Authors: Dani Amore
(A John Rockne Mystery)
Copyright © 2014 by Dani Amore
HARD ROCK is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
Do you want more killer crime fiction, along with the chance to win free books? Then sign up for the DANI AMORE NEWSLETTER:
(A John Rockne Mystery)
The murder of Benjamin Collins was not random.
During the bleakest moments of the darkest period of my life, I had been tormented by the question of whether or not that statement was true or false.
Now I knew it to be fact.
I looked out at Lake St. Clair, a body of water over twenty miles long and twenty miles wide. Clouds had rolled in and now the water was dark, with some chop near the middle of lake showing intermittent flashes of whitecaps.
Nearly six years earlier, the body of a young man named Benjamin Collins had been found floating in the lake. He’d been brutally murdered.
As the record came to show, I had not been an innocent bystander in his death. Back then I had been a rookie on the Grosse Pointe Police force. And I had answered a call about a young man wandering the streets of Grosse Pointe in the middle of the night. It had been the dead of winter, too. A bitterly cold night.
Thinking I was doing everyone involved a favor; I had returned the disoriented boy into the waiting hands of the man who eventually murdered him.
Not surprisingly, I had been castigated publicly. I lost my badge, my gun and my job. My fiancé left me. In Grosse Pointe, the name John Rockne became associated with looks of disgust and bitter condemnation. Deservedly so. I had betrayed the public trust in the most extreme way possible. But the scorn heaped upon me externally was insignificant to the shameful burden I carried with me internally for the painful, bitter years that followed.
Eventually, I came to terms with what I’d done. I’d become a private investigator. Gotten married. Had two beautiful children.
The first drops of rain began to hit the water hundreds of yards away from me. I bundled up the file and walked back to my car.
But now everything had changed.
My most recent case had led me to a hit man who turned out to be the very same man I had relinquished Benjamin Collins to on that bitterly cold night.
The investigation I had just finished turned out to be successful. At least, in the sense it had led to a conviction of the guilty parties. But the hired killer had gotten away. On the one hand, it enraged me that he had eluded me once again. On the other hand, I had a very special payback intended for him. On behalf of myself, but mostly on behalf of Benjamin.
I wanted him to pay dearly for what he had done.
The official case file in my hands, given to me by Grosse Pointe’s Chief of Police, was scant and provided few details that I hadn’t already been aware of.
But it was a start.
For one thing, it confirmed for me that both of Benjamin Collins’s parents were deceased. What I didn’t know was that Benjamin’s sister, a woman named Amanda Collins, who had left Michigan shortly after her brother’s murder, had returned. She was currently living in Birmingham, a tony suburb just north of Detroit proper.
I needed to talk to Amanda Collins.
But first I figured it might be a good idea to clear it with the Chief of Police of Grosse Pointe.
Who just happened to be my sister.
Water and blood.
They were two things easily noticed and right now, The Spook had an abundance of each covering his body.
He had collapsed on the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair, just down from the small city of Windsor, Ontario.
He was bleeding from a jagged chest wound that had miraculously gashed mostly across his midsection, as opposed to through it. One sliver of wood had gone through the pocket of flesh just below the collarbone and out through his back.
But if the entire piece of wood that sonofabitch John Rockne had stabbed him with had gone through his chest instead of scraped its way across it, then he would be floating face down right now in the middle of the lake, permanently. Or pinned to the deck of the boat that was probably right now sitting at the bottom of Lake St. Clair.
The Spook propped himself up on his elbows, pain shooting through his torso, and lifted his head, looking for cover. He was shivering. Right now, there were probably cops braving the rough waters of the lake, looking for him. He doubted there were cops on the ground, prowling neighborhoods looking for him. No one would assume he’d survived the boat sinking and made it to shore. Still, he had never been an optimist. He planned for the worst, and more often than not, the worst is what happened.
There was a line of trees a few hundred feet from the water’s edge. He had to get there and take cover.
It helped his cause that the storm was still raging, with a black sky and sheets of rain coming down in waves. But he had learned long ago not to put faith in the belief that no one was watching. Because there was always, always someone peeking out through a living room window. Or sitting on a back porch in the dark with a bottle of booze between their legs.
He struggled to his feet. The earth tilted as he righted himself, his head swayed and his body refused to cooperate. His legs felt like they were planted in the wet muck of the shore.
Finally, the message got through to his legs and he took one tentative step, followed by another and eventually he made it to a stand of trees and a wooden fence. He sagged against the fence, his breath coming in ragged gasps. The trees were evergreens, with wide branches that sheltered him from the rain. The ground beneath his feet was littered with fallen pine needles and he had a momentary temptation to just lie down and go to sleep.
He dismissed the idea. It wouldn’t do. First thing in the morning someone would come out and go for a walk along the lake’s edge, see him passed out underneath the tree. Call the cops. And it would all be over.
No, he sagged against the fence and thought things through. The fence belonged to someone with a backyard, and a gate with steps that led down to the lake. He could see the roof of what looked to be a little house. Something to his right caught his eye. It was a flash of white. He peered through the lashing rain and saw what he thought was a camper trailer parked at the corner of the property. It was unhitched, its tongue up on cinder blocks.
The wind shifted and rain lashed at his face. Chills shook his body. He had to get moving.
The Spook walked along the fence line, using it to conceal himself if anyone in the house should look out the window, and reached the side of the camper that backed up to the trees. The climb over the fence was clumsy and agonizing, but he accomplished the task, swallowing any cries of pain. He leaned against the camper and tried to catch his breath. Each heave of his chest caused fresh pain to lance through his chest.
Finally, he mustered enough strength to test the door of the camper. He hoped it was unlocked, but no luck. He’d heard that Canadians were typically very trusting people, but apparently not this one.
The wind was still howling and rain poured down all around him. It hit the top of the camper with a steady continuous pounding. The Spook wasn’t worried about noise. He spotted a rock the size of his fist and smashed it through the window that was located about halfway up the camper door. Then he reached through the opening and down, managed to unlock the door with his clumsy, half-frozen fingers. The door swung open. He stepped inside, yanked the door shut, locked it, and pulled the small curtain across the broken window.
The Spook staggered to the back of the trailer where he saw a bed with a pad. His teeth were chattering and he said a silent prayer to God and Keith Richards that there was some sort of blanket or spare sheet stashed in a storage bin. Keith must have been listening because he found a stack of sheets in a drawer below the bed. He wrapped them around himself and sank onto the bed. Even though it was hard and smelled of mold and mildew, it felt like pure heaven to him.
He closed his eyes, and thought about how it had all gone wrong back on the boat. As the tightly wrapped sheets trapped what little body heat still remained, his face relaxed and he felt the first waves of sleep come to him.
The Spook knew he needed to rest, clean himself up, and go back and finish the job he’d started way back when.
Back when he had strangled Benjamin Collins.
Grosse Pointe Police headquarters is located on Mack Avenue, just down from Alter Road and the border with Detroit. It shares its parking lot with the Grosse Pointe Public library; which is convenient if you get arrested because you can check out a few books to read while you’re in the slammer.
I was buzzed through by a cop named Jacobs who didn’t even bother to say anything to me. He knew me and obviously knew Ellen since she was his boss. Like most of the cops on the force he preferred to keep contact with me to a minimum. Maybe they thought I was bad luck, or they had a policy of not being too chummy with the local private investigators.
Either way, it didn’t bother me.
Ellen was on her computer when I walked into her office.
“On Facebook again?” I said. “The least you could do is respond to my friend request.”
She didn’t even bother looking at me.
“I’m actually on the sex offender database,” she replied. “Why didn’t they use a better photo of you?”
This is how it goes between us. But honestly, I can’t help it if she got the family mean streak and I ended up being the nice one. It’s a burden she doesn’t always handle so well.
“I wanted to let you know that I’m going to head out to Birmingham to talk to Amanda Collins,” I said, dropping into the chair across from her desk.
“Another one of your bad ideas,” she said, still tapping on the keyboard. “How do you keep coming up with them?”
“It’s a gift.”
She shook her head, leaned back in her chair and looked at me. “She doesn’t know anything. A detective talked to her when she first came back.”
“When was that? It wasn’t in the file.”
“Little less than a year.”
“What did she say?”
“Whatever she said, it’s in the file, John. Remember, we’re not the leads on this one.” It was true. Once it had become a cold case, the Benjamin Collins investigation had gone to the Michigan State Police. They had a homicide division that caught all of the state’s cold cases. I had reached out to them, but they weren’t interested. What little information I got I had to access via Ellen. They kept her in the loop, but their investigation had stalled, too. And they apparently didn’t feel that the latest development necessitated a reawakening of the investigation.
Ellen leaned forward, clicked a few more times on the keyboard, gave one more emphatic tap on the keys, then turned to look at me again.
“You’re not going to Birmingham dressed like that, are you?”
I looked down at myself. Jeans. Black hiking shoes. A halfway decent shirt without too many wrinkles.
“Come on,” I said. “She must have said something. A complaint about how rude you were, certainly.”
“Nope. She wasn’t close to Benjamin. Knew very little about his life, what he was doing. Left right after he was killed. She’s moved on, apparently.”
Ellen put a little emphasis on the ‘moved on’ bit. As in, people need to move on. Like me.
There was a commotion in the hallway outside Ellen’s office and she got to her feet. It sounded like they had an unruly prisoner.
“Duty calls,” she said. “Probably one of your clients.”
“Well, I’ll let you know how it goes,” I said. “I can tell you’re very interested.”
“I already know how it will go,” she said. “Badly.”
I didn’t respond because I figured she was probably right.
I hate when that happens.