Murder Me Tenderly
by Gary Clifton
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
The Wiltshire, a high-class high-rise, high-volume operation, was just south of the split where U.S. 183 veered off Stemmons Freeway toward the city of Irving.
Dan Johnson was a tall, skinny, man of thirty with shoulder-length blond hair. Jonic’s assessment was that Johnson was a gigolo and wasn’t worth a damn.
“Evening, folks. What’ll you have?” He basically ignored Jonic as he assessed Susie. His slender frame was nowhere close to the husky, limping mail carrier Jonic had seen at the murder scene.
“Geno Feet sent me, Johnson,” Jonic lied. “Tell the manager you need a ten-minute break: death in the family.”
“You, if you horse-ass around.” Jonic, big and agitated, leaned over the bar and stared hard at the bartender.
In the humid night air of the parking lot, Johnson’s fear was as obvious as the neon sign at curbside. “Look, dude” — he shakily lit a Marlboro — “I fooled around with Megan a couple times but way the hell before she took up with Geno.”
“Well, Danny boy, you certainly guessed the subject of this visit. Where were you midday today?”
“Asleep, dude. Man I know you. You’re a cop.”
“Was a cop. Interviewed you over a shooting at a joint you were working at on Maple Avenue a couple years ago.”
“You’re not a cop?”
“I ask the questions. Somebody put a bullet between Megan’s eyes today, inside her own house. You got any ideas on that?”
“Good God, no. Better if somebody put one in that sorry louse Geno’s head. He’s one bad dude.” The Marlboro trembled in his hand as he took a pull on the cigarette. “He accused me of foolin’ around with Megan, threatened to murder me, then fired me. No love lost, but I never touched her after he married her. You can take that to the bank.”
Jonic knew full well Geno Feet didn’t threaten; he dealt only in active violence. But Johnson was on thin ground. “Gotta clue who mighta put a bullet in Megan?”
“Maybe one of about forty guys she was layin’ up with.”
“Hell, Geno was gone all the time. She had some pretty kinky ideas about group sex. Look, Jonic, she even called me here a couple of times. Told her she was damned good in the sack, but the cemetery wasn’t nearly full. Geno mighta found out and done something stupid.”
“Got any names?”
“Only some of that bunch of rednecks who hung around the Rooster. Guaran-damned-tee you she did half of them. Megan was a slut, dude.”
Jonic handed him a business card. “Get any ideas, call me. It might keep Geno from arranging you an early funeral.” Although Jonic probably disliked Geno Feet more than Johnson did, the built-in threat was a handy tool.
* * *
“Where now, big boy?” Susie asked as they swung into Stemmons traffic, heavy even at nearly eleven o’clock.
Jonic dialed a number on his cellular. Susie could hear through the receiver the female voice answering, “Intelligence.”
“Hey, Ashley, Chris Jonic here. Yeah, sorry, I been meaning to call you.” He glanced sideways at Susie, shaking his head. “Hey, me and Jimmy Fratatello got something going in the a.m. and my cell erased his cell number. Could you...? Yeah, I know I’m not on the payroll, but I need a solid on this.”
Jonic smiled and jotted a number in his notebook. “Thanks, babe. Call you soon, bye.”
Fratatello answered on the first ring. A stocky, muscular man with hair as black as Geno Feet’s, Jimmy Fratello’s reputation for chasing women was as notorious as his propensity to slap suspects around. Fratatello had been married four or five times, and Jonic was unsure of his present hangout or main squeeze. He and Jonic had sat next to each other in the DPD Academy and had always enjoyed a cordial relationship.
“Jimmy, Jonic here. Gotta talk to you now.”
A mumbled complaint drifted through the cellular.
“I don’t care what babe you’re with. Somebody put a bullet in Megan Colbacci’s head today, and I’m the number one suspect. Your buddy, Durban, intends to hang a murder charge around my neck. Look, old friend, I know you used to hang around the Rooster, and I know about you and Megan. You need to meet me ASAP, before Durban makes the same connection.”
Geno Feet’s reputation drew plenty of water in the Dallas street scene. Fratatello met them at Denny’s on Stemmons in twenty-six minutes.
Fratatello gave Susie a professional chaser’s arrogant once over.
“Jimmy, this is my assistant, Susie Wong.”
“Nice, Chris. Hey, man, I thought you got a raw deal with the Department. Heard you’re running a PI operation. That worth a damn?”
“Gives me a first-rate assistant.” Jonic gestured at Susie. “Jimmy, Geno thinks you were hosing Megan, and it’s just a matter of time before...”
“You workin’ for Geno Feet?”
“No, dammit, I’m working to avoid a murder charge.” Jonic sighed. “Geno hired me to watch his wife. I was sitting out front when somebody murdered her. Funny thing, I saw the suspect, but nobody else did, leaving me the only one at the crime scene.”
“You saw a suspect and let him... or her, get away?”
“Mail carrier. At least somebody in a mail carrier’s uniform. Husky guy, ran with a limp. Drove away in a green Dodge.”
“I was on shift until seven this evening. I heard about Megan’s murder, but nothing about no mailman.”
“He’s real, Jimmy.”
“Jonic, you gotta know I am not afraid of that fat-assed Geno Feet.”
“Your relationship with Megan? Were you sleeping with her?”
Fratatello’s smile was thin, wary. “Damn, Jonic, I thought you were a heavy-hitter investigator. Geno didn’t bother to tell you Megan was my younger sister?”
“Jimmy, I don’t need any standup comedy.”
“Check the records. Both born in Irving, Texas; same mother, different fathers.” The slight smile broadened to a toothy grin when he looked over at Susie. “I love the ladies, folks, but so far, my sister ain’t on my radar. You and Jonic, y’all an item?” He leered at Susie.
Susie smiled back without comment.
Jonic brought the subject back to the point. “Who would want to kill Megan?”
“Hellfire, man, nobody I know of.”
“Who else was she slipping around with?”
“Jonic, every tail-chaser I know was scared to death of Geno. Megan and I were pretty close. If she had another dude, she never dropped a word to me.”
Jonic leaned closer. “We hear she was doing half the customers in the Rooster.”
“Not that I’m aware of, Jonic. Damn, that’s my sister you’re smearing there.”
Susie spoke up. “What kind of relationship did Geno and Megan have?”
Fratatello’s dark face clouded with anger. “I think Geno slapped her around all the damned time. I stopped by the Rooster sometimes. Once I saw makeup covering a black eye. She wouldn’t tell me who did it, but man, it’s gotta be Geno. I wanted to kick in his office door and see how he liked a professional ass-kicking, but she begged me not to. She bawled all over my uniform.”
“Geno see that scene?”
“Yeah, and that’s probably why the lump thinks I was makin’ it with her.”
“If you hear anything, Jimmy, you gotta call. It’s heavy stuff here.” Jonic held out a card.
“Sure thing, Jonic. Can I call Susie here if you’re not available, like in jail?”
Jonic grinned, and Susie followed him back out into the stifling parking lot.
* * *
Susie glanced back as they found the GMC. “What do I do if he calls me?”
“Take whatever info he offers by phone and do not, repeat, do not meet him for a drink.”
Neither Jonic nor Susie managed much sleep that night. At just past daylight, Jonic was making coffee. Susie spoke up. “Got any kind of plan, boss?” She stirred sleepily beneath the sheets.
“Yeah. I’m gonna go have a word with Geno. I want you to see what you can learn from public records about Geno, Mario, Dan Johnson, Jimmy Fratatello, and... Oh yeah, Megan Colbacci. And anyone else who comes to mind. I guess your Civic is running, so you can get around.”
She nodded. He dug into a small safe, retrieved a Smith and Wesson snub-nose, stuffed it in a pocket, and carried his coffee cup out the rear door to his GMC.
Geno would be asleep at this time of day, but because Jonic had kicked in the front door the afternoon before, he doubted Geno had had time to make any repairs.
He’d guessed correctly. He managed to loosen the chair wedged under the doorknob. He eased upstairs and took a chair beside Geno, who was snoring in his huge bed.
“Wake up, Geno. And if you get any dumb ideas about coming out of there with a piece or getting physical, kiss your fat ass goodbye.”
“Jonic... What the hell you doin’ in my bedroom?”
“Wanna tell you one more time, I was not fooling around with Megan, and I believe that mailman was a contract shooter. Only question is, why weren’t you there when he showed up?”
“Hadda go to court,” he mumbled, sleep still affecting his awareness. “Old speeding ticket. My guy in the courthouse called and said they’d issued a warrant. Got my ass down there to head that off.”
“I can check that out easy enough.”
“It’s the truth.” He sat upright, rapidly becoming more alert. “And Jonic, I don’t think you had anything to do with Megan’s death. Yesterday, I was just plenty pissed.”
“Durban thinks otherwise. He a buddy of yours?”
Geno lit a filter tip and grinned. “Durban, that hump. No, he ain’t on my arm, if that what’s you mean.”
Jonic knew the comment meant Durban was not taking cash from Geno for “favors” — or so he said.
“Jonic, listen, I’m all tore to hell over Megan. Any chance o’ you working on the case? Those dumbasses at Homicide ain’t gonna give it much attention.”
“Still a hundred an hour and expenses, Geno. And you owe me some back pay.”
Geno opened a nightstand drawer and tossed a Visa across his desk. “Pay yourself with that. Jonic, if you come up with who the hell ever murdered Megan, I know you got a bunch of them ethics, but you gotta lemme know some way. Save the cops a trial.”
“I don’t want part of a murder charge, Geno, but maybe I can find a way.” Of course he knew a way. At this stage, he felt zero loyalty to Homicide. If he found Megan’s murderer, he might kill him himself. Tipping Geno would be a shortcut.
Geno stared hard across the desk, the dark eyes radiating death.
“Geno, I need Megan’s cell phone records.”
“The fat man re-opened the drawer and tossed a stuffed envelope out. “That’s the last six months. She’d been dumping them. That pile there cost me a grand.”
* * *
Jonic called Susie. She was in the Dallas County Court Records unit in the old Records Building. In fifteen minutes he joined her amidst a pile of bound record books in front of a public computer.
Susie spent the afternoon digging in musty files while Jonic pored over Megan’s cellular phone records. Several times they stopped to attempt to make any connections between Megan’s cell records, vital statistical records which included limited access to criminal records, and anything else they could find. Susie confirmed that Megan and Fratatello shared a mother.
Susie said, “Megan was a busy girl, made a buncha calls to a buncha guys. That bartender guy, Johnson was right. She appears pretty promiscuous. Or maybe she just made lots of cell calls.”
“Any of them jump out at you?”
Susie looked up, huge doe-eyes filled with discovery. “Megan called some guy named Herbert Upchurch, Jr. Address on Ross, twelve... no, fourteen times. Hey, lookit here: he called her twice at three in the a.m. Isn’t that part of what Geno was ramped up about?”
Jonic turned the folder toward him. “Herbert Upchurch. I’ve heard that name.” He studied the file, then shook his head.
* * *
At 4:30 pm, they called it a day and drove in tandem to their storefront on North Harry Hines, just blocks from the Rooster. Jonic helped Susie in with a large pile of copies made by courthouse staff, all courtesy of Geno’s Visa.
After microwaved pizza and a round of beers, they dove back into the files.
Susie thumped a fat folder on their small table. “Jonic, Herbert Upchurch got busted for assault and possession with intent to sell. We only have the clerk’s records. Suppose you could use your old cop contacts to get the details. And more ID.”
“Susie, I gotta see another woman.”
She struggled to show no surprise. “I guess you made no promises, baby, but...”
He dialed his cel. “Hey, Ashley, I’ll swing for lunch in the next week or so for one more solid.”
The sound of a feminine voice drifted to Susie’s ears.
“Look, Ash, I know Durban has me at the top of the suspect list. Aw. hell yes, I mean it... I mean we were an item for a while. Okay, an item three or four times. Look, I’m in a bind. Herbert Upchurch. Name comes up in that murder of Megan Colbacci, wife of the K.C. mafia guy.”
He looked reproachfully at Susie. She stared back, wavering between angry and crestfallen.
Jonic jotted several notes, then said, “’Kicker’? Can you FAX me a photo, babe? Yeah, I know it’s gonna be poor quality, but please send it.”
He hung up, and smiled at Susie. “Chill, Babe. That’s the same night clerk in Intelligence I called earlier. Just an old friend. Where are the pants I was wearing the night before Geno hired us?”
She pointed to several garments tossed over the back of a recliner. “Pants? God, Jonic, what do you have in mind?”
Jonic dug in the pile and came out with the scrap of paper with the info from the three guys he’d thrown out of the Rooster. Then he studied the incoming FAX.
“Good God, Susie, Herbert Upchurch is a biker they call ‘Kicker’. That guy in the Rooster didn’t say, ‘Kick her’. He called Herbert by his street name.”
He dialed the phone again. “Charlie, it’s Jonic again. You ever bump into a guy named ‘Kicker’ in the Rooster? Fat redneck biker? His real name is Herbert Upchurch. I got an address in East Dallas, on Gaston.”
Jonic listened, then said, “I tossed him out two nights ago. He’s called her cell a buncha times.”
He hung up. “Susie, get dressed. We’re going to east Dallas.”
* * *
The address Ashley had given him was on the back side of a two-level apartment complex about a mile east of downtown. The premises had not been painted in twenty years. Several broken-down cars decorated the parking lot at 10:00 pm.
Jonic recognized the battered pickup as the same ride that had carried off the three rednecks from the Rooster, but no green Dodge was in sight. He ventured another call to DPD Intelligence.
“Ash, I don’t wanna wear out my welcome, but I need a 28 on a license tag.” He was aware he’d gone to this well too many times already.
In the dim light, he could feel Susie glaring at him. He scribbled, then said, “Thanks, baby.” He hung up and said, “License registered to Virginia Upchurch. I bet she’s Kicker’s mama.”
Susie followed Jonic up the deteriorating stairway. Loud music through the door guaranteed that at least the radio worked and Kicker was probably at home.
Jonic slipped the door lock with Geno’s Visa. Kicker, white bandage prominent on his forehead didn’t hear Jonic step in until Jonic had yanked him from a torn sofa and thrown him across the room. Jonic pulled the .38 from Kicker’s rear waistband and handed it to Susie.
“If he gets up, babe, shoot him.”
Sliding the Fourth Amendment to the back burner, Jonic pulled the mailman’s uniform, complete with leather bag from a dresser door. But no longer a cop, he also knew he was not totally bound by the laws of search and seizure.
He waved the rig above Kicker, still prostrate in a corner. “Kicker, I know you are not smart enough to pass the postal exam. You steal this?”
“You a cop?”
“No, ass, I tossed you off a stripper’s bar two nights ago.” He took the .38 back from Susie and pointed it squarely between Kicker’s eyes.
“Mother of God,” the fat man sobbed, “don’t shoot.”
“Where’s your .22?”
Megan’s murder wasn’t a hit. This dirtbag just happened to have a .22 pistol.
“Why Megan, dip? Was she not still giving it up?”
Kicker stared cross-eyed at the .38. “Bitch was nuts. She was gonna tell Geno. Man, you gotta do what you gotta do. Geno would have tossed me and my buddies in the Trinity.” His face twisted into the same snarl he’d shown atop the Rooster bar. “Figured that fat mope, Geno would be there and I blow his ass away. I figured to waylay you outside the Rooster, too. You messed me up pretty good.”
Geno’s punishment would probably be worse than the Trinity, Jonic thought.
“You were limping when I saw you run because of the fall off the Rooster bar. That bandage on your forehead was from your skull colliding with the brass bar foot rail. Get the hell up.”
“You gonna arrest me? Please, man, don’t shoot me,” he sobbed.
“Dude, I am no longer a cop. If your target was Geno, why murder Megan? And why was she out of her clothes?”
“Geno wasn’t there. She answered the door in a robe. I jes’ figured I’d get one more dose of her. Got the robe off, she fought and, man, I swear, the pistol went off accidentally.”
Susie said, “Lemme just shoot him, Chris.”
Kicker struggled to his feet and with amazing agility, dove headfirst out a rear window, glass shattering.
Jonic looked out the hole and saw him stumble away in the outside darkness.
Susie said, “We gonna chase him?”
He wiped the mailman’s gear clean and stuffed it back into the dresser drawer. “No, I’ll call Charlie Rose in Homicide. Guys like Kicker are never hard to find.”
They stopped at Denny’s on the trip home and had burgers with Geno’s Visa.
Susie used the payphone to leave Charlie Rose an anonymous voicemail where to find the mailman’s suit and bag. DNA from Megan’s robe and the leather bag would do Kicker in. If absolutely necessary, Jonic could testify that Kicker had confessed.
* * *
At just past 3:00 a.m., Jonic’s plan to toss Kicker to Detective Rose and Lieutenant Durban exploded with a telephone call.
“Hey, Charlie. No, no problem. Just laying here waiting for somebody to call.”
He covered the receiver and whispered to Susie, “Charlie Rose.”
He listened for several minutes, hung up and smiled thinly at Susie.
“He didn’t say it, but I think he already got your anonymous call. Except he didn’t move quickly enough.”
Susie said nothing.
“Somebody with damned good connections found Kicker... and left him in a dumpster out in Pleasant Grove. Had a written confession stuffed in his mouth... and an iron pipe hammered up his... er, up him.”
Susie winced. “Good God.”
Jonic recalled Kicker’s terrified plea for his life in his shabby apartment and wondered what he’d said when he learned he’d fallen into the hands of Geno Feet. He couldn’t gin up much sympathy.
Susie’s expression flashed to shock. “In maybe three hours? You said he wouldn’t be hard to find, but how...?”
“They were probably watching when we visited Kicker and bagged him after he did the swan dive through his rear window. Gotta be Jimmy Fratatello... or maybe Charlie Rose. Somebody told Geno, and the fat boy did what he thought he had to do.” A vision of the beautiful nude body of Megan sprawled on the marble floor in a puddle of crimson flashed briefly. “And I don’t much give a damn.”
“You gonna say anything to Fratatello?”
“Jonic, you think Geno will kill anybody else?”
“Yep. That bartender, Dan Johnson, might oughta consider moving to Russia. And maybe the two other guys who were with Kicker at the Rooster... And maybe about twenty more. As you can see, Geno has his sources.”
“Chris, I’m glad we ate at Denny’s and not some high-dollar steakhouse.”
“Somehow, I doubt he gives a damn.”
“You gonna call that Ashley chick again?”
“Only if I get targeted with another murder rap, babe.”
Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton