Home of the Whopper

Another week, another murder on the road formerly known as Bankhead Highway:

Two officers were injured investigating fatal shootings outside a northwest Atlanta Burger King, police said Monday.

Just after midnight, officers found a car riddled with bullets in the 3100 block of Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, Atlanta police spokeswoman Officer Kim Jones said. One person was found dead in a vehicle outside the Burger King. Another person was found next door in the parking lot of the Petro gas station. He died on the way to Grady Memorial Hospital.

The victims were identified as Quincy White, 22, of Atlanta, and Reginald Coicou, 24, of Fayetteville, according to Channel 2 Action News.

Normally, this wouldn’t really be news. Something about the abandoned car riddled with bullets, and the police just “finding” it, as if nobody called it in, piqued my interest. Which is good, because I kept reading:

“While responding to the call, units spotted a [man] running on the ramp to I-285 northbound,” Jones said. “It appears that he may have been running from the scene of the shooting. The [man] was seen throwing an object into the wood line at I-285.”

Police searching the wood line were unable to locate the object, believed to be a weapon, and became involved in a struggle with the man.

“During the struggle, Officer [Joseph] Daniels’ vehicle slowly rolled forward and bumped him, and rolled over the legs of Sgt. [Lakea] Gaither, Officer [Travis] Williams, and the [man],” Jones said.

Now, in my fictional version of this story, the guy running onto the freeway has absolutely nothing to do with the murders: he’s killed someone else, and is throwing away that weapon. The only thing he has on him relating to these murders is the bag of weed he found in the shot-up car.

It was, of course, one of the Burger King employees who shot the fictional victims. Why? I’m guessing… [puts on sunglasses] he wanted to have it his way.

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Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 3, Scene 4b

TOC page here.

Diana is eating lunch with Tommy Clyburne, part of the business association whose district covers the homeless shelter. He’s explained to her why they’ve never been able to get rid of the shelter. Here, he’s explained what happened after they stopped paying their mortgage:

Diana’s hand reached out, flipped the napkin off her plate. “Forgive me for being less than totally convinced that all the people in your organization are quite so charitable.”

Clyburne chuckled. “Indeed. Look at that district: Ralph McGill up to North Avenue, Peachtree over east to Piedmont and beyond. Twenty thousand taxpaying citizens could be living there; plus medical offices for the hospital. Run a shuttle to connect to Civic Center MARTA, express buses down Courtland and up Piedmont all the way from Memorial to Tenth. Even the more libertarian among my partners will readily acknowledge that whatever it takes to relocate the shelter will be returned many times over. Truly, though, the consensus is that helping them is a moral imperative and not merely a financial one.”

She took from the plate the roll she’d carefully bisected, then replaced the napkin. “Okay, so I’m Maxine Lee and I’m a truly passionate advocate for the homeless: why won’t I take you up on the offer to relocate? Assuming it really is a good offer.”

“Oh, it was. Politics, is your answer. Like many people, she let her personal politics get in the way of what’s right. My libertarian colleagues often underpay their employees, offering bottom dollar because they believe in a perfect world where everything and everyone has a price. In my company, we pay above-market salaries and provide excellent benefits, because it encourages loyalty and reduces turnoved, and this leads to stability and increased profits. It’s the same thing as your husband’s company.”

“Ex-husband,” said Diana around a mouthful of roll.

“Sorry. But he overpays people for the same reason. He’s a hell of a businessman.”

“Can’t argue with you there.”

“The ones who underpay? Some of them are always complaining about their turnover and how disruptive it is to their business. But they won’t put two and two together and spend money to make money. The politics of paying low wages is too dear to them. Maxine Lee? Same story.

“She was a libertarian? Oh, never mind. So sleep deprived.”

“Well, that might have been interesting. She was an anarchist. Well maybe that’s not quite the right word. You see, it was… emotionally important to her that all the doctors and developers and yuppies had to deal with a huge crowd of stinky, obnoxious homeless people right up in their faces. And I’m not calling them that, like many people I know would. Some of those homeless folks are lazy drunks, but most of them drew a bad hand at birth, or picked the wrong cards when they were young and dumb. I mean, one of the reasons why Peachtree-Pine underserves its clients is that the lack of hygiene and good manners was a big old middle finger to the rest of us. She’d go on about how we can’t just forget the poor or push them aside.”

“She’s right. Philosophically, at least. But I get it: she wasn’t willing to give in, because she enjoyed making y’all squirm.”

“And that caused—still causes—homeless people to suffer.”

Much of this is infodump, the management of which I covered in the last post. The key feature of this peace is that it’s a long discussion about how personal ideals get in the way of good business practices. Keep that in mind as the narrative unspools.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 3, Scene 4a

TOC page here.

Diana is so fatigued she can barely think, but when her ex-husband Andrew called, she asked him about who among his mover and shaker friends might be a member of the business association for the neighborhood that includes the homeless shelter:

And so it was she found herself in Mary Mac’s Tea Room, along with everyone else who cared about flavor more than they did about their hearts, sitting across the table from Mr. Clyburne. He was round and jolly, and black, which Diana chided herself for being surprised about. “Your secret is safe with me,” she told him. “I’m going to face-plant into pot roast and starch.”

“And I’ll rely on you never to tell my wife I had me a pork chop.”

After their order was taken, Clyburn said, “You’ve met Andrew’s new bride?”

“I understand she’s Best In Show.”

“I’m not going to deny it, she’s real nice to look at.” A slow head shake. “Twenty-first century manufacture. Who wants babies, at his age?”

Diana managed to make herself stop after exactly half of her pot roast, her mac and cheese, her mashed potatoes and the broccoli casserole she’d chosen to add a little green to the plate. She moved the plate aside, covered it with her napkin. “Here’s my question,” she said as Clyburne used his knife to work a sliver of meat from the bone. “Peachtree-Pine is a giant pain in y’all’s rear end. You want them gone, and you’re rich and powerful. Y’all have wanted them out for… since the Olympics, right? There’re obnoxious, they kill your property values, they stop you from making those blocks as ritzy as the ones up past Ponce.”

Clyburn held up a finger, chewed, swallowed, wiped his mouth. “Look, we’re not opposed to taking care of the homeless. Most of us are Democrats. We’ve been willing since the millennium to buy them out and help them get settled in a different part of town.” The whole hand went up. “One near transit and services, not way out in the ghetto. Our intention all along has been to provide them with better care. Well, you’re a cop: you know even more than I do what goes on there. They’ve got way too many people for that building, and they’re warehousing them.”

“Sorry; I’m very tired. I’m not trying to critique you. I’m saying, even if I might not agree with you, that you have a bunch of compelling arguments. The thing I’m really interested in is, we’re in Atlanta, where money always trumps everything and new development always pushes out the old; and yet, Peachtree-Pine is still going strong. I can think of a few times where it looked like they were about to close. Something about the water bill? But they never do. It’s certainly not Atlanta’s tender concern for the downtrodden that keeps you from dropping a political or financial hammer on them.”

“Well, we did foreclose on them. That didn’t work, either. Maybe oh-nine? I wasn’t really part of it. Let me think.” Another sliver of pork. “They used to own that building outright, up until 2002 or so. Then they took out a million-dollar mortgage. Nobody has any idea how that money got spent. I mean, I dealt with Ms. Longstreet’s predecessor, Maxine Lee, for well over a decade, and let me tell you, that woman was a real… object lesson in the humility, compassion and forbearance that Jesus Christ demands of us all. But bless her bellicose little soul, she was not lining her own pockets, and neither were any of the other managers.”

He put the utensils on the plate and pushed it away. “Divine. I may not have agreed with them, but they weren’t corrupt. Neither is Ms. Longstreet: we did due diligence on her last year, just like we did on the others once they took all of about six months to stop making payments on the mortgage.”

“I bet y’all thought that was a golden opportunity.”

“You got that right. Just keep in mind that we’ve been clear since forever that we’re willing to fund what it took to make sure those people got better care. That ain’t just talk: it’s how we treat the least of us that counts. And they are not being well-served.”

Here’s the crux of the matter from the larger perspective of how the shelter fits into the fabric of the city. How is it they manage to stay there, when more or less everyone wants them out? This scene is a lot of infodump, but sometimes you need infodump—and there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. The worst way is to just give five paragraphs of third-person omniscient narration: it’s boring, it breaks up the story, and it’s just shitty writing. If you can’t work the background into the story, or at the very least dole it out sparingly, you’re not doing it right. The second worst way is to have one character say to the other, “As you know, Bob, the…”, which is just laughable. You have to have a character who doesn’t know the story find out the details, as Diana is doing here, and you have to make the character giving the information be a real person instead of just a mouthpiece. Hence, food.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 3, Scene 3

TOC page here.

Mustapha drops a fatigued Diana off at her car after a long and fruitless night of investigating Bill Knight’s murder:

She surprised herself by actually going home, changing, looking up a yoga class and going. The new teacher had to be younger than Grace. “You have good form, but you’re tense,” said the woman, whose real name was surely not January. “Maybe you should step out side the box mentally. Shake things up, do something different.”

“If you only knew.” Thinking this witty only underscored to Diana how tired she was. The ride home was a blur; at one point, she was staring at her phone, trying to decide whether to listen to any of the three messages Andrew had left, when the driver behind her laid on the horn because the light had been green for at least half a second. She needed a shower, and something to eat, but of course there was nothing at all in the house. She heard herself whimper. It was only just after noon. She made coffee, then waited for it to cool while she uploaded Mario’s photo into an image search site, then posted it on a few cop boards.

She was just about to take the first sip when she heard her phone ring. Her gorge rose as she thought about the media getting hold of Mario.

But it was just Andrew. She went to put the phone down, but out of fatigue and reflex answered the call instead. “Oh, you’re actually alive,” she heard him say.

“Only technically. Why do you keep calling me?” She couldn’t resist adding, “Aren’t you somebody else’s problem, now?”

“Not yet. I wanted to invite you to the wedding. You should meet her, soon. She’s a hell of a girl.”

“I’m sure she’s a lovely woman. I would like nothing better than to meet her. I need to go to bed now. Wait: I have a question for you. Are any of your fancy One Percent friends on the board of the development association for the part of Peachtree where the homeless shelter is?”

“Um… yes. Tommy Clyburne. What do you need to know?”

“I’m not even sure.”

Remember, in the final draft the victim will be someone other than Mario. But right on the heels of detail about Diana’s working relationship with Mustapha, we get to see her relationship with Andrew, who can still boss her around after 25 years divorced. Note all the detail here: he’s going to keep calling until she answers or responds, he has some kind of vague concern for her but it’s still mostly about him, he calls women “girls”, but she knows how to work him by making him feel confident and connected. And all in about 140 words.

For the record, in all half a million words I’ve written about these two detectives, there’s never been a hint of sexual tension. He’s 20 years older, comfortably settled in late middle age with an empty nest; she’s too picky and self-reliant to have remarried, and she’s actually kind of kinky, though this is only alluded to.

Another Recording Studio Murder

A short follow-up on a short story from yesterday:

Nathan Shannon, 27, of Atlanta, was killed when gunfire erupted at a southwest Atlanta recording studio shortly after 8 p.m. The identity of the second man killed has not been released.

Atlanta police Major Adam Lee III said multiple gunshot injuries were visible on two people were found dead at Metropolitan Parkway SW and Bronner Brothers Way in the Metropolitan Business and Arts District.

Bullets ruptured a waterline and flooded the crime scene, delaying the police investigation, police told Channel 2 Action News.

I’ve written before about the well-established relationship between Atlanta hip-hop studios and death by gunfire, and hot on the heels of Bankroll Fresh, here’s another example. So why do so many people get shot while recording music? The cliché would be people fronting like gangsters and then drawing weapons when bluffs are called.

And from a crime fiction perspective, that’s boring and also well out of my wheelhouse. I can think of at least two other reasons why people get shot at recording studios. One is money, of course: recording studio time and quality sound engineering are very expensive. You can see someone who financed a rapper’s album not having been paid back and showing up at the recording of the second one demanding payment, knowing that the rapper likely has the funds to pay the studio.

Another reason is that you know where to find the guy. Recording takes a lot of time: you can imagine the killer hearing from his minion that another guy said the rapper’s in the studio right now, and this gives the killer time to arm himself and get there.

And if I were going to write a story about this, that’s where I’d go with it: someone else wants the rapper dead for some completely unrelated reason (life insurance, romantic breakup, etc.). They know the rapper has other people who have a beef with him, so they put the word out that the guy’s in the studio, wait for the guy with the beef to show up, shoot them both with different guns, drop both guns and leave. Stupid cops are going to figure it’s a beef gone bad, and only once they’re pressured to do so are they going to start looking elsewhere.

Of course, it could always be the recording engineer, who’s always the last one to get paid.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 3, Scene 2

TOC page here.

After being mostly stonewalled by Claire Longstreet about the mysterious Red, and not helped by her as to who Mario might really have been, our detectives leave the Peachtree-Pine shelter:

Back out in the warmth and low sun, there was Brown, at parade rest, standing right on the corner of the sidewalk, in front of the cruiser. Slaughter was nowhere to be seen. Brown caught them in the corner of his eye, pointed, gave them a thumbs-up.

“Oh, please,” said Diana under her breath.

Mustapha gave Brown what might have been a salute. “He thinks we’re on his side.”

“He thinks you’re on his side. Remind me to tell–”

“You drive,” he said. She caught the underhand toss of his keys. “Back to your car. Then let’s take some downtime. I’m getting too old for all-nighters.”

On the way downtown, she half-listened to Mustapha make his way through the Old Guy Phone Tree, and tried not to think about treating Mario’s death as an accident. Politics: she’d spent her entire childhood listening to her father grumble about it.

Her ears perked up when she heard Mustapha say, “Brown. Don’t know his first name.”

“Reggie,” said Diana.

“Reggie Brown. The sergeant who killed that poor guy in the white van last month. Yes. Listen, Lieutenant, I need you to do yourself a favor: are you still putting patrol teams outside Peachtree-Pine, making them do it by lottery? Good. Take Brown off the list. Because he shot a guy who was feeding homeless people, probably ones who live at the shelter? Yeah? Okay, how about one of them is going to complain to the media about it, and then APD is going to have a problem. I’m not trying to bust your balls; I’m just saying shit flows downhill.” After a few pleasantries, Mustapha rang off.

“That was beautifully argued,” said Diana. “Did it work?”

“Oh, she’s all right. That Snyder chick.”

“Well, she really wants to be a captain.” Diana yawned, not even bothering to cover her mouth. “Yep, it’s naptime. Oh, maybe I’ll go to yoga first. Yeah, right. If we’re going to conceal Mario’s death, we’re at least owed a whole day off.”

“I’ll call you if the story leaks.”

“So will everyone else.”

A brief scene, but one in which we continue the Reggie Brown plot, and we get another glimpse of how Mustapha and Diana work together. Notice that Diana has the Gen X sense of humor par excellence: she makes statements that are simultaneously meant to be viewed seriously and ironically. Mustapha has a typical cop’s gallows sense of humor.

Hit and Run and Hit and Run

Another very short story, which contains a novel nobody really wants to read:

Authorities have upgraded to vehicular homicide one of the charges against Ryan Lisabeth, the motorist accused of hitting three children and killing one of them in northwest Atlanta Friday.

Lisabeth, 28, was arrested on multiple charges, including DUI, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, driving on the wrong side of the road and possession of a controlled substance, according to online Fulton County Jail records. He was denied bond Monday.

His record includes three DUI convictions, a cocaine-related conviction and an open DUI case that he was scheduled to be sentenced for at the time he went before a judge on the latest charges Monday, Channel 2 reported. Further, he was in a treatment facility at the time of Friday’s incident. His attorney declined to comment about his case.

Isaiah Ward, age nine, was killed, while his big brother and a friend of theirs are in critical condition. So let’s all have some compassion for Ward’s family and that of the other boy. And some serious white-hot rage for the justice system, which, it’s Georgia’s judges and whatever prosecutors agreed to plea deals who are truly responsible for Ward’s death. This jackass Lisabeth just got his fifth DUI? And he’s not behind bars? Why are people like this not permanently barred from driving? I can see one DUI costing you a boatload of money and a year or two without a license, but sure, everyone gets a second chance. But a second one? Let’s just get you off the road, for good. If Lisabeth had lost his license permanently, as he should have after the second DUI, Isaiah Ward, his brother and their friend would be in school today.

It’s hard not to argue with Isaiah’s uncle:

Isaiah’s uncle, Freddie Smith, told Channel 2 his first reaction was to inflict pain on Lisabeth.

“I wanted him to suffer,” Smith said, breaking the word into two, hard syllables. “SUF-FER.”

As well he should. But while it’s 100% understandable that Smith would be furious with Lisabeth, our real outrage here needs to point where it belongs: at the justice system that gave him a third, and fourth, and (allegedly) fifth chance at killing someone when driving wasted before he finally managed to pull it off. Now Lisabeth is going to suf-fer disproportionately; but that’s a little too late for the Wards and their friend’s family.

To create an analogous fictional story would be tough, because of course judges and prosecutors are insulated from their misdeeds, and while it might make for good writing to have Diana shaking with impotent rage at the judge who gave our analogue of Lisabeth the fourth chance. The only real way to make it work would be to have the judge themself kill a kid while driving home drunk from some anti-crime fundraiser, but that just reeks of cheese and would be very tough to pull off without falling into sheer triteness.

But let’s look at the end of the story:

The neighborhood where the children were struck, Washington Park, is among the most blighted in Atlanta. It’s just a mile and a half west of the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, College Football Hall of Fame and the Center for Civil and Human Rights downtown. The skyscrapers of midtown are in view. Washington Park, along with the adjacent Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods, have been the focus of numerous revitalization attempts. While there are longtime working-class residents there, the area has become a haven for drug dealing and other crime.

“It’s dangerous out here, really dangerous,” said Anthony Williams, a security guard at Bright Futures a private school on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard. “That’s what’s going on out here, ‘the business.’ Everybody’s out here doing all types of drugs.”

On Monday morning, children about Isaiah’s age were playing in the school yard of Kipps Ways Academy, another heavily-gated charter school just a short walk away from the scene of the crash. The boulevard is dotted on both sides with rundown apartment buildings, grimy corner markets and boarded up buildings. A makeshift memorial to Isaiah of candles, stuffed toy animals and signs punctuates the boulevard’s bleakness. Williams said gunshots are a common sound in the neighborhood, and crime is such a concern that his school’s campus is guarded 24-hours a day.

“We had a window get hit the other day,” Williams said, his gun holstered on his hip. “But I know at the end of the day, God has got his arm around us.”

This is just weird, like they needed to fill some column inches or whatever the digital equivalent is. While none of this perspective on Washington Park is false—it is indeed the worst neighborhood close intown—none of it has anything to do with Lisabeth killing Ward. Yes, people from ritzier neighborhoods go there to score; it’s about the only economic activity taking place. But your average purchaser of street drugs is going to make every effort to make complete stops at stop signs, use their turn signals, etc., once they have the drugs in the car. Washington Park didn’t kill Isaiah Ward; the justice system did, by letting Ryan Lisabeth have a fourth chance at a driver’s license. Is this just bad writing, or the need to fill space, or the AJC’s usual effort to avoid even implicitly blaming the power structure for our society’s failures?

A Body and a Gun

A very short follow-up on a very short story, so I’ll just quote the follow-up in its entirety:

Authorities have identified the 18-year-old man who was found shot to death Wednesday in Atlanta.

Raphael Lumpkin of Atlanta was the man found on the front porch of a residence in the 800 block of Brookline Street, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said Thursday. Lumpkin had a wound to his head, and a handgun was found on the porch, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

Authorities still have not determined whether this was a homicide or a self-inflicted gunshot. The investigation will continue.

How do you tell? If the gun’s in a place it could plausibly have fallen, and the various angles are right, in the absence of a witness or some other damning evidence, you can’t. You can picture the CSI staff tracing out angles with lasers in the dark while cool instrumental music plays in the background, but even if it lines up right, there’s still no way to tell. And at any rate, Mr. Lumpkin was shot at nine in the morning, which is too bright for TV.

The next step would be to look at the hand of the victim. Did he use his dominant hand? Does it have gunshot residue on it in the right places? If it doesn’t, that argues for a homicide and a dropped gun.

Let’s take a fictional situation identical to this. Dead body, gun beside it, angles line up, gunshot residue on hand. Victim didn’t have any record of psych counseling, but Brookline St. is in the middle of Adair Park, a real downscale neighborhood, so they might not have had a chance to get help. Suicide doesn’t go into the homicide statistics, so there’s pressure from upstairs to declare it and move on. Victim had some unsavory connections, but again, bad neighborhood.

Twist one: in the lab, some of the bullets are found to have another person’s thumbprint on them: they were loaded by someone else, a real gangbanger, who when confronted sounds philosophical: “I’ve loaded a lot of guns in my life; can’t say I’d know about that one for sure.” He’s like twenty years old. No meaningful connection with the victim.

Twist two: a good while later, a badly decomposed body is found. Much work at the ME’s office leads them to a name, a young woman from Adair Park who’d never been reported missing because nobody much cared about her. Now the cops are upset because here’s another homicide they’re never going to solve. Note: the body is found in a neighborhood other than Adair Park.

Twist three: only once Diana has some kind of prophetic dream or OCD fit does she sort out the connection; she traces various pay-as-you-go phones until she establishes that the young woman was dating both the victim and the gangbanger. Her theory is that the victim shot the woman and the gangbanger faked the suicide in revenge; but the brass say, how do you know the victim didn’t shoot the woman and then kill himself out of remorse?

Twist four: in the lab again. The gunshot residue from the victim’s hand comes from a slightly different sort of propellant than the one in the bullets in his gun. He shot a different gun, in other words. A scene ensues where Diana talks first her captain, then a judge into letting her search the gangbanger’s place, where of course they find the gun used to kill the woman, which has bullets with the victim’s thumbprints on them. The last line is all about the gangbanger not being able to just throw a gun away.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 3, Scene 1b

TOC page here.

We’re in Claire Longstreet’s office, where she’s reluctant to help our detectives with their case. She doesn’t have enough useful information about the latest victim, anyway. When she says, “Anything else?”, we get this:

Diana said, “Well, while you’ve still got the computer out, there’s another gentleman we like to speak with, but we don’t know his real name. We’re still trying to find Alex Dawson’s killer, and several people have mentioned this fellow Red as a source.”

A bit of an eyeroll. “Henry needs to watch his tendency to gossip. The man you’re talking about is in recovery, in a fragile state. When Alex was killed, he’d already left Peachtree-Pine in the care of his brother and sister-in-law, a month or two before. He wouldn’t know anything that would help you: he was in an in-house program where he only left to go to meetings, and Alex never even went to a single meeting, as far as I know. He’s still my patient, and I’m going to protect him.”

Diana said, “Even though he might could help us?”

“I highly doubt that.” At their continued silence, “Very well. I’ll contact him and ask him if he’d like to speak with you. But if he’s not interested, that’s as far as it will go.”

Diana said, “Mr. Buchanan said that this Red gentleman was a real success story of yours.”

Longstreet shifted uncomfortably. “Not mine. God’s. And Red’s hard work.”

Mustapha said, “Look, just tell us the man’s name. I can see why you’re reluctant to trust us, but we’re public servants trying to treat a homeless guy’s murder with the respect you’d want us to. We just need him to confirm a couple of things for us.”

A quick shake of the head. Diana and Mustapha shared a practiced glance. “If that’s the best you can do,” said Diana, trying to sound tolerant. “One more thing: when I was here the night Mr. Dawson was killed, I met a gentleman named Bill Knight.”

“He’s in recovery, too: he doesn’t have any contact with the crowd Alex ran with. Or Mario.” Before Diana could draw breath, “I was there when you spoke with him, Detective. He told you he stays inside the shelter.”

Diana held up both hands. “No, this is different. He used to know my ex-husband, before he… ended up here. My ex remembers him fondly, and would like to talk with him. So, Ms. Longstreet,”

”Claire.” She finished for a notepad. “Write down a contact number, I’ll pass it on.”

Mustapha stood up. “Sorry to rile you up. We’re not out to close your shelter.”

No, they’re not; but lots of other people are. That’s Claire’s problem: everyone wants her gone, because the land Peachtree-Pine sits on is too valuable. But who is Red and what does he know? He came up before, Claire stonewalled them then, she’s clearly stonewalling them now. Her excuse is plausible, but only just; however, since she’s got all the information, they have no way of calling her bluff that the family doesn’t want him involved. And it might even be true.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 3, Scene 1a

TOC page here.

Let’s jump right back into the book with a trip back to the shelter. Remember that in the final version Mario will be the victim in Act IV, not Act II; he will be replaced in Act II by one of the chorus of homeless guys.

Claire Longstreet was fresh and clean, makeup-free, looking like she’d rather be outside enjoying the fair weather. Over leggings and a white turtleneck, she wore a dress that looked vintage but was clearly new, expensive, well-constructed. She had her feet up on her desk in the Timberlands, and on her knee was perched a dark red crushed velvet cloche hat that Diana rather coveted.

“I’ve heard all manner of conspiracy theories about Alex’s death, but none of them worth reporting.” She turned down Mustapha’s proffered coffee. “To be honest, even if I knew something, I’m not sure how comfortable I would be sharing any information I did have with APD, after what you did to Mr. Haddad. I counted him as a friend, and a partner in the struggle for justice.” At Mustapha’s intake of breath, “And please don’t bother trying to tell me his murder was justified: he no more had a gun on him then I can sprout wings and fly.”

Mustapha tried again. “I’m not going to,”

“And do you have any idea what it’s like, having to see his murderer every day?” Longstreet pointed toward the wall facing the street. “Your Sergeant Brown walks free, with his puffed-up chest, and his armor, and his nightstick, and the gun he used to murder Mr. Haddad. He leans there against his cruiser, the face of authoritarian violence. Smiling.” She plucked the hat off her knee and set it on the desk. “I don’t expect you to care: you’ll protect your own. But I won’t be cooperating with you, so long as that man still wears a badge. And I’ve truly no idea who might have killed poor Alex.”

“That’s okay,” said Diana. “We’re not here about Mr. Dawson.”

Longstreet’s carefully-sculpted eyebrows went up. “Then why are you here?”

Diana keyed up her tablet, rotated it to face Longstreet. She called up Mario’s mug shot from the night he’d drawn the van for them. “We’re trying to find out this man’s last name.”

Longstreet took her feet from the desk, set up, took the tablet. “Mario. It says Garcia right here.”

“I’m sure you’ll be surprised when I tell you it’s not unusual for people who’ve been arrested to give us the wrong name.”

Skepticism mixed with curiosity. “What has he done? Allegedly.”

Mustapha said, “Drunk and disorderly. No big deal.”

“You’re Homicide cops. What do you want with him?”

“Nothing. You see, he helped us out. He was the one who saw the white van.”

Long, slow blinks. Diana took a moment to marvel at Longstreet’s careful, subtle use of makeup: most men would probably think Longstreet wasn’t wearing any at all. Finally, Longstreet said, “I’m not sure. I believe you.”

Mustapha shrugged. “It’s true, though. Dee, show her the picture.”

Diana took the tablet back, found the line drawing of the van. “He clued us in that it was a commercial van, not a regular one.”

Longstreet said, “Which ultimately resulted in Mr. Haddad’s murder.”

“We get it,” said Mustapha.”He was your friend, and you already have reasons not to like cops. But like it or not, Sergeant Brown saw a gun, and had to make a split-second choice. We don’t really like the choice he made, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re not here to make life harder for you, or for Mario here. Mario’s our responsibility now, because he’s dead.”

Two blinks. “Was it the Reaper?”

“No. Not murdered; just regular old dead. Exposure, the ME says. Looks like he had too much to drink and passed out in the cold. What we’re trying to do is track down his next of kin, so we can notify them and let them deal with the body. Kind of hard to do without a last name. So do us a favor and save the discourse about out-of-control cops for after I’ve had more coffee. Notifying next of kin is the hardest part of our job.”

A twist of a lip. “Fair enough.” She looked at the tablet again. “He sketched that? Nice work. Mario… doesn’t much care for the structure here. Didn’t. I doubt I have much of a file on him.” She leaned down, it took her Mac laptop from her bag, opened it. “Let’s see… oh, dear. I have Garcia, as well. You’re sure that’s wrong?”

Mustapha said, “All the people with that name are accounted for. You got a date of birth?

1985 or so, is what I’ve got written here.” She pursed her lips, blew out slowly. “For this? I can ask around. Give me a day or two.” She closed the laptop. “Anything else?”

Claire’s in a bad position here: she’s got every reason not to want to coöperate with the cops, but she also wants homeless guys to stop getting murdered. So against her wishes, she’s going to comply; she has to, given her job title.