New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample story from Doggerel for Dead Whores
A Thomas Haftmann Mystery

he knew was going to be late. She had taken the South Marginal Road exit off Interstate 90 instead of following Memorial Shoreway all the way downtown. Chief Millimaki rolled a soggy, unlit cigar around in his mouth to make the point to stay in the farthest lane from Dead Man’s Curve. “You’re on that, you got to get off at Playhouse Square and go right, come back to Ninth. Got it?”
She overcorrected her rental Escort on a skid coming around the city’s biggest parking lot going way too fast for the 15-m.p.h. sign on the building’s corner and took a patch of rubber from the curbside front tire. Straightened out, she pointed toward the Amtrak station sign hoping to get an access road running parallel to the five-lane highway, but it was hopeless. The road ended in the Amtrak parking lot and she got out in disgust to take her bearings. Famous last words: A left on Ninth and she would be right there. Past the big red FREE stamp sculpture on the lawn of the Federal Building. Can’t miss it. The wind howled across Canada over Lake Erie, not a thousand yards away from where she stood in the open lot – razor sharp, it made her gasp for breath and suck it in for another shock.
Immense pewter clouds formed overhead like ink poured into water. Wind whipped the plaid scarf off her shoulder and sent it flying up in the air onto the station tracks. She debated a half-second whether she should fetch it and decided not to. The snotty little sales clerk at the mall who sold it to her yesterday with her insincere patter about accessorizing – she was putty in the hands of teenaged shop assistants. This one narrowed her eyes in disdain while she fingered the polyester scarf and asked for something in silk. Clothes and makeup were a daily nuisance.
The shimmering ball of lemon sun was much too feeble to push light through the black heaps of cumulonimbus swathing it. Across the Shoreway loomed the new Browns stadium, a monolithic disc exposed to wind and ice. The Science Center beyond that, overlooking the frozen harbor, and the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, a gaudy glass and chrome triangular structure designed by I. M. Pei, citizen of Hong Kong, the Asiatic heart of a diaspora created by mainland Communism. Annie had been raised to think of Hong Kong as decadent yet as desirable as the bough of fruit that withdrew from Tantalus’ outstretched hand in that book of myths she and her younger sister used to read. She shivered in the frigid air and realized she would have to backtrack down South Marginal to the East 55th Street exit.
By the time she found the Federal Building’s parking lot, the meeting had been underway for twenty minutes. By the time she located the right conference room, it was thirty-five minutes past the starting time. Scarfless and windblown, her cheeks still prone to crimson rosettes of blushing in her late thirties, she was not going to slink meekly into a room full of male cops and act the part of the ditzy female unable to find her way in the big city, but she was unprepared for the silence that met her when she turned into the room at too sharp an angle and sent coffee cups stacked in a pyramid on a sideboard clattering across the floor. Some of the faces looking at her were creased with annoyance, some were openly amused, but most were quick to look once and cut their eyes back to the speaker. Annie noticed a single other woman in the room at the front where two men were standing, one apparently the FBI liaison from Akron who organized the task force and the other a taller and bigger man in a gray suit and tie. The smaller man up front with silver hair flicked his fingers toward her in a papal gesture to come in and ignore the cups she had stooped to replace onto the table.
“Ah, Ms. Cheng from Jefferson Sheriff’s, I assume. You’re very late but please come in. I’ll introduce you to the others after the meeting. To return – ”
Mortified by his failure to call her “detective,” she held her head high and made her way to the back of the room; unfortunately, her boot caught one of the cups and gave it a kick that sent it skittering into a table leg. Several men hooted laughs and she blushed from her neck to her ankles. As adroitly as she could manage, she sat down at the far end of the table but was unable to lift her eyes to the others yet despite her sworn oath not to let men intimidate her.
“Lynette, please give Ms. Cheng the handouts from this morning.”
A slim blonde woman in a navy-blue skirt brought her a sheaf of papers stapled in the corner and Annie accepted them in Chinese fashion with both hands extended. The woman’s red lips parted in a smile that she felt was more one of solidarity than mirth and so she relaxed a fraction to smile back at her. Grateful for the distraction, she pretended to look over the papers as the smaller, dapper man resumed his talk, but she could barely read a word owing to her embarrassment. Stansfield turned on her heel and walked back to the table where the piles of papers in manila were arranged in neat stacks. Annie noted how the men’s heads swiveled a notch to use peripheral vision to take in the woman’s oscillating hips in her smart business attire. She was remarkably pretty and Annie burned again with an old unhappiness. She raised her eyes enough to take in the almost Oriental features of Stansfield’ face from the gentle slope of forehead to those high-planed cheekbones – more like a Han’s than Caucasian influence sculpting her. Blue eyes highlighted the perfection and then Annie dismissed her from her mind.

The silver-haired man had been droning in his flat, Midwestern accent for a while before Annie switched on her built-in language monitor and decoded the sounds to concepts in her brain. English was her best foreign language by far but her idioms were often poor and how poor her teacher in Nanjing had become all too clear when she settled in America eighteen years ago and managed, most unfortunately, she thought later, to acquire that slight braying Pittsburgh accent that grated whenever she heard her voice in a room like this. The little man buttoned his charcoal suit coat and gestured toward the larger man next to him.
Without acknowledging his introduction, a part of which Annie did catch, he launched right into his remarks in an easy, deep masculine voice that caused his words to flow and blend into one another, almost as if he were bored. His face was puffy, not a distinguished face, askew in symmetry of eyes, nose, mouth. He was dark around the jowls, almost blue in the corners where he had missed shaving. His shoulders were broad and he spoke comfortably to the group. He knew several by name including James. She thought of a long-dead and smaller version of an uncle on her father’s side from Xi’an. She remembered him standing in that slouched way as if he were using his straight back leg to prop himself up.
“What Special Agent Booth told you is true. Cleveland homicide had access to their profiling apparatus as early as September eighty-eight, but we didn’t start looking for similarities until ninety-three. You all have the same information in front of you. By then, seventeen women had turned up as dead bodies found. Fifteen in vacant lots on the East Side. All but two were black females between fourteen and forty-one. More than half were found nude. Twelve had been beaten severely in the face and head. Nearly all had drug problems or arrests, many were active street hookers. Cleveland homicide found no connections, no similarities besides the obvious. Forensics was a dead end in every case.”
Booth interjected to belabor the obvious: “DNA testing wouldn’t exist until the nineties. Any semen or saliva samples Cleveland had were too degraded, lost in the warehouse, or misfiled. Some of men will have the task of searching the warehouse case files. It’s still possible we can do mitochondrial testing if we get a suspect.”
A hand from the back of the room. “Detective Haftmann, where were the other two victims found?”
“Two others were found in Garfield Heights and East Cleveland. That’s Citizen Haftmann, Officer.”
A state trooper in the front then asked, “How could Cleveland homicide say no similarities? It seems to me this task force is about ten years late.”
Haftmann turned slowly toward the young trooper and settled his gaze upon him in a way that Annie thought condescending, but his expression never changed. His name was Juoko Ahola, a big blonde Finnish kid with deltoids stretching the fabric of his uniform.
“All were from the East Side, all poor. Besides the hookers, you have a legal assistant, a laundry worker, and a student. Except for crack and prostitution, there was nothing to connect one to the other. Those of you who work homicides” – she wondered if that were a gratuitous slap at the young trooper – “know that you’re investigating multiple killings every day, seven days a week, and prostitute killings are by their nature among the hardest to clear.”
An older black detective from the front of the room mumbled loud enough for Annie to hear: “Black whores don’t count for much, right, Mister Haftmann?”
Without losing a beat, Haftmann responded: “No, they don’t, and the reason isn’t because white cops don’t work those cases as hard as any others. It isn’t about how much melanin the corpse has. It’s because the communities they live in have completely lost, the capacity for moral outrage. When you lose that, you create environments that make for good killing zones for every street thug, every drug-dealing scumbag with a nine-millimeter who thinks he’s a bad ass.”