I have been absent from blogging. Involved in many other projects. I would like now to present the final revision of the first part of my newest Novel: Thirteen Years of Dust starring Duke Bradley Private Eye.
Duke is an ex-FBI special detective who got canned from the bureau for botching the investigation of a serial killer because he was drunk. He is now sober, a vegetarian and heavily into chanting and meditation. Although he battles with his addictions, he allows for one. His love for the lottery and game shows.
Now down on his luck and highly in debt he has found a way to get some quick cash doing what he loves doing best. Solving murders.
I present for your consideration.
Thirteen Years of Dust
Jeffrey M. Thompson Jr.
When I first met Karen Linford, she was already dead. Had been for over thirteen years. She was stabbed by a coward and left to bleed to death in front of a no-tell motel room, two blocks over from West Exchange Street in Akron Ohio. No arrests were ever made and eventually her case grew icicles. It seems the police at the time didn’t have any leads to go on and the homicide detectives were sitting around with itchy scalps. Their main problem was, in my opinion, they didn’t have yours truly, Duke Bradley, on the job.
Now this is back before I got rich and famous with my name in the papers all the time. I owe all of that to Karen Linford. Her case saved my skin and introduced me to Shriya. Shriya restored a little bit inside of me that had been lost or eaten up a long time ago. It’s been a year now, but I still like to think about it. About how all of this got started.
It was 4.30 am on a butt-cold Wednesday morning last November. Akron, Ohio. I was at my desk with the phone pressed to my ear listening to the purr of the ring tone and trying to get my Marlboro lit with a broken lighter. I had the newspaper from the day before in front of me open to page two and I was cursing myself for not reading it earlier.
I was calling on my old partner Joel Conrad, I knew he would be awake. I threw the lighter into the trashcan and searched around my desktop for a pack of matches.
After four and a half rings and two match sticks Joel’s voice filled the receiver. He didn’t say hello. He just said his name.
“Joel, it’s Duke.” I spit out. “Been a long time.” .
“Yep.” His monotone voice revealed quickly his apprehension.. “You drunk?”
“Nah, I’m off the hootch finally, been two years, well almost. Listen I need your help. what do you know about this new cold case unit?”
“The one there in Akron?” He asked like he forgot where I lived.
“Yeah. Akron, Ohio.”
“Not much. I heard they were looking for volunteers a while back, but then they volunteered people. You know the agents who weren’t making it.”
“Second rate guys?”
“More like scraping the bottom.” He stifled a yawn. “Mostly field agents that have been reprimanded for something. I can tell you, not one of them wanted that position.”
“Hey don’t get me wrong Duke, but it’s not exactly the most exciting position in the FBI. And they are answering to the state’s attorney, kinda on loan. What’s your interest in it?” He paused and his voice volume dropped a little. To be sincere. “I don’t think they will take you back Duke. Not after Bay Springs.”
Bay Springs, Mississippi. It’s been three years since we talked and he just couldn’t wait to bring that up.
“Forget about Bay Springs Joel.” I said “I want in on this reward money.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, but I’m listening.”
I went into it and he paid attention with a few hmm’s and mm-hmms. Joel was my partner for fifteen years. I know how he thinks. And he owes me one.
I told him how I couldn’t sleep so I picked up the newspaper and I saw this article on page two. The FBI’s new cold case initiative in cahoots with the Ohio Attorney General is promising five grand to anyone who can give information leading to an arrest in the 2001 murder of Karen Linford. And I explained how my mental rolodex started whirling like a pinwheel when I read this and his number shot out. I cooked up this idea on how I could get in on it. Sort of help out and just collect the reward money. It took me a little while to convince him that this was a hell of an idea. My plan would work.
He finally saw things my way.
“Alright, give me an hour or so Duke.” He said. “Let me reach out to few guys and see what I can get into.” The FBI doesn’t sleep.
“Ok let me know.”
“And Duke, after this we’re square.”
“I’ve never said a word Joel. We have always been square. I just like bustin’ balls.”
He hung up without saying goodbye.
I carried that lump in my stomach over to the open window and leaned there with my left forearm high on the oak stained, wooden window frame and took a look outside. It hadn’t snowed yet for the season, but it felt like it. I could see my breath as it twisted around the icy air. I don’t mind the cold too much, so I keep my window open most of the time. Makes the air feel clean and pure even in the middle of the city, which is where I was.
What was fueling my chronic insomnia was a lack of cash. I was on the nut and behind the eightball. I owed everyone and a few more. I really needed that reward dough and I needed it quick. I was down to my last eighty- three bucks, a five dollar instant lottery ticket winner, and one clean pair of socks. I had no cases, the rent was late and I was almost out of cigarettes.
From my second floor window, I kept my eyes squinted on the crossroads as if a magical solution would suddenly appear right there in the middle of the road. The street light gave the empty corner an eerie, silent glow, like a weird photograph filtered through yellow cellophane. That street light shines straight into my office. Keeps it pretty well illuminated at night,saving me a bundle in electric bills. But makes it difficult to fall asleep.
This had become my life. Watching and waiting. I was waiting for a miracle. In rehab I learned several ways on how to meditate to stamp out stressful times like these and calm my obsessive mind. I found I like chanting mantras most of all. Seems more effective than just trying to sit and clear the mind. Doesn’t make sense to me to attempt to shove something out of the noggin by thinking about it. So I chant mantras and spend a lot of hours doing it. Puts the thoughts on something else.
I began compulsively checking the time. I knew I could count on Joel. He’s a right guy. We always took care of each other. Joel was a career guy in the bureau, already in for twenty plus with no signs of stopping. I was just a rookie when they partnered us up. It took him a while, but he warmed up to me. Said he enjoyed my cynical sarcasm, but grew to hate my irresponsibility when I was on a bender and my lack of respect for the boss.
I grabbed up the paper again and looked at the name of the victim. Karen Linford. Sort of rang a bell. Looked at the date. July 23rd, 2001. At that time I had just gotten on the tail of a serial killer that took me across six states for more than a decade. It was the case that consumed most of and eventually ended my fifteen year career with the bureau. I had been playing a game and ran out of lives. If I’d had just one more move I could have won.
I couldn’t think about that stuff anymore. I took a deep breath and started chanting.
At 5:25 am a blue, box truck with the words “Akron Beacon Journal” written on the side in big white letters, sputtered and huffed down the road then stopped at the paper box stationed there on the corner. The side door slid open sounding like a drunk cricket and bundle of newspapers jumped out.
I went over to my desk to see if by chance I had any loose change in the center drawer. Nothing. Just an unpaid phone bill, a meeting schedule and a picture of my ex-wife. Two of those I didn’t want and one I couldn’t live without.
I sat down and lit cigarette. I had a few minutes to kill while they loaded the papers, collected the money, and took off. I needed to get a copy to make sure that they hadn’t yet solved the case and handed out the reward, if that would even make print. I looked at the tip of my cigarette. I really want to quit this nasty, filthy habit.
Mark twain once said that it was easy to quit smoking. He said he did it a thousand times. I got him beat. I think maybe it’s because I stay up later. See, I am what they call an insomniac. Insomnia and smoking are brother and sister. Every time I crush one out into the glass ashtray I say to myself, ‘OK Duke Bradley, that’s the last cigarette you will ever smoke!’ Yeah right. Within the hour I have convinced myself that just one more won’t hurt.
I think I am just desensitized to the consequences. In my line of work I have seen a continent of mutilated bodies with plenty of beat up lungs out in the open. And hearts. I have seen my share of hearts. Chewed up with poodle sized tumors. Even then I didn’t stop.
I heard the coins spill out of the box into the collector’s pouch. The price of the newspaper was thirty five cents daily, a dollar twenty five for Sunday. Quite a deal for, in my opinion, the best newspaper in the nation, considering Akron being the skid mark that it is. I read the paper everyday, but I didn’t have a single coin in that box. I may be sober, but that doesn’t mean I am always honest. Since I never had cash to spare, I constructed a slim jim from an old butter knife and figured out a way to jimmy the latch. One of the many skills I picked up while I was with the FBI.
I heard the truck door slam shut and the engine revolutions churn. I went out my office door and slid down the two flights and into the street wearing just my jeans and undershirt and no shoes or socks. The sidewalk was frosted and slippery from the all day drizzle the day before and I was happy no one was around to see me go into a slide and damn near break my neck. I jimmied open the box, dancing to keep my feet warm. I wondered how long until they were on to me. I knew I had to stop. Bad karma and all.
I got back upstairs and ripped open the morning edition. The first thing I checked was the lotto drawing. I lost again, then the horoscope. Nothing exciting. Then I tore through page by page looking for it.
The same story ran, but had fallen to the abyss of page seventeen. That put the cheese on my cracker. Now I just had to wait for Joel to get back with me. I sat back down, checked my watch and lit another cigarette.
On the top of the desk amidst the mess, my notebook yawned at me with the blankest first page in the history of notebooks. A taunting vastness, just laying there like a field of melted marshmallows. I was starting to hate that notebook. Beside it, I had two, number three pencils sharpened and ready. I don’t use ink pen.
My sponsor told me to start keeping a journal, maybe figure out why I had such a problem with authority and help me work out some other stuff, so I’d sleep better. I wasn’t too keen on the idea at first. I couldn’t see how putting all my thoughts and stuff on paper would help me get cases and eat. I figured what the hell. He’s the boss, so I’ll give it a shot. The bitch of it was I didn’t know how to get started or what to write about. So that’s why I started writing all of this. Other than police reports and crime scene notes, I had never written a word in my life.
At 6:30 the phone rang. It had been more than an hour.
“Duke, I got a hold of some people and they put me in touch with the field supervisor over there. Woke the son-of-a-bitch up. Turns out I have known him since Quantico.”
“Is he a decent agent?”
“Nope. Was almost a washout on the farm. Did just enough to fly under the radar to stay with the bureau. I heard he rode a desk doing traces for most of his career.”
“Nice.” I said.
“Anyway he wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of rocking the boat in his twilight years, but he is itching to have something under his belt before retirement. I told him your idea. He knows who you are. Took a little convincing and some bullshit, but he said he would give it a try.”
“That’s great news Joel.” It was the best news I had heard in my entire life.
“He said he would give your number to his agent on that case. ” He got serious “Now listen to me Duke, I vouched for you , you’re in. As long as you keep your mouth shut and stay low, he is going to bend the rules a little and let you work with his agent assigned to this case. Don’t screw this up. You sure you aren’t drinking?”
“Not a drop. When did he say they would call?”
“Didn’t. Just be patient. Could be today or it could be next week.” I heard him tapping on a keyboard. “I consider us square now Duke.”
“Yeah we’re square. Did he say who was in charge of the case?”
“Yeah, Special Agent Shriya Thakur. Sounds Indian. Is your email the same?”
“ Yeah it’s the same. Shriya? Is that a male or female?”
“I don’t know. Gotta run Duke. I sent you an email.”
“Thanks. Check ya’ later Joel.”
“Yeah, check ya’ later Duke.”
I have found no matter how bad you screw up, there is always someone that will go to bat for you.
I hung up the phone and picked up my pencil. I decided to put to bed this curse of the great white paper. At the top of the first page of my notebook, right in the center, I wrote: DUKE BRADLEY: PRIVATE EYE. in large bold capitals.Then under that I wrote: Karen Linford. That’s as far as I got. I put my pencil down and lit another cigarette.