Inspiration comes from all around us. Years ago, a news item on TV launched an idea within my writer’s mind for a new character, Homicide Detective Ike Barney. One story led to another and evolved into a short-story series. This week’s blog features one of those stories, which takes place in 2006. Because of its length, I’ll present the tale as a two-part post. Hope you’ll join me again next week for the conclusion. By the way, I’m currently working on Ike’s first novel.
Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.
Detective Ike Barney sat bolt upright in bed, his pulse elevated, his mind a blur. He blinked hard in the fading darkness, jostled his head, and then glanced around the room. Ike’s love interest, Arielle Matson, sat at the end of the mattress, her naked backside facing him. Arielle’s arms and hands waved as if pleading her case at a customer service window. Ike squinted, rattled his brains once more, and swore he heard whispering.
“What are you doing?” Ike said.
“Huh? Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to wake you,” Arielle replied. “I was talking to Mom.”
“What? Thought your mother died three years ago.”
“She did. But she never went home.”
“That’s it. You’ve gotta quit smokin’ that crap.”
“I’m serious, Ike. We talk often. She’s right here.”
Ike jerked the comforter around him like a virgin on her honeymoon. Even then, a chill swept over him that ten comforters couldn’t dispel. Embarrassment accompanied the frost, a shameful sensation Ike hadn’t known since second grade, when Miss Nevels caught him and Mary Lou Womak exploring childish curiosity by comparing genitals during recess.
“Whatta ya mean, right here?”
“Just what I said. She’s sitting in the rocker.”
Ike stared wide-eyed as the chair slowly arced back and forth. Then it stopped, pivoted toward him, and resumed an exaggerated, more determined motion. Ike retreated to the headboard. “What does she want?”
“Mom needs your help.”
“What? Why me? I never even met her.”
“Because I trust you, and because you’re a cop.”
“How can a ghost need a cop? You’re creepin’ me out, Arielle.”
Arielle turned, placed a hand on the covers and leaned toward the unraveled detective. Her ample breasts provided a momentary diversion, until she started giggling. “Look at you, my super hero, huddled under the blankets like a five-year old scared to look under the bed.”
“Cut it out, Arielle. Answer my question.”
“My mother witnessed a murder.”
“Five months before she died. Two others saw it, too, so Mom didn’t get involved.”
“How’d she avoid that?”
“She was in her car at the stoplight, first one in the left-turn lane. Following a loud bang, she looked to her left and saw the gunman standing over his victim.”
“The guy stared at the couple across the street. Then he grinned, stuck his pistol inside his jacket, and walked away.”
“How ’bout your mom?”
“Convinced the man and woman saw the whole thing, when the arrow turned green she boogied straight ahead—nearly hit the car turning from the opposite direction.”
“Did the other witnesses cooperate?”
“At first, then the husband vanished. After that, the wife zipped up. Swore she couldn’t positively identify the killer. When the DA couldn’t produce a witness, the man got off scott free.”
“Why didn’t your mom come forward?”
“The killer’s mug shot on the evening news. Mom knew if she said anything, she’d disappear next.”
“Which no longer poses a problem…except for the prosecutor who tries convincing a jury that his only witness is a ghost.”
“Better than no witness.”
“Hardly. Why’s your mother so concerned now?”
“Mom knows she was wrong. She can’t cross over.”
Ike’s mind drifted to the ill-fated incident that had permanently separated him from his college sweetheart, and wife of sixteen years. The loss had caused him to frequently reflect on the afterlife—usually over a bottle of Jim Beam. Until now cynicism and 80 proof had hardened his perception of the spirit world, and the likelihood of ever being with Helen Barney again. But Arielle’s rocking chair wasn’t moving on its own.
“How’s she plan to make amends?”
“Mom can go places you can’t.”
“And see things, too?”
“If you’re referring to our sex life, yes, but—”
“Great. Knowing your mother’s been keepin’ tabs kinda deflates the desire, if you know what I—”
“I understand. But she approves.”
Somehow Mom’s endorsement didn’t alter Ike’s outlook on the situation. Although he never considered himself a prude, Ike deemed his love making antics a personal affair best left to complete privacy.
“Okay, so your mother thinks I’m jake, but—”
“But how can she possibly help you solve a case, is that it?”
“Think about it. How do I convince the captain that I suddenly have the answer to a three-and-a-half-year-old cold case?”
“Can’t you do it on the side?”
Ike knew he could access old files. Every division in the department used them to establish criminal patterns and develop leads. But taking on an expired case without authorization just wasn’t kosher. Ignoring the situation, however, allowed a murderer to roam free.
“Alright,” Ike said, and relaxed his grip on the comforter. “How do Mom and I go about nailing the bad guy?”
Because—with or without an audience—Detective Barney found bouncing boobs terribly distracting, Arielle donned her robe. Her head bobbed back and forth like a foreign language translator as she interpreted the Q&A between Ike and her parental apparition. For Ike the unsolved case sounded familiar. When Arielle mentioned the name Mancuso, things clicked. The homicide had occurred when back surgery kept Detective Barney laid up in a hospital bed and out of the loop. By the time he was released for active duty, the DA’s case had hit the shitcan.
Following the weirdest discussion he’d ever participated in, Ike, Arielle, and her mother agreed upon a plan to snare the murderer. Even stranger, Ike had to admit that the idea just might work. With the shaky scheme in mind, he wrapped a comforter around him and shuffled toward the shower.
“Tell your mother not to follow, okay?”
“There’s nothing she hasn’t seen already, Ike.”
“Please, don’t remind me. By the way, except for interpreting your mother’s messages, you stay out of this.”
“But I can—“
“Promise me Arielle. This could get ugly. I don’t want you hurt.”
Following the last case that she’d nosed into, Arielle understood Ike’s reason for vigilance. They’d discussed Helen Barney, how much she’d meant to Ike, how she’d been an innocent by-stander taken hostage in a robbery Ike had responded to. He’d emphasized how truly empty Helen’s death had made him feel, and how Arielle had bridged that emotional void. Ike vowed he’d never allow anything to destroy that kind of heartfelt connection again.
“Alright, Ike, I promise.”
As a matter of courtesy, Detective Barney plopped his ID on the counter for the Records Clerk to verify. Herb Zimmer waved off the gesture and spun the logbook around for Ike to sign.
“What ya workin’ this time, Ike?” Herb said.
“Nothing I can chat about. Which aisle for case files from April 2002?”
Zimmer stepped over to his computer, rattled the keyboard, and then hit ENTER. The monitor screen blinked and reappeared with a spreadsheet for the specified timeline, as well as case file numbers, and locations in the records room.
“Looks like April was a busy month. Two-hundred-thirty-eight cases logged in, all in aisle 36. Lookin’ for anyone in particular?”
“Still organized by case numbers?”
“Only way that makes sense around here.”
“I’ll find it, then. Thanks, Herb.”
Zimmer buzzed the door. Ike pushed it open and then strolled into what most divisions referred to as “the cavern.” He turned left at aisle 36 and scanned the numbered labels for the one that matched the cold case Ike was supposed to solve.
At five-foot eleven—with a little pooch around the middle—Ike Barney was no midget. But as fate would have it, the box he needed sat three shelves out of reach—with no ladders in sight. Murphy strikes again.
Ike had a choice. He could enlist Herb Zimmer’s help, reveal the specific case files he sought, and allow Herb’s propensity to gossip enlighten every cop in the department, or he could get creative. For now, Ike chose the last option. Shelf after shelf, he pushed boxes inward until he’d created small steps to the desired records. The problem with his genius became evident when he attempted to retrieve the box with one hand while maintaining a death grip on the shelf below with the other—four feet above the floor.
“Ya know, that would be much safer if you got a step-ladder,” someone said.
Ike looked down from his predicament to spot his supervisor, Captain Paulie, standing hands-on-hips at the end of the aisle.
“But nowhere near as much fun,” Ike said. “Since you’re here, how ’bout catching this box for me.”
“A ladder would be easier.”
“Yeah, I know. Go ahead, drop it.”
Ike slid the container from its designated slot and swung it down into his captain’s waiting arms. Paulie set down the box and snickered as he watched Ike inch his way to the floor. “Always harder coming down, isn’t it?”
Ike groaned. “’Specially for somebody who hates real ladders, much less the makeshift kind.”
“So what’s this all about? What are you searching for?”
“Got a tip on a cold case.”
Paulie scanned the label, which included the victim’s name. “Mancuso was a dead end. After three-and-a-half years, who handed you a lead?”
“Gotta stay between you and me, okay?”
“Do my best, Ike, but captains report to higher authorities, too, ya know.”
Ike winced at the thought of his credibility as a detective—not to mention the possibility of blowing his police pension—blitzed by a cold case, where his only witness had died three years ago and communicated with him through her pot-smoking daughter, who presently shared his bed, and believed the number seven possessed mystical powers.
“Look, Cap, you’ve trusted me before. ‘Fraid you’ll have to trust me again.”
“Somebody’s life in jeopardy––again?”
“In a manner of speaking, yeah.”
Captain Paulie rolled his eyes. “You have forty-eight hours.”
“What about Zimmer?”
“Get what you need, then put the box back in its place.”
Ike stared at the shelves.
“I’ll grab a stepladder,” Paulie said.
With the container back in its designated spot, Ike stuffed folders under his sport coat.
Paulie shook his head. “I’ll do the blocking, you do the end-around past Zimmer’s desk. But remember, Ike, forty-eight hours tops. After that, you better clue me in to what you’ve got or have this thing wrapped up.”
As promised, Captain Paulie left the cavern first and kept Herb Zimmer at bay. Seconds later, Ike slipped past with the Mancuso files and bee-lined to his car.
At home, Detective Barney thumbed through the reports and read a list of priors that indicated Eddie Mancuso’s absence from society was no dreadful loss. The suspected gunman’s rap sheet, however, made Eddie’s record look like a Girl Scout cookie order.
The shooter’s name was Enrico “Rico” Lorenz, whose claim to fame included felony charges that ranged from car-jacking and armed robbery as a teenager, to links to multiple assassinations. The commonality to the murder cases was a connection to Hector Yung Lee, a multi-cultural crime lord backed by overseas finances, plus a high-priced team of attorneys.
Ike pulled Lorenz’s booking photo from the file. Steely, blue-gray eyes glared back from the mug shot above an arrogant smirk. Evidence of wounds that required stitches road-mapped from Rico’s left cheek to his chin.
Ike was studying the picture when a sudden iciness permeated the living room. He scanned the area like a kid robbing a candy jar. Instinctively, Ike reached for his gun but stopped before his fingers touched the grip. Images from 1958, his first experience inside a Halloween spook house, leaped into his mind. “M-Mrs. Matson?”
Without Arielle present, Ike realized a response to his unnerved inquiry was unlikely, but he was wrong. The mug shot jerked from his hand, sailed to the floor face down, and slid under the couch. As the photo disappeared, the room temperature rose slightly, unlike the chill that gripped Ike Barney’s innards.
“If you’re here, Mrs. Matson, we gotta find some way to communicate.”
Ike waited. His head swiveled like a joystick, as he searched for movement.
“Look, if you’ve kept an eye on your daughter and me, you probably know about my wife. I don’t want the same thing happening to Arielle, okay? I…I care too much about her.”
Ike’s last words warmed him like a fleece jacket on a spring morning. The room’s overall presence thawed as well. The manila folder lying before him slowly closed. Ike momentarily stared at it until he understood the significance. He looked up. “Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. How ’bout I ask questions, and then you move the folder––right for yes and left for no.”
He glanced at the file once more and watched it turn clockwise. The spiritual connection proved exhilarating, yet weird, but he persisted.
“Great. Now, do you know where Enrico Lorenz lives?”
The folder rotated a quarter-turn right.
“And you can eavesdrop on him?”
Again, the file moved clockwise.
“Okay. I’ll need you to stick to Lorenz like stink on…well, you know. Find out what he’s up to and what job he’s gonna pull next, so I can be there and nail his ass. Can you do that?”
Ike stared at the folder and watched the second hand on his Seiko tick––seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve—but no answer. The uneasy frostiness returned, encasing Ike and the motionless folder like a freezer. His wristwatch’s secondhand continued its monotonous circling––twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five. Finally, the manila folder jiggled left, stopped, and then turned right.
“You sure about this?”
The folder spun clockwise and flew off the table, scattering its contents across the carpet. As a detective, Ike had conducted enough interviews to comprehend that this one had peaked. Still, he added two important items. “Check with Arielle each morning, or whenever you’ve got something for me. We’ll get through this Mrs. Matson, I promise.”
Though it remained face down, Rico Lorenz’s mug shot crept from beneath the couch, stopped, and then turned right. Seconds later, a balminess swept into the living room once more.
Next morning, Ike awoke to Arielle’s modest nose chatter keeping tempo with her deep, steady breaths. For many folks, no news was good news. Unfortunately, Captain Paulie’s good graces would run out the following day. Wrapping up this case couldn’t come fast enough. Ike knew he could press for more time, but that meant giving Paulie something in return. He also knew a case with a witness nobody could see wouldn’t provide much bargaining power.
Ike muddled through the rest of the day, hoping his invisible partner would uncover something. But his cell phone never crooned. When he arrived home Arielle failed to bless him with words of encouragement. By the time they crawled under the covers and switched off the lights the rocking chair hadn’t budged. At two-seventeen a.m., Ike finally fell asleep after convincing himself, Tomorrow will be different.