Homicide Sergeant, Crispian Belicheri, a twelve year veteran of the Burnt Corn Police Department, known as Belch to everyone in Burnt Corn, and his partner, Detective Ivan Smallberries, were sitting in their unmarked patrol car. Belicheri was reading the Burnt Corn Daily Gazette’s sports page, wondering how the Burnt Corn Hornets could have blown a 24 point lead at halftime and lose to the Monroeville Zephyrs in a double overtime, while Ivan picked his nails with a small, red Swiss Army Knife.
The sun was just beginning to crack the horizon on that chilly Saturday morning with a hint of dampness in the air when their police radio squawked, “Hey, Sarge, we caught another one, out in Golden. A dead body lying in the driveway of one of them old shotgun houses they built in the ’40’s and ’50’s. I’m headin’ that way now. Do you have Smallberries with you?”
“Yeah, we’ll be there in five,” he replied, folding up the paper and tossing it in the back seat to join a pile of empty coffee cups and fast food bags along with some dirty gym shorts and tennis shoes.
Detective Smallberries tripped the blue light and siren as Belch pulled away from the curb.
The area called Golden is located on the North side of Burnt Corn and got its name from the old sock factory that used to be there, Golden Hosiery Mills. It was once the largest employer in Burnt Corn before all the jobs went out of the country leaving the residents of Burnt Corn, like most of the South’s small towns, without employment. Now all that’s left around the area of the dilapidated mill, standing in disrepair, are the old clapboard houses, that once provided homes for Golden Mills’ employees. They are now occupied by people on welfare and food stamps and an occasional retiree or two, attempting to live on their meager social security checks and Medicare.
“You think Burnt Corn has a serial killer on its hands? This is the second murder this month. Before that the last murder in Burnt Corn was in 2007, the year before I joined the force,” Detective Smallberries said as he unwrapped a piece of Juicy Fruit gum and jabbed it in his mouth.
“I don’t think so. Two don’t make a serial,” Belch replied.
By the time they arrived on the scene, Patrol Officers, Howitt Fiehls was taping off the area around the house with yellow crime scene tape and his partner, Natalie Klad, was bending over a body that was lying in the driveway.
“Who is it, Natalie Klad?” Belch asked as he bent down to get a closer view. The victim was wearing a stained white sleeveless t-shirt and dark navy pants sans a belt. Tattoos filled both arms. He was thinner than gruel and his skin was as gray as a cold winter day, probably due to the loss of blood. He was sporting a third eye high up on his forehead.
Natalie Klad looked up and replied, “The vic is John McCubbin, a cook at Lloyd’s Diner. He was ex-army with a couple of assault charges and no appreciable skills. He was enrolled at Snead State Community College for a couple of weeks until he found out he was supposed to attend classes. He dropped out and bounced around the country for a while, going from one job to the next, abandoning a wife and several girlfriends before landing back here after his mother died and he inherited this house. As far as we know, he has kept his nose clean since he returned.”
“Did you find anything on the body?”
“Nothing but that bullet hole between his eyes. His wallet was emptied of everything except his driver’s license and insurance card. Any cash he might have had is missing.
Lloyd said he pays him in cash every Friday so he should have been flush. McCubbin works the night shift. Everyone in Golden knew it was payday. Anyone living in this burg could have offed him. Every Friday they are like rats, eyeing a piece of cheese. Looks like somebody was waiting for him when he got in this morning. The front door was opened about three inches when we got here but it appears McCubbin never made it inside.”
“You go in it, the house, I mean?”
“Yeah, just to make sure nobody was in it. We cleared it and Fiehls started stringing tape.”
Belch stood up, placing his hands on the small of his back, he stretched out his lean six-foot frame. “Make sure you keep everyone out, especially that dick wad Max Fly character and any of his cohorts if they happen to come by. Everyone has the right to be stupid but Max Fly is abusing the privilege.”
“Will do, Sarge,” Officer Klad replied.
Belch looked around, getting a lay of the neighborhood. It looked pretty seedy.
“Who lives here?” he said, pointing at a freshly painted house next door, sporting an immaculate lawn and a freshly poured driveway.
“A lady named Lilly Jablomey and we think her boy Haywood. But nobody is home.”
“Nice clean place. What do you know about her?”
“From what we know, she retired from working at the Hairy Arms Apartments doing maintenance work or something like that. She cleaned the apartments when tenants moved out. She is one of those hard-used blue-collar women who have neither the energy, the disposition, nor the brains to plan and carry out a successful murder like this.”
“Okay, we’ll go talk to her,”
“She isn’t home. We checked.”
“Okay, we’ll wait,” Belch said, walking back to his squad car and opening the trunk. He turned to Smallberries. “Hey, help me get this out.”
“Is that a net?”
“Yes, take this,” he replied, handing Smallberries a can of tennis balls.
“Tennis balls? What are they for?”
“Tennis of course.”
“No, I mean what are we going to use them for?”
“To play tennis.”
“To play tennis?”
“That’s what I said. Listen, if you are going to repeat everything I say, I’m going to put Duct tape over that pie hole of yours. Follow me and tie that end of the net to the pole leading to the electric meter on the side of the Jablomey house and I’ll tie the other end on the tree on the other side of the driveway. There we go. Now grab that racket.”
“Are we really going to play tennis?”
“That’s right. This driveway is perfect for us to volley. Whoever poured it did a great job.”
“But, I don’t know how to play tennis.”
“It’s easy. Here, shake my hand,” Belch said, holding out his hand and grasping Smallberries right hand. “This is how you hold the racket like you are shaking hands with it. Now get over on the other side of the net and let’s get some exercise.”
“Why don’t we get some lunch at Finn & Hattie Frye’s Fish ’N Chips Restaurant and just sit in the car drinking coffee and eating like other cops do?”
“Look at those love handles on you, Smallberries. Tennis is good for working on your obliques.”
A short while later a car came to a stop in front of the Jablomey’s house as Belch slammed a backhand past a diving, perspiring, and gasping Smallberries.
The lady in the car was staring directly at them. Shortly she got out and walked over to where they were playing tennis.
“What in the hell are you two doing?”
“Waiting for you to get home. “Thought we would get a little exercise while we waited.” Belch replied. “Are you Lilly Jablomey?”
“Yes I am,” she replied, sternly.
Belch reached into his pocket and removed his badge and ID. “Who poured your driveway, by the way?”
“Who poured my driveway? Are you nuts? Why are you here?” She yelled as she stared at his gold shield.
“Belicheri, are you Polish?”
“Italian. You can call me Belch. Everyone does except my wife. I don’t think it’s necessary to tell you what she calls me.”
“I can imagine. Now, what is it you want?”
“You have a nice driveway. Great pitch, should give you good drainage and very smooth. Was it someone from Burnt Corn who put it in for you?”
“What? Yes, yes, um Billy Watamaniak. Billy lives out near Monroeville off Highway 84. He and his brother, Tommy poured it.”
“That’s good, they did a great job. I’ll have to keep them in mind. Now, how well do you know your neighbor, John McCubbin?”
“I don’t know him. He only moved into his mama’s place about a year ago. I know what he looks like and that he is as mean as an ol’ junkyard dog. He wasn’t here much but when he was, all he did was complain about this and complain about that. All I gave him was my middle finger. That’s all he deserves.”
“Well, somebody gave him more than their middle finger, he was found shot this morning. That’s him lying in his driveway over there, you know anything about it?”
“Shot? Heck no. Why would I know anything about that? I don’t know nuthin’.”
“Yes I’m sure and I don’t give a damn either. As I said, I ain’t no fan of his. If anybody needs to be jerked to Jesus, it’s that boy, John McCubbin.”
“Well, I don’t know if he is with Jesus or not, but he ain’t here no more. Who’s that sitting in your car?”
“What difference is it to you?”
“We’ll want to speak with him. Does he live with you?”
She glared at Belicheri for a moment.
“’No, it’s my boy; he’s just visiting.”
“He doesn’t live here?”
What’s his name?”
“Okay, thank you. Ask him to get out of the car, please.”
A tall lanky young man, sporting gold ear studs with an acne-scarred round face got out of the car and casually loped up the driveway with his fists clenched. There wasn’t much to him. He didn’t look hard. In fact, he didn’t look like much. He was already bristling.
.“What the heck you doin’ in our driveway?” he yelled.
“ Calm down, now. I’m just teaching him how to play tennis. Is it your driveway? Your mother said you don’t live here.”
“Well, then you don’t have anything to say about it, do you?”
“Well, it ain’t a city park. What are you doing here?”
“Your neighbor, that guy living next door? He was shot and killed and we would like to know if you know anything about it?”
“Hell no. Why’d I know anything about it?”
“That’s what we are asking you. Where were you between nine p.m. last night and five this morning?”
“I was here with my momma all night.”
“Did you hear anything that sounded like it might have been a gunshot?”
“Hell, what night don’t we hear gunshots? Something is going down in this neighborhood about every night.”
Belch noticed Officer Natalie Klad walking over and he left to go meet her. “What is it, Officer Klad?”
“One of the neighbors just informed us that McCubbin was actively involved with a group out of Monroeville that operated a chop shop. Do you think he might have got crosswise with those boys and they took him out?”
“It’s possible. A chop shop, huh? What do you know about this chop shop?”
“Nothing much. We did a joint sweep of the place a few months ago with the Monroeville Police Department but didn’t find anything. Monroeville thought they might have been tipped off by someone before we got there.”
“Okay, give Smallberries their address and all the names you have associated with it. We will head over there after we finish here. Oh, and tell Smallberries to get over here. We have to finish our tennis match.”
After Belch and Smallberries finished playing tennis in the Jablomey’s driveway, they took down the tennis net and put it in the trunk of their squad car along with the racquets and balls and crawled in the front seat. Belch grabbed a can of Right Guard and handed it to Smallberries. “Here, use this. You sure sweat a lot, even for a fat guy. We’re going to Monroeville and talk to some boys about a chop shop.”
“Do you want me to switch on the lights?” Smallberries asked, tucking in his shirt after spraying his armpits with deodorant and handing back the Right Guard to Belch.
“No,” Belch replied, pulling out his shirt and giving a short pump of Right Guard to each armpit, “No point showing our hand if there’s no need. That’s being poker savvy, something else you probably never played.”
“No, I’ve played poker. My wife and I play liars poker with her folks every Friday night when I am not on duty.”
“Liars poker, yeah, that’s good. Liar’s poker. Geez.”
The faded red and white wooden sign nailed over the door of the alleged chop shop read, Rench Exhaust Repair – Alan Rench Proprietor. “I’m surprised he knew how to spell proprietor,” Belch said as he got out of the squad car.
“Hey, look, Belch, isn’t that Max Fly’s car, the Fly Mobile? Do you think they heisted it and are gonna chop it up?”
“Are you kidding?” There isn’t a market for ’58 Oldsmobile parts, except in Cuba. I got me a bad feeling about this, Smallberries. Whenever anything concerning Max Fly pops up, things don’t seem to turn out in my best interest,” Belch said slipping his Colt from its holster and easing up the walkway, staying to the side of the doorway with Smallberries staying close behind him.
Belch pushed the door with the toe of his boot, and it swung open on well-oiled hinges. He took a deep breath and slipped quietly through the doorway and into the office with Smallberries in lockstep behind him. Belch thumbed the safety off his .45 and peered around the door facing the work bay area.
“Oh shit,” Belch exclaimed, holstering his .45.
“What is it?” Smallberries asked?
“Come on, it’s that damned Fly. Max, what in the hell is going on here?”
Max Fly and his assistant, Chico “Zippy Doo” Rodriguez, were standing over three greasy mechanics, trussed up with their hands tied behind their backs.
Max Fly looked up and put down the phone, “Oh, Belch, how are you? Hey, Smallberries, how have you and that pretty little wife of yours been doing?”
“Pretty good, Max. Our third anniversary is next week. You ought to…”
“Shut up, Smallberries,” Belch yelled. “I asked you a question, Fly.”
“Belch, I was just calling your office to let you know we broke up the chop shop that’s been operating out of this place. I know you and the Monroeville Police have been trying to get the goods on these guys for a long time now. We have it all on tape right here,” he said, holding up a small tape recorder. Where they got the cars and where they were selling them. Zippy Doo and I were operating our own sting on these guys. The Monroeville Police are on their way over here now.”
“You son of a bitch, Fly, you got your damn nose in my business way too much and it’s going to get blown off one of these days.”
“Now don’t get yourself too worked up, Belch. We also have them on tape confessing to a murder last night. Evidently, they killed some guy over in the Golden district of Burnt Corn by the name of McCubbin. You hear about any murder over there?”