sure, she fought hard. There should be some scratching on the perp” Trish replied. “Anything else?” Gloria asked. “Yes. The bruising on her ankles. Weird. There were abrasions on her back, shoulders and buttocks suggesting she had been dragged, but there were no drag marks on the ground nearby. We took some samples of the debris we found. We’ll see” Dr Trish added, then pulled the cover back up over the body. “So, if there’s nothing else, I need to get back to work” abruptly ending her conversation with the Agent.
Gloria returned to her car. She felt like an outsider for some reason. She didn’t particularly like that detective and his partner. She felt he was hiding something. She decided to take another look at that house, but as she drove up, once again she found that old car of the detective’s in the driveway. “Damn!” she muttered aloud getting out of her car.
Johnson had taken the upstairs, while Joe took the basement. Both searching for something, anything that would give them the clue Dottie wanted them to find. The trouble was they had no idea what they were looking for. Johnson carefully checked each of the four upstairs rooms, three bedrooms and a three quarters bath, several empty closets, chests of drawers, and so on. Nothing, Frustrated, she laid back down on one of the beds.
Joe was meticulous. The basement, he thought, would be an excellent hiding place for something. It was dark, moldy, and dirty. Three naked lightbulbs hung like lonely sentinels to a past long forgotten and neglected. Their light was barely adequate to be able to see, but he looked in every corner, up at the floorboards, on old shelves, empty and quite dirty. He even patted down the walls made of concrete block. Nothing. Just then he heard Johnson yell out for him to come upstairs.
“Joe! You gotta see this!” she nearly screamed. Nearly running up the stairs, Joe found Johnson in one of the bedrooms, still lying flat on her back on the bed. “What?” an out of breath Joe got out. “Look!” she said, pointing to a chandelier above the bed. Joe looked up and saw six little packages wrapped in white cloth.
His stare was interrupted by Gloria who heard the commotion as she entered the house, “What’s going on?” she asked in a matter-of-fact way, then followed Joe’s outstretched finger. “Ahhh, what have we here?” she whispered. Joe was about to climb up on the bed to reach for the packages, but Gloria stopped him. I need to call the field office here and have them send out a team. This whole place may be a crime scene. I’ll have to ask you both to leave. “What!” Joe actually raised his voice, “You gotta be fucking kidding! This is our murder investigation…” Gloria interrupted, but we are investigating a multistate serial killer, and that trumps your murder, even though they may well be connected. In fact, because they are likely to be connected.”
Joe and Johnson left the house but were both pissed off. “I found those bags!” Johnson complained.” “Yes, and it was Dottie who led us to the house first!” Joe added. “God damned Feds!” both said almost in unison. At that, they laughed a bit as Joe started his old Studebaker. By now it was getting close to dinner time, and they realized they hadn’t had lunch. “Let’s drop by the café, wash-up a bit and grab some dinner” Joe said.
When they got there it was dusk and the sky was a beautiful golden red. Johnson stood for a minute after they arrived and just looked at the sky. Joe walked around the car and they both leaned against it staring out over the town. The café was on a hill rise and there was nothing getting in the way of the view. “It’s beautiful” Johnson whispered, not really at Joe, but more to herself. “Yes, it is” was all Joe could get out. Then, turning to Sheila, he said, “Thank you” and walked away.
They sat in Joe’s usual place, a corner table, Joe at the back so he had his six covered and he could see the entire restaurant’s seats and the exits. Wherever he went this was how he sat. An old habit. Johnson sat on his right. The café was filling up and there were three waitresses hard at work taking orders, serving food and busing the tables. Johnson looked over the menu, while Joe scanned the place; he knew the menu inside and out.
“What can I getcha? Betty asked. Joe thought she seemed nervous, but then thought maybe she was just way too busy. “How about that grilled cheese sandwich and coffee” Johnson asked. “I’ll have your chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. Coffee too” Joe ordered. “Sounds good, be right back with your coffee” she said more to Joe than the table. Betty hurried off.
“I think something’s up with her” Joe said to Johnson. “Yeah, she did seem a little anxious.” “You think it had something to do with Dottie?” Johnson asked. “I don’t know, what do you think?” Joe asked. “It might be, but the place is pretty full and she’s…” “Here ya are doll” Betty said, interrupting Johnson and putting their coffees down on the table. “Have you noticed how she just talks to you, Joe?” Johnson asked. “What, you think she ignores you?” Joe replied with a smirk. “No, seriously, I think she’s worried about something” Johnson intimated. “You know, I’m beginning to like you Sheila!” Joe said directly to Johnson. “That’s the third time, I think” Johnson muttered. “Third time what?” Joe asked. “You called me by my first name” Sheila replied. Betty approached and the two stopped talking.
“Here ya go!” Betty said as she placed the plates on the table. Joe noticed Johnson watched Betty as she served the food and then quickly looked up at him. Betty just stood there next to Joe in spite of the fact the place was busy. Joe looked at her as if to ask a question, but then Betty asked, “So, Joe, what’s happening in your investigation? Got any suspects?” “Nah!” Joe quickly replied. Both Betty and Johnson noticed his answer was just a little bit too quick and with a sharp tone, showing there was more to it than just ‘nah!’ “Ok,” Betty hurriedly said and turned quickly to walk away. “What was that about?” Johnson asked. “Don’t worry about it” Joe replied putting his face down toward his plate as he started eating, “Eat up.”
“When Betty was dropping the plates down, You stared at Betty then turned away, What’s up?” Joe asked Johnson as they sipped the last of their coffee. “Well, did you see…” “More coffee?” Betty, who seemed to suddenly appear, asked?” “Sure,” Joe said. “Me too” Johnson added. “I think I’m going to grab a smoke, ok?” Joe asked Johnson. “Sure, no problem” Johnson replied as Joe was already heading out back through the kitchen.
At the ME’s office, Gloria was just getting off the phone with her field office, “Really…” “I have something for you,” Dr. Trish said, interrupting Gloria’s call. “Wait one!” Gloria said sternly, going back to her call, “Do me a favor, check to see who owns that house and get back to me ASAP.” Gloria then turned her attention to Dr. Trish. “Well, I have the DNA results, but there’s no match in our system” Dr Trish told her. “Damn! Send it to us, and we’ll see if it’s in the databases we have. Anything else?” Yes!” Dr Trish said with a degree of excitement she rarely shows. But Gloria’s phone rand again, “I see, Ok, thanks” she said as she hung up. “What’s that?” Gloria asked. Dr. Trish went on, “You know that material we dig out of the victim’s back?” “Yeah, I remember, what about it?” Gloria insisted. “Well, it’s consistent with grease, the kind used in restaurants.” Gloria stood up, “Shit! Do you know where that detective is, Joe?” “No, but knowing him and the time, probably at the Eat More Café.” “Crap,” Gloria said as she pulled out her cell again, placing a call on her way to her car.
Joe just put a cigarette in his mouth to light when his cell rang, “This is Detective Montana. Oh? Really? Damn. Thanks.” Just as he hung up, Betty came out to join him, “not as busy now, the rush is over” she said as she sat down on the other of the two stools outside the kitchen door. Joe lit his cigarette as did Betty, then Joe noticed something in the gravelly mix on the ground. It was a gold glimmer in the back door light. “Who was that calling, Joe?” “Nobody special” Joe replied. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you Joe?” Betty asked with considerable tension in her voice. Joe shifted his weight on the stool, putting his hand on his weapon. “What are you doing Joe?” Betty said quietly, almost in a seething like a whisper.
Joe began to pull out his gun when Betty jumped at him with a kitchen blade she had hid behind her. In a expert-like sweep, she cut his pistol arm and the gun fell to the ground. He managed to parry her thrust and as he did, he heard a shot. Betty dropped to the ground, a bullet through the center of her head. Joe looked over and there was Officer Johnson, pistol in hand. Just then Gloria came out through the kitchen door, also pistol in hand. “Damn, what a mess!” she exclaimed. Noticing Joe’s bleeding arm, she grabbed one of the towels that were drying and put pressure on the wound. “Call for an ambulance!” she yelled at Johnson, but Johnson seemed to be in shock. “Officer Johnson!” Gloria screamed, “Call an ambulance!” Johnson woke with a startle, took out her police radio, “Officer down, shots fired, roll back-up and an ambulance to the rear of the Eat More Café!” she yelled.
By then a crowd had appeared. Gloria instructed Johnson to push back the crowd to make room for the EMT’s. She did. Then she heard Gloria tell Joe the house belonged to Betty and they found the DNA both on the victim and in the small bags of trophies, which were children’s small toys, The DNA were a match. Joe looked under Gloria’s arm which was holding up Joe’s wounded arm and told her to quickly look in that direction. She lowered his arm and looked over on the ground. Without picking it up, Gloria saw it was a gold wedding ring. It would seem the pieces were falling together, a great relief to Gloria who had been dealing with this killer for some very long time.
The EMTs arrived with officers from the station, Johnson could finally get back to Joe. She met him as he was being rolled into the back of the ambulance, much to his dislike. “Ahh, shut up Detective!” she said quietly. “Thanks, partner,” he replied. “I’m sorry I didn’t get there sooner!” she said shakily. “Never too late” he replied.