by Gary Clifton
“Slide the keys across and put both hands on the window glass, old man,” the hooded man said in the dim mall lights. The .45 in his right hand trembled wildly.
Two of them had stepped from behind a cement column on the third level parking structure. Kravitz, a cop for thirty-five years, should have been a harder man to catch off guard.
A bystander would tell responding officers that Kravitz had shouted “duck” just as the man who’d demanded the SUV key shot Sara Kravitz in the chest at point-blank range. Kravitz retreated partly behind the vehicle, pulled a .38 from his jacket pocket and gave each man two in the chest.
Sara and the two would-be robbers were all dead in pools of blood where they lay. Responding officers would describe Kravitz as “distraught but in control.”
Dispatch sent Homicide Detectives Beatrice Jackson and Tim Ripley, both old timers, to the scene.
* * *
Ripley, a 23-year veteran, ten in Homicide, was a slender, soft-spoken man whose eldest daughter was an accomplished concert pianist. Ripley often said he couldn’t hum “Jingle Bells.”
Jackson, on the job for 18 years and a homicide detective for five, was fleshy, prone to laugh easily, and highly competent.
Ripley told Jackson on the way, “The dispatcher said an ex-cop named Kravitz is involved. Bea, that’s almost gotta be Jake Kravitz.”
“Yep. Ol’ Jake Miracle finally encountered somebody he couldn’t screw or screw over — sounds like. But, Ripley, I understood it was his new wife that got it, not Kravitz.”
Both knew Jake Kravitz and his background. His long tenure with the police department was a history of miracles. Investigated by Internal Affairs for soliciting sex from female traffic stops, caught behind a dumpster with a prostitute, strong-arming several small-time dope dealers — the list of accusations was extensive. He was a notorious womanizer, rumored to be totally non-choosey in selecting partners for intimate liaisons.
But despite a hundred infractions of the conduct code, witnesses had never produced enough evidence to push Kravitz over the edge. He remained a cop, although a uniformed patrolman working eleven to seven. His ability to survive the charges was widely spoken of as a series of miracles.
The end of his police career had come nearly a year earlier. A burglar invaded his home while he and his wife of thirty years were asleep, beat Kravitz about the head with a solid object, and bludgeoned his wife to death.
Homicide, including Ripley and Jackson, spent weeks on the case and come away with nothing.
His injuries had been serious enough that the police department had pensioned him out on a disability. IAD investigated the situation at length, determined Kravitz could not have self-inflicted such grievous wounds, and he dropped off the “possibly involved” list.
Shop talk never wavered: The prevalent belief was that Kravitz had somehow staged the break-in, despite his wounds. Fuel was sloshed on the fire of suspicion when word leaked that Kravitz had collected on a ten-figure life insurance policy at his wife’s demise.
Three months after the death of his wife, only a week after being released from the hospital, Kravitz , 59, married Sara Burenski, 20, a clerk in Homicide. A joke circulated around the police department: “How many times will 59 go into 20.” The predictable punchline: “Rarely.”
Sara was widely said among cynical cops to have a face “like a busted ass.” The odd couple took up housekeeping in Jake’s home he’d co-occupied for many years with his original wife. Kravitz soon faded off the radar.
* * *
Then Kravitz took his chubby little bride shopping one chilly evening at the Butter Creek Mall. Three people were dead, and Jackson and Ripley were standing over a bloodbath.
Sara lay face up, blue eyes fixed with the glazed stare of death on eternity far above. Two small merchandise sacks beside her were saturated in spilled blood. She had been standing behind the vehicle, the rear door opened in the “up” position.
Bea pulled the ski masks off the two hooded corpses on concrete at the right rear of the vehicle.
“Dopers, I suppose.” Ripley studied the two dead men. Both were about twenty, with unkempt hair and scraggly, post-adolescent facial growth. A pistol lay near the hand of each.
Jacob Kravitz, sitting in the rear of a squadcar parked behind, shuffled over.
“They just popped out from that pillar there,” Jake sobbed. “Pointed a .45 at me, demanded my SUV keys, then shot Sara without reason or warning. She didn’t resist or move. Damned animals.”
“You know either one?” Bea pointed to the dead men.
Kravitz’s cellular buzzed. He stepped away and spoke briefly into the instrument. Ripley heard him say, “We’ll have to talk about that later” as he broke the connection.
Evidence techs swarmed to the scene, fingerprinted the two dead men, and by eleven, had ID’s of each.
Both had arrests for assault, burglary, and minor narcotics charges. Neither had managed to go to prison, because Jason York and Freddie Mackey were both only 19.
Kravitz identified Mackey as the assailant who’d demanded his keys and shot his wife.
* * *
The following morning, Ripley and Jackson made contact with the occupants of addresses taken from identification on the two dead men. The location for Mackey was a non-existent. The door of the second was answered by a wizened, graying, stooped man who appeared 80. He identified himself as Jason York’s grandfather.
The old man stated Jason did, in fact, live there, but had not been home in several days. When Ripley told him Jason York had been killed during commission of an armed robbery, he was visibly calm. Jason had lived with the old man since childhood, and had been in trouble with school authorities and the police many times.
With tears finally showing, he said he was not surprised Jason had gotten himself killed.
“Back to the computer,” Bea said, parking their car behind police headquarters.
Both dead assailants’ records of arrests would contain information on family and associates. York and Mackey seemed to have been joined at the hip, being busted together five times dating back several years to mid-adolescence.
“Bingo, Ripley,” Bea chuckled. “Mackey shows his mother’s address out in Flat City two years ago.”
“Yeah, and they’ve been arrested twice with a kid named Chester Glick. Address down the block from where we interviewed Jason York’s grandfather a while ago. Says here Glick works — or worked — as an apprentice for Reddiflex Plumbing.”
Bea said, “Which also just happens to be in the same neighborhood as Grandpa.” She printed out photos of all three youths.
* * *
Reddiflex Plumbing was squeezed between a tanning salon and a sub-sandwich shop in a line of storefronts on Wager Boulevard, a four-lane thoroughfare designed to hurry citizens through a very blighted, rundown neighborhood.
The forearms of the burly mid-forties man behind the counter, almost completely obliterated by blurry, amateur tattoos, told both cops the man had spent considerable time in custody.
“Your name, please?” Beatrice flashed a badge.
“Charlie Winters, and I ain’t did squat.”
“You learn that line in screw-up school, Charlie?” Ripley chuckled.
Bea flashed the photo of Chester Glick.
“Yeah, I know Chester,” he said soberly. “He’s my sister’s kid.” When he spoke, two missing front teeth and a prominent scar drifting from the left corner of his mouth nearly to the ear were clear evidence of past violence.
“We just need to talk with him. He’s in no trouble,” Ripley said.
“I’ve heard that crap before. Look, he’s worked here six months and is doin’ just fine. Y’all come in and dick with him, and he’ll be right back out on the street.”
“Call him in here,” Ripley directed, gesturing to the rear. “We have no warrants. Just want to talk.”
Glick was not in the rear, but Winters punched a number into his cellular. In fifteen minutes, a company truck skidded to a halt beside the squad car outside.
Bea showed Chester Glick the death photos of York and Mackey. A semi-clone of the two dead men, he instantly broke into sobs.
“I’ve known them guys since we was little kids. What happened?”
“Shot and killed during the commission of an armed robbery and murder last night,” Ripley replied. “Where were you between nine and midnight?”
“Watchin’ football at the video-game place on Wilmith. There’s a dozen people who can vouch for that. Hey, if y’all are thinkin’ I had something to do with...?”
Glick then tearfully recounted his history with the two dead men. He admitted to being arrested with both for burglary and traffic warrants, but contended he’d gone to work for the plumbing company, had remained sober, and had not seen Mackey or York in over a month.
“But hell, officers, they wasn’t killers. Them guns layin’ by them in the pictures. You sayin’ they had them on them when they got...?”
Bea nodded. “Mackey’s mother still live out in Flat City?”
“Hell, they didn’t have money to buy no pistol. And yeah, she ain’t moved... Freddie’s mother. Does she know?”
Ripley shrugged that he didn’t know. “The victim was a retired cop’s wife... Jake Kravitz. Don’t suppose you know him?”
Winters, standing at the end of the counter said, “He don’t, but by God, I do. Kravitz used to work this neighborhood. Swindled money from the hookers workin’ down at the intersection with 53rd.” He pointed his grizzled chin.
* * *
Bea drove them to the country courthouse. An hour digesting public records developed several tidbits. Mackey’s mother still paid taxes on the house in Flat City. Winters, the plumber had a lengthy record, and nothing showed Mackey and York were little more than punks. Freddie Mackey had an older sister who worked as a topless dancer.
“Damn, Ripley, look. Sara Kravitz filed for divorce six months ago. Doesn’t seem they’d been married long enough for divorce to pop up... But she dropped it a month later.”
“And, Beatrice, my dear, get a gander of this entry. York, Mackey, and Glick were all three arrested burglarizing a drug store two years ago. Lo and behold the arresting officer: Patrolman Jacob Kravitz.”
“Ripley, he worked the neighborhood. There were other cops in on the arrest. Kravitz just hogged the collar. Might be innocuous as hell.”
“The miracle man sure shows up in a lot of places.”
* * *
Freddie Mackey’s mother greeted them at the door of the little run-down house, holding a filter-tip in a long cigarette holder. She said she’d been notified earlier by a uniformed sergeant of her son’s demise. When she spoke, her tortured, broken-diaphragm voice explained the cigarette holder.
“So what you two gonna add,” she rasped. “Cops came around this morning. I think they was gloating that Freddie was dead. I’ll tell you two jerkoffs up front I ain’t seen Freddie in a week.”
Ripley asked, “So did he live in the park, or maybe a shelter?”
“None o’ your damned business.” She attempted to slam the door.
Ripley caught it with his foot and stepped into the doorway.
“Ma’am, we can discuss this downtown,” he bluffed. Only TV cops carry people to the station house who are not under arrest.
“Well... uh, what the hell exactly do you want?”
Ripley glanced at Bea. “Where has Freddie been staying?”
“With his sister,” she said, fractured voice nearly failing. Apartment up on Randolph Avenue.”
Bea jotted down the address.
“C.O.P.D. or emphysema?” Ripley remarked as Bea threaded the Dodge through traffic.
“Maybe throat cancer,” she replied. “She is not gonna last long, especially sucking on cigarettes.”
* * *
Freddie Mackey’s sister produced identification showing her name to be Wanda Spanner, 27. She immediately admitted to having prior arrests for solicitation of prostitution and possession of a controlled substance.
Well into the all too often stripper’s progression from 22 going on 70, her face bore the unmistakable signs of what cops called “meth face,” brought on by the normal ravages of the drug to human features. Ripley had worked Vice. In the full light of afternoon, Wanda looked like death warmed over. In the dim light of a topless club, the damage would not be as recognizable.
“Where did Freddy get the pistol?” Bea asked quietly. “Don’t screw around and lie to us and get yourself an obstruction charge.”
Wanda retreated into the shabby apartment, the two cops following. “Look, if Freddie had a gun, I sure wouldn’t have let him bring it in here... not intentionally. Dammit, Freddie’s dead. What difference does it make, now?”
“We ask the questions,” Bea snapped. “Either say yes or no to Freddie’s possession of a handgun.”
“Not that I knew about, I swear.”
Ripley asked, “Your mother... How bad?”
“Her throat? Cancer. Doctors say she’s got four to six months.” The worn, tired eyes filled with tears.
“We catch you lying about the gun, you’re in jail,” Ripley said as they walked away.
* * *
Bea pulled out into traffic. “Suppose the kid was trying to raise cash for his mother?”
“I’m not a mind reader. But, if so, why the hell shoot Sara Kravitz?”
Bea grinned. “And then stand like a lump and let Kravitz gun him down?”
Ripley dialed telephone company security, talked briefly and broke the connection.
“We drop by in fifteen minutes, they’ll have Wanda’s cellular records for us. She’s got no other phone.”
In an hour, they were over coffee at Denny’s examining a year’s records.
“Wanda must do a little hooker business on the side.” Bea looked up. “She gets a million calls.”
“And calls out another million, Bea. Look here, she’s called the same number twenty... twenty-three times in the past two weeks.”
Ripley phoned telephone security again and jotted down the number of Wanda’s favorite conversationalist. Over exchanged glances, they got up and hurried back to Randolph Avenue.
* * *
The afternoon sun was setting in the west when Wanda didn’t answer. Ripley slipped the door lock with his VISA. Wanda had not answered because she had company. A clean-cut man of forty was in the throes of the sex act on the sofa. Wanda was playing catcher.
Ripley said softly, “We have no quarrel with you, mister. Pants on and hit the road.”
The customer was gone in two minutes, carrying his shoes in one hand. Wanda pulled on a sheer robe.
Ripley said, “I’m not sure of the exact plan, Wanda, but I suppose he offered you money to help your mother. Your poor damned stupid brother got way in over his head when he went out to rob and pillage. Got himself killed.”
“I don’t know what you’re...”
“Save it,” Bea said. “We’ll connect the dots soon enough, and you get a date with the three-cocktail needle: conspiracy to commit capital murder. They say it only hurts for a little while.”
Not surprisingly, Wanda began to cry. “He gave us two thousand up front. Told me he loved me and that he had a million-dollar life insurance policy on that ugly wife of his. Freddie and Jason were scared to death, but said they’d take the contract to help Mom. It was not a robbery. They went to shoot her.”
Bea patted her shoulder. “Kiddo, he would never have paid you a dime.”
Ripley slumped on a kitchen chair. “Fake robbery, and then he shot and killed both boys. You realize you have to be near the top of ‘featured in coming attractions’ list. You’re lucky to be alive. I’d expect him to...”
A soft rap at the door interrupted Ripley. “Open it, Wanda...but don’t stand in the doorway.”
Both cops drew their Glock service pistols and stepped on each side of the door.
Wanda, standing behind the door jamb, reached over and swung the door back. The husky visitor stepped inside, holding a .45 in his right hand.
Ripley stuck his Glock behind the man’s ear and said softly, “I’d love to shoot your worthless ass, but let the pistol drop and you live to see death row.”
The startled face snapped from Ripley to Beatrice and back. The .45 hit the carpeted floor with a dull thud.
“No law against gettin’ a little,” he snarled.
Ripley patted him down and cuffed his hands behind.
“How long do you think it will take us to find which insurance company was unlucky enough to sell you a million dollars coverage on your wife? You gotta know we’ll find it.”
Beatrice said, “Jacob Kravitz, you are under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder. You have the right to remain...” She droned on.
Ripley couldn’t suppress his broad grin as Miracle Jake Kravitz stood, crestfallen like a broken tree limb, at room center.
Then revelation. “Jake, since you murdered the contract killers you hired to kill your latest wife, you’re dumb enough to try the same trick again even after the murder of your first wife went south. The guy you hired bludgeoned her to death, but when you tried to double-cross and kill him, he beat hell outta you with the murder weapon... Then he split, thinking he’d killed you. How long did it take for you to hunt him down?”
Kravitz’ stunned hate stare was clear evidence Ripley had a bullseye.
“Jake, first thing in the morning, you can bet your murdering ass I’m gonna go through statewide and federal homicide files for the months after your first wife was murdered to see how and where you dumped the guy who beat in your head. We’ll find a carcass in a morgue somewhere that shows signs of the fight with you over your wife’s dead body. Whatcha bet, dude?”
Kravitz’ eyes narrowed in deep thought, obviously wondering what clues he’d left behind.
“Jake” — Ripley flashed a toothy grin. — “Looks like you’re fresh out of miracles.”
Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton