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Stiff Katies

by Gary Clifton

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3


With the aid of a flashing red dash-light and total disregard for the motor vehicle code in early afternoon rush traffic, McCoy whipped his Dodge up to the front of the McKnight condo on Royal Lane in twenty minutes.

Stephanie McKnight answered the door wearing a flimsy robe and a black eye. The assets visible through the robe hinted at instant sexuality. The eye suggested another problem.

“Mourning attire?” The sarcasm in McCoy’s voice was plain.

“No, stupid, it’s night attire.” She missed his implication. “I... I gotta go make funeral arrangements in a couple hours. Whadda you want?”

After ten minutes of grilling, she admitted her relationship with Moncrief. He’d given her the black eye after a spat early that morning, probably while McCoy was sitting outside. They’d met in the same topless club, the Blue Blaze on Harry Hines Boulevard where McKnight had busted Moncrief for delivery seven years earlier.

She and Moncrief were an item at the time, but she didn’t think McKnight had ever figured out the relationship. She’d only become involved with McKnight after Moncrief’s arrest.

“Why did you kill your husband? A divorce would have cut you loose,” McCoy asked with an edge in his voice.

“Hey, I admit I was makin’ it with Jacob, but I... we didn’t kill nobody.”

“You pushed Don into helping Moncrief get hired at Skyview?” McCoy probed.

“Yeah, but I... we didn’t kill Don. He was making pretty good bucks. A good meal ticket. As you know, he just bought a very expensive new convertible.”

“Why would McKnight help Moncrief?” McCoy asked.

“Don felt guilty Jacob got such a heavy sentence, and I urged him to help. Told him I’d bumped into Jacob at the mall. He’d already paroled out.”

“Was Moncrief’s sentence too harsh?” Maggs asked.

“DEA had several buys from him. That story Jacob tells about one sale only isn’t true. He was a heavy dealer.”

“Moncrief was stealing boats?”

“I... I don’t know. How would he?” She appeared genuinely puzzled.

“We ask the questions,” Maggs reminded.

Stephanie’s eyes narrowed. “Don was working on some kinda boat theft when the bomb...”

McCoy did the same LeMans race act en route to Moncrief’s apartment across town. Afternoon traffic had increased to maximum. They passed several overheated vehicles at roadside, slain by the blazing heat.

Moncrief lived on the second level of a low-rent apartment complex in east Dallas, the old Buick parked in front. McCoy, banged on the door, then slipped the lock with a Visa Card.

Maggs drew her pistol and they stepped in cautiously. But Moncrief would not resist. His head was all over the living room floor, next to a blood-stained tire iron.

“He was at Stephanie’s, probably in bed with her, a few hours ago,” McCoy said. “He came in here and somebody bushwhacked him. Maybe related to McKnight’s murder, but the line of enemies for a guy like Moncrief goes ’round the corner.”

“Not just any wimp could come in here and do in this big moose by hand.” Maggs holstered her weapon and dialed 911. “Now what?” Emergency vehicles began arriving in response to her call.

“Maybe a girlfriend he’s just given a black eye. One who just lost her husband and meal ticket. One, I still suspect, who might have helped whack her husband.”

Red Harper walked in, wet with Dallas heat, his cigar stub bitten nearly in two. “The lieutenant says Moncrief’s killing is assigned to me.” He grinned through the cigar. “You two birds just consider me your clean-up guy. How’s that go? Y’all stab ’em, I’ll slab ’em.”

“Harper, I got a feeling Moncrief here” — Maggs pointed to the floor — “is gonna be hanging on the same clipboard as Don McKnight. Same person killed them both.”

McCoy, Harper, and Maggs re-grouped in the cool sanctuary of Denny’s, a folder of Skyview records spread on the table.

“I thought I’d counted right the first time,” McCoy held up a computerized list. “Skyview moved more trailers than they stamped serial numbers on boats. Engine inventory doesn’t look right either.”

Harper mused, “Somebody is stealing trailers, maybe. That doesn’t exactly square with stealing boats, the number not jiving and all.”

McCoy studied the stack of papers. “Maybe they ground off the trailer numbers, then stamped a phony number in its place. Some kinda hand-held, hammer and die stamping rig.”

“Boat buyers still need a serial number on the boat itself, even if they buy a hot boat,” Maggs said. “Can’t title it with the state, just like trailers.”

“Market’s good for just about any stolen merchandise,” Harper said. “Hey, it’s the American way.”

“For Clarence Gilderman to be involved, he’d have to figure a way to make more boats than the record showed. You think Moncrief and Stephanie could get inside and mess with serial numbers?” McCoy sipped iced tea. “McKnight caught those two employees hauling out boats in the wee hours. Hadda be they were taking boats without serial numbers.”

“I figure Moncrief’s job was to shut down the security cameras... and he misfired on the night those two boys got caught,” Harper said. “Serial numbers... I don’t have a clue.”

“I can’t see Gilderman as tough enough to be involved. Look up wimp in the dictionary and you’ll find his photo,” Maggs said. “He lacks the stones to beat a bulldog like Moncrief to death with a tire iron. We go talk to him, he’s gonna dummy up, deny any connection. Then we got bupkis.”

“Maybe Stephanie’s got somebody else. Another boyfriend or former boyfriend who is tough enough to do Moncrief.” McCoy studied the tabletop. “We need to sit on her condo about dark-thirty tonight.”

“Somebody shows up, we arrest their ass, and hers too,” Harper said. “She’s almost gotta be involved in McKnight’s murder. If nothing else, they fought like alley cats.”

“We’re supposed to get overtime for sixteen-hour days, fool.” Maggs grinned and gestured to both men. “I’ll call my roomy and tell him I’m out with a couple of other guys.” She dialed her cellular.

Harper stepped away and called his wife. They ordered burgers and engaged in a common police practice — they waited.

* * *

At 8:45 pm, McCoy cut the lights and eased the Dodge to the curb three doors down from the McKnight condo. A light showing in a front window suggested someone was at home. Harper, alone in a small Plymouth, parked, out of sight several doors in the opposite direction.

An hour dragged by, then three, the time when surveillances began to seem less important. Maggs yawned. They sat in the Dodge, the engine running to utilize the air conditioning, a rookie mistake when staking out enemy territory. Both rationalized the danger of sitting in a closed car, unable to hear outside sounds fully.

McCoy fidgeted, then turned to Maggs. “Partner, I gotta find some bushes. Too much coffee.” He started out the door.

“Find a spot for me,” Maggs said.

Bladder necessity saved both their lives. As he stepped onto the hot pavement, the two figures in dark hoods were ten feet away, creeping toward the Dodge like men walking on eggs.

“Maggs, out!” He drew his Glock. “Police Officer, gentlemen. Show your hands and get on the ground.”

Maggs bounded out of the passenger side with track-star speed, Glock in hand.

The smaller man showed his hands, but what little light there was reflected off a nickel-plated .38 revolver in his right fist. In the dark, McCoy could see the second man fumbling at his rear waistband. He concluded the man was not adjusting his underwear.

The .38 roared. The millisecond of gunfire-daylight clearly illuminated the second man jacking a round into an automatic pistol. The heat and force of the first shooter’s bullet whizzed past McCoy’s ear.

McCoy, afraid of angry women and crying babies, was firmly in his element. A practiced hand at violence in the dark, he instinctively put a round in each man’s chest at ten feet. Both went down like wet towels.

Several car lengths behind McCoy’s Dodge, SUV lights snapped on and the vehicle roared into life, hurtling toward McCoy and the two men on the pavement. McCoy drew a bead on the driver’s-side windshield. The driver, seeing the threat in the SUV headlights, swerved into a tree thirty feet away. The driver clambered out and ran into the darkness in the opposite direction.

“Mine!” Maggs broke after the runner.

McCoy dialed 911, then turned to the two men he’d just shot. Both were alive, gasping. McCoy flash-lighted the first, smaller man, and pulled off his ski mask. The reptilian features of H. Brooks Cummins, Attorney at Law, stared up at him with glassy, dying eyes.

“You’re quite a killer commando, Cummins. Couldn’t steal enough with a briefcase, huh? Guess boat theft and murder pay better?”

“Help me, McCoy,” Cummins rasped, then shuddered and died.

Harper whizzed up in the little Plymouth and bailed out, Glock in hand. “Shoulda saved one for me.” He exhaled cigar smoke.

“That stogie would have finished them both, anyway,” McCoy was standing over the two downed men. “Maggs chased a third guy that way.” He pointed after her. Harper lumbered off on foot.

McCoy knelt to pull off the second man’s mask. Clarence Gilderman’s chest wound was sucking from a punctured lung. McCoy knew a lung injury was unpredictable, but Clarence would probably die within minutes.

“Clarence, what the hell was it all about, peddling stolen boats? How did you make up serial numbers? And was it worth killing McKnight and, hell, Moncrief too? Was Stephanie involved?”

Clarence gasped and tried to speak, then lost consciousness, but the sucking breath continued.

McCoy stood back up and looked down at the two bodies. “You two clowns know how much paperwork a double shooting generates?”

Maggs, still track-champ fast, had bagged the fugitive in half a block. The sounds of sirens wafted in on the muggy air as Maggs and Harper reappeared, pushing a handcuffed young man in front of them. He was fleshy, pimply, about eighteen, and nearly dead of fear and exhaustion.

“Dude,” McCoy said, “you run from her, you just end up going to jail tired.”

Maggs looked capable of another chase. Harper was more exhausted than the kid they’d captured.

Stephanie McKnight, in a nightgown, stepped out onto the porch of the McKnight condo. Her arms crossed across her ample chest, she watched the activity in front of her house, but kept her distance.

Harper looked down at the bodies of Cummins and Clarence. Gilderman. “Well,” — he lit up a brand-new eighteen-inch monstrosity — “we found somebody tough enough to take down Moncrief with a tire iron... except it took two somebodies.”

“You’d be the Easter Bunny, sport?” McCoy asked the prisoner.

“Huh?” the kid rasped.

“He’s asking who the hell you are, kid,” Maggs told her prisoner.

“Dwyer... Darrell Dwyer,” He was a slender youth, and he also seemed a bit slow on the uptake.

Maggs propped the prisoner against McCoy’s Dodge. “One of the guys Skyview fired for theft.”

Flashing lights began arriving in numbers. Harper agreed to supervise the scene and call the lieutenant. McCoy and Maggs moved Dwyer into the back seat of the Dodge, for interrogation.

McCoy sent a young patrolman to bring back a round of soft drinks. Maggs, in the back seat beside Dwyer, leaned him forward and switched the handcuffs to the front so he could manage his drink. After nearly getting both cops killed, the Dodge A/C was now life-saving.

“Well, dude, tell us the grand plan here?” McCoy said.

“Plan...whut?” He was wide-eyed.

“Yeah, what were Clarence and H. Brooks Cummins up to tonight?” McCoy asked.

“Hey, they never told me they had guns or nothin’. I didn’t know whut they was doing. I just drove.”

“Tell us about stealing boats,” Maggs said.

“Clarence Gilderman and that Cummins lawyer had me ’n Ivan help haul out boats at night. They called ’em ‘overruns’. Didn’t say nothin’ ’bout stealin’. We handed ’em to some Hispanic guys down on Industrial. Cummins said they was Cartel people.”

McCoy said, “Equipment to outrun the Coast Guard with a load of dope.”

“How many boats did you haul out?” Maggs asked.

“Maybe twenty.” He swigged his soda pop.

“Twenty at fifty large each... nice retirement plan,” McCoy said. “A million bucks. And they may have been stealing for years before we got involved.”

“Then that security guy, uh... McGee, busted us...” Dwyer said.

“McKnight,” Maggs corrected.

“Whoever... He caught us, and Clarence paid us to take the fall. Keep us on the payroll... At least he said he would. But he didn’t. Ivan got murdered, and I was too scared to go back to Skyview. I think Clarence killed Ivan and I been hiding. Clarence got word to me that if I’d drive tonight, he’d pay me the grand they owe me. I was plenty scared but, man, I needed money. Didn’t know that lawyer was gonna come along till I saw him.”

“Explains why Skyview never filed theft charges. McKnight caught the thieves but never made the connection to Clarence Gilderman or the company lawyer, Cummins,” Maggs said.

“Wonder why Clarence just didn’t fire McKnight?”

“’Cuz uncle Gilderman wouldn’t have let him.” McCoy was watching an EMT attend Clarence Gilderman on the pavement. “But, some way, McKnight had tipped his hand. Clarence knew he was in trouble. Couldn’t fire McKnight, so he planted a bomb under his car.”

“Uncle?” Dwyer asked. “Bomb?”

“Kid, we just saved your life.” McCoy glanced at Stephanie on her front porch. “I see now Stephanie wasn’t in the loop. She didn’t know what McKnight knew, but Clarence and Cummins weren’t sure about her. They killed McKnight and Moncrief. They were going to kill her, then you. They saw us sitting here and nearly crept up on us.” McCoy looked back at Maggs.

“Saved by McCoy’s bladder. Yeech,” Maggs chuckled.

“Did Skyview use yellow nylon rope with the boats?” McCoy asked Dwyer.

“Yeah, nothing but yellow. About ten miles of it.”

“Ivan Klaster’s hands were tied with...” Maggs eyes snapped to McCoy. McCoy nodded.

“Any idea how they accounted for the extra motors and trailers?” McCoy turned back in the seat.

“I heard Moncrief slip and say something about buying engines and trailers off the book with Skyview money,” Dwyer said. “Paid in cash somewheres.”

“How did they falsify serial numbers?” McCoy asked.

“Normally they put them little plastic things on the stern and painted resin over it. Sometimes the number would be... illegal?”

“Illegible,” Maggs corrected.

“And they had a little machine in the office to stamp out metal replacement tags. The boats we hauled out at night all had them metal tags stuck on with rivets.”

McCoy scratched his nose. “They just painted up a few extra boats, printed extra metal serial numbers, hid the cash purchase of engines and trailers, and hauled the load out the back gate. The trailer and motor serial numbers were not a factor. They were purchased outside regular inventory.”

“Stephanie — McKnight’s wife — was she in on the plan? The thefts?” Maggs asked.

“Dunno who Stephanie is.”

Harper rapped on the window. “Clarence isn’t dead. He’s trying to say something.”

McCoy and Maggs stepped out of the Dodge into the night heat. McCoy knelt over Clarence.

“Clarence, better cleanse your soul,” McCoy said softly. “Was Stephanie involved in your little boat scheme?”

“No.” The voice was a death rattle. “Cummins was gonna kill her... until you showed up.”

“McKnight’s last words were ‘stef kay tee’. That a call for his wife... or a code?”

“Stiff Katies, you idiot. That’s what we called the metal replacement tags... Stiff Katies.” He shuddered and died.

“Stiff Katies,” Maggs repeated, studying the two dead men. “What a dumb thing to die for.”

* *

[Author’s note] The term “stiff katies” comes from real life. I once worked on a case of arson that had taken place in a factory manufacturing fiberglas boats. “Stiff katies” was the curious name that the manufacturer gave to metal serial number tags. These tags were attached to boats when the original serial number had been obscured in the process of spray painting.

In the real-life case, the company vice-president had been engaging in exactly the kind of illegal sales described in the story. He ordered extra boats, attached “stiff katies” to them, and bootlegged them out the back door.

The case won a conviction because he had been dumb enough to bank his ill-gotten gains in his wife’s name. He had also tried to hire a hit man to murder the company president. His plan failed, thanks to an informer; the vice-president unknowingly hired an undercover agent instead.

Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton

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