Last night, I pulled the trigger and approved the IngramSpark proofs to release My Brother’s Keeper to print publication — my first book to ever inhabit so-called “meatspace.”
Special thanks to:
Lora Mosier for the photo that became the front cover art: http://loramosier.wordpress.com/
Skytamer for the P-51 Mustang rendering on the back cover: http://www.skytamer.com
Elizabeth N. Love for her editing services: http://writerbeeblog.wordpress.com
My older brother was always the golden boy of the family: he hit the longest home runs, got the highest grades, dated the prettiest girls, was decorated by General MacArthur personally, and had the most elite cosmetic surgery practice in Beverly Hills. I never quite measured up to Stitch, but I was the youngest and got away with that and much, much more. There was only one thing I was ever good at and that was finding things: the dog when he got loose and ran away; the mislaid keys to the family Buick; a case of beer or two for Saturday night parties; females more willing than beautiful; and, during the war, German ME109s, which I usually dispatched with the fifty caliber guns mounted in the wings of my Mustang, White Hawk. Stitch was discovered dead April 2, 1950. I would have to find his murderer.
A. Gavin Byrd
“What? You mean that’s it?”
I was already sitting at the end of the bed, lighting up a smoke and thinking hard and fast. “Well, I’ll tell you, sugar, I’ve been on the shelf aging like a fine bottle of bubbly—so to speak—and you just shook me up good and popped my cork.”
“Hey, come on, we’re supposed to rest between rounds. Wait for the bell, will you?”
As luck would have it, just then the phone rang.
“Don’t you answer that, Hawk.”
But, of course, I did.
“I got the distinct impression that I was interruptin’ somethin’,” snickered Sgt. Vince Allegro of the Los Angeles Police Department when I met him at the marina. Allegro always was observant as hell. He also had an annoyingly knowing smile that he used to great advantage in dislodging information from witnesses and suspects, who, if they were lying, usually broke down and told him the truth or, if they were telling the truth, usually elaborated to prove it—and all Allegro had to do was smile. It was magic, but whenever he turned it on me, I felt like slapping the chubby little cop silly. I guess I deserved it, though; for in his eyes I was deliciously wicked in my ways and was an invaluable source of fantasy handouts for him to use in passing the time on late night stakeouts. “And don’t think I had an easy time of it, tracking you down at that motel.”
“I was on location for a couple of days.”
Allegro smiled his patent pending smile.
“Well, Vince,” I said, “she was the cutest little twenty-two year old, MGM contract player you ever saw. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, a figure that would befuddle Einstein and long, long legs with thighs that have had the benefit of a lifetime of dancing lessons.”
Allegro held up his hands, needing a moment to savor and digest the morsel I had just tossed his way. His round face flushed and glowed. His eyes glazed over and the ends of that knowing smile twitched spastically.
“You know how eager and how full of enthusiasm those young starlets are. I’ll tell you, your call saved me from the kind of death every man dreams of.”
“Come on, Hawk, give me a break.”
“So, you scrambled me. What’s up with the Dorian Gray?”
Allegro had to take a moment to catch his breath. I guess I had laid a good one on him.
“Well, the Coast Guard found your brother’s boat adrift up the Santa Barbara Channel. They’re towing it in now.”
“And you dragged me away from paradise just because—’’
“Hawk, they said there’s a body aboard: male, Caucasian, late thirties—early forties.”
“I don’t know,” Allegro said gravely. “That’s what I came down to find out. It wasn’t my call.”
Allegro had been an orderly in the Army during the war and had followed Stitch as he island-hopped across the South Pacific. Stitch saved Allegro’s leg from amputation after the six-by-six he was driving hit a mine. So, there was more than professional concern in his voice. I asked, “Who got the call?”
“Lieutenant Peletier.” Allegro pointed to a tall, sandy-haired man in a three-piece suit who was gesturing and directing police officers this way and that, even though there was nothing to do until the Coast Guard arrived with Stitch’s boat. “What a macaroon.”
“That pompous ass? Great. What’s he doing pulling down routine calls?”
“This could make a big splash in the daily rags, so I guess somebody upstairs wanted to put an officer with photogenic qualities on the case. You know, to make the Department look good. Too bad he hasn’t done a lick of legitimate police work in five years.” Allegro shrugged his shoulders and turned his back to Lt. Peletier. “I called you down cause I figured you’d want to know right away. Besides, it was only going to be a matter of time before the Department pulled your chain for a positive ID on whoever it is that’s on board.”
“Thanks Vince. I appreciate it.”
“Can I buy you a cup of joe?”
“Sure.” We walked back to Allegro’s car and, out of a thermos, he poured two mugs of official LAPD Detective Division coffee that was made barely tolerable for human consumption by the generous portion of scotch whiskey used to sweeten it. “Ah, Vince …“
“It’s okay. I’m off duty.” Allegro grinned slyly. “Hey, you remember that guy who raped and murdered that school teacher?”
“Sure, the one I flew up to the state pen last week.”
“That’s the one. He didn’t even make it to the weekend before the boys on the cell block took care of him.”
“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
“Took the words right out of my mouth.”
And so we waited for the Coast Guard to come. When they finally docked the Dorian Gray, Lt. Peletier whipped his charges into a frenzy of activity. Allegro and I had another cup of coffee while the lab guys did their chores, taking pictures, cataloging clues and dusting for prints. Then, before the coroner’s boys moved in, Allegro took me on board.
“Hold it just one damn minute, mister,” Lt. Peletier said as he grabbed my elbow. “Just who the hell do you think you are, trespassing on my crime scene?”
“Next of kin, for an ID of the body,” Allegro pitched in and ushered me out of the Lieutenant’s grasp.
While Lt. Peletier and Allegro tried to sort out their irreconcilable differences, I took a look at the body. It was Stitch all right, laying face down in a pool of blood. He had been shot in the head. I caught Allegro’s eye and nodded. He seemed to suddenly lose interest in his conversation with Lt. Peletier. I stepped back to the stern of the boat and blankly watched the Medical Examiner’s boys wrap up the body and take it away.
“Hey, I’m sorry, Hawk,” Allegro said sincerely when he came over. “Tell you what, why don’t you just hold tight here and I’ll talk to some of the Lieutenant’s boys and see what they’ve come up with so far.”
I nodded and sank into a deck chair facing out over the stern towards the marina channel. I could pick out Allegro’s voice behind me, but I didn’t listen. I always felt that Stitch had a head start on me in life and now I didn’t know if he had finished the race and won or if I would win by default. I watched all of the boats bob at their moorings and tried not to think. The Army Air Corps had trained me well for that. In the event of an emergency, the mind automatically reverts to a checklist and, without thinking, step-by-step clicks through it (“drop seat—lower head—pull canopy emergency release—pull ball release bail out bottle—disconnect oxygen hose and headset—crouch and dive toward right wing tip). Of course, in the event nothing makes the problem go away, you can always bail out and gently float to safety under the blossoming canopy of your parachute.
“Hawk, here’s how it looks to the boys,” Allegro said as he came around from behind me and sat on the stern of the boat. He nervously rubbed his fat thigh. “No sign of a struggle. No real evidence of anyone else being aboard tonight. Nothing apparently missing—still had his wallet with a little cash in it and his watch and rings and stuff. Stitch’s own thirty-eight was found at his side. The boys already know what the autopsy and ballistic reports are going to say and nobody’s willing to bet against Stitch’s prints being on the gun. The boys are talking suicide real serious.”
I just shook my head and watched the boats bob in the marina.
“It’ll be an open and shut case. The Lieutenant won’t even get his hair mussed on this one.”
I just shook my head again in disbelief.
“Hawk, you’ve got to look at the evidence.”
The police were already bailing out and floating down to safety with their “suicide” parachute. I knew better and I wasn’t going to give up on my brother. “Evidence is a cop putting the cart before the horse.”
“Yeah, but it’s all we ever get to go on.”
“But I know better.”
“Yeah, so do I.” Allegro sighed heavily. “But Peletier will have this case wrapped up neat as can be in a week—ten days at the outside. And I just told you what the disposition will say.”
“Peletier and his disposition can rot in hell.”
Allegro nodded slowly. “But there’s not much I can do about it. It’s his case and he’s a lieutenant. I’m just a sergeant. My hands are tied, Hawk.”
“Mine aren’t.” I looked up into Allegro’s face and knew he would help me. “Get me the reports?”
Allegro looked down at the thigh that he had been nervously massaging. “I wouldn’t have this leg if it weren’t for Stitch.”
“Get me the reports?”
“How long will the boat be off limits?”
“A week, maybe ten days—till the disposition.”
“Can you get me aboard tomorrow for a look-see?”
Allegro looked at Lt. Peletier and squinted his eyes as if he were sizing him up. “Day after. Let a bit of the dust settle. Besides, Peletier will be stuck in staff meetings all day Monday, so he won’t be around to bother us.”
“What about Stitch’s home and office? Will they be sealed?”
“I doubt it. They’ll give them the once over, but that’ll be about it.”
“Good. Thanks, Vince.” I stood up to go. “I’ve got to get the hell out of here.”
“Hawk, let the boys do their job, okay? Peletier’s a pain in the butt, but he’s got a job to do. I’ll get you the reports and I’ll get you back on the boat, but just don’t get in his way. It’ll just make waves which won’t help anybody. And keep me up on what you are doing—and what you need. Maybe I can help here and there.”
“Sure, Vince. I’ll see you.”
Allegro nodded, then turned away quickly. He was shaken. So was I. I walked slowly down the dock without looking back. A lot of nice boats around here, I thought to myself, a lot of nice boats. It was two in the morning and the rest of the marina was quiet. When I got to the end of the dock, a crowd of reporters and photographers had already gathered and had begun to push and jockey for position while they waited for Lt. Peletier to make a statement. News travels fast.
I slipped by unnoticed. Even in death, Stitch would set a front-page standard.