Authors: John McEvoy
A Jack Doyle Mystery
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright Â© 2014 by John McEvoy
First E-book Edition 2014
ISBN: 9781464202773 ebook
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
The historical characters and events portrayed in this book are inventions of the author or used fictitiously.
Poisoned Pen Press
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Like all the others before,
this is dedicated to my family.
My thanks to faithful sources of encouragement Frier C. McCollister, Kirk Borland, the Tilton family, Joe Hoy, and Gwen Macsai; to William M. Sheridan and Eoin Purcell for valuable advice; and to editor Barbara Peters and the dedicated staff at Poisoned Pen Press for their continued expertise.
“I have an agreement with Father Time.
I don't mess with him, and he don't mess with me.”
âBernard Hopkins, age 49,
world light-heavyweight boxing champion
“Life's not the breaths you take but the moments
that take your breath away.”
“Something, like nothing, happens anywhere.”
The March half-moon played hide-and-seek behind a screen of huge clouds that scudded across the midnight sky. After moving silently up the concrete walkway to the Large Animal Barn at Croft College, she bent down a few feet behind the dark blue campus police car and peered through its rear window. A young officer was in the driver's seat, hat tilted over his eyes and his earplugs in as he dozed to the low volume country western song twanging out of his iPad mini.
At the back entrance to the long, white barn she crouched at the door, quickly used her tension wrench and steel pick on the simple lock, and slid inside the long, dimly lit, one-story wooden building. The corridor ran between stalls housing a couple of Black Angus heifers and a Holstein cow. She softly walked forward. Her masked face momentarily split in a smile as she inhaled the familiar smell of hay and horse.
The lock had been easier
to pick than Secretariat in a Fantasy League Race. That was a relief, she thought, as she brushed a trickle of sweat from her forehead, took a deep breath. No noise from the wide metal door either opening or closing, very little from the dark bay mare looking out from her stall at the north end of the barn. So far, so good. The inquisitive mare twitched her ears in a tentative greeting
as the dark-clad figure slowly approached. She watched the visitor with luminous brown eyes above her long face with its large crooked white star. Her racetrack days, when regular attention was paid her by attentive humans, were long behind her.
As her soft muzzle was being stroked, the mare heard a gentle voice saying, “You've been probed, prodded, perhaps bred to a lesser representative of your species. You are not an object of well-earned affection, but of experimentation. No more, babe, no more.”
The needle sank deep into the broad bay neck delivering the large dose of phenobarbital. The mare twisted her head away but quickly stopped as the drug took effect. With a shudder, she collapsed on the stall's floor.
The woman put the needle and syringe into her right jacket pocket. From the left one, she took out a printed card and quickly entered the stall. She placed the white placard on the dead horse's neck. In large dark letters, it read:
NO MORE EXPLOITATION OF
THIS ONE OF GOD'S CREATURES
It was the second time she had left such a message. After a final pat on the mare's neck, the woman exited the stall and moved rapidly, silently, to the south barn door and slipped out into the dark night. The heifers and the Holstein swiveled their heads to watch her go.
Jack Doyle slid into the driver's seat of his gray Accord, feeling, as his good friend Moe Kellman would put it, “top notch.” He turned on his windshield wipers as he pulled out of the Fit City Health Club parking lot in Chicago's Loop and drove up Dearborn Street. Not even this wet, chilly, dreary, unpleasant early spring morning could dim his mood as he looked forward to his breakfast meeting at Petros' Restaurant, two blocks from his north side condo.
He had joined Kellman, Chicago's reputed furrier-to-the-Mob, at Fit City at six thirty for their regular workout in the small boxing room with its ring, light and heavy bags, free weights, and space for jumping rope. The two had met and bonded there several years before, both eschewing the other exercise areas of what they considered this yuppie-infested club. Their friendship during the previous two years had featured ownership of a talented colt named Plotkin. This fifty thousand-dollar purchase had wound up winning more than three hundred thousand dollars on the track and was now churning out more profits for the pair. Plotkin was serving his first season as a popular young stallion, with a stud fee of ten thousand dollars, and a book of fifty mares he would be bred to this spring.
For Doyle, these workouts gave him a chance to replicate old moves he'd employed as an amateur boxer twenty-five years earlier when, at age eighteen, he'd won a Golden Gloves title at one hundred sixty pounds. The diminutive, seventy-something Kellman, as a boy growing up on Chicago's tough West Side, had fared well in many a fracas. His brief amateur career as a lightweight boxer had been aborted by service with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War.
After Doyle's first set of seventy-five push-ups and then three minutes of rapid jump-roping, and Kellman's fifty sit-ups and push-ups, they both paused and the little man said, “What do you hear from the breeding farm? How's Plotkin doing?”
Doyle took a towel to his head of sandy-colored hair now darkened with sweat. “I called the farm manager, nice guy named Paul Mann, yesterday afternoon. He said Plotkin has âserviced' eighteen mares so far. That's what they call it in their business, âserviced.' He's got another thirty-two scheduled in the next few weeks. If a mare doesn't get pregnant on the first try, she gets another attempt free of charge. So far, that hasn't been necessary, Mann told me.”
“Great news,” Moe said, picking up his jump rope and placing it on the bench beside him.
“Absolutely. I went out to the farm, Hill and Dale, one morning last week. Watched Plotkin being bred to a couple of mares. I must say that our stud approached his assignment with considerable enthusiasm. Probably has a libido much like that of his younger owner, if I may say so myself.”
“You just did,” Moe laughed.
“Mann at Hill and Dale gave me a little tutorial on breeding horses and famous breeders. One of the latter group, he said, was an Italian named Federico Tesio. He bred a bunch of good runners. According to Mann, Tesio's famous quote about his success was that he had âlearned to listen to the stars and talk to the horses.'”
Moe reached for a towel and began drying himself off. “Yeah? Well, I remember reading somewhere that breeding thoroughbreds is like playing chess with nature.”
As he pulled on his gloves before heading for the heavy bag, Doyle noticed Moe taking a pair of cross-trainers out of his gym bag and pulling the crumpled paper from within them.
“New kicks today, Moesy?”
“Right.” Kellman held one of the shoes up to his face. “Which is the best smell in the world? Newly mown grass? The inside of a new car? Or brand new shoes?”
Doyle grinned. “I'd vote for the smell of a new woman.”
“Good luck to you there,” Kellman replied before they began their forty-five minute workout routines.
Doyle's decision to make this post-workout breakfast appointment resulted from a phone call he'd received the previous evening. Picking up his cell at the programmed sound of the first bars of jazz standard “Take the A Train,” Doyle heard a gruff voice he recognized say, “This is Damon Tirabassi. I presume you haven't forgotten me, Jack.”
“I've tried mightily,” Doyle said, “but to no avail. What's on your bureaucratic mind? I guess it's not worth asking how you got my unlisted cell number.” Doyle had first met Tirabassi and his FBI agent partner, Karen Engel, six years earlier when he had aided them in bringing to justice a sadistic media tycoon who was killing his own thoroughbred stallions for their insurance values.
“Don't bother about how we got your phone number. I'm calling because we could use your help, Jack. Karen and I want to meet with you.”
“Help for what? Don't tell me that stallion killer wangled an early parole.”
Tirabassi said, “No, no. What we're dealing with now is another horse killer, or horse killers.”
“You're jivin' me!”
“If only,” Tirabassi said. “How about meeting at that greasy spoon in your neighborhood that you like? Tomorrow at nine?”
“Agreed. Breakfast will be on you.”
Doyle slid the Accord into his slot in the basement garage of his condo building, locked it, and briskly walked the four blocks to Petros' Restaurant, determined, as usual, to be on time. The FBI agents always were.
Petros', which Doyle had frequented for several years, was one of the numerous Greek-owned Chicago restaurants that provided decent food at reasonable prices. Owner Petros, a voluble immigrant from an Athens slum, had long been under the impression that he looked very much like the late Telly Savalas and loved to be referred to by the actor's first name. Doyle never obliged him.
“Mornin', Smelly,” Doyle said as he walked past the cash register Petros was manning. Petros, using a wet thumb as he counted a wad of paper currency, looked up and barked, “Have a seat, Jeck. We'll start your breakfast. Raw bacon, eggs under hard, hash blacks, and burnt toast, eh?” He smiled widely under his bushy mustache.
Doyle paused. “Are you using growth hormone salve on that item under your big ugly nose? That 'stache looks like it could strain stew, much less soup. And, yeah, give me the usual,” Doyle said, walking to the back booth of the long room. He saw Karen Engel smile at him before she took a bite of toasted bagel. Her colleague, Damon Tirabassi, put down his coffee cup and nodded. “Thanks for coming, Jack,” Karen said.
Doyle looked at her appreciatively. “You never change, Karen,” he said to this tall, attractive woman who, now in her late thirties, retained the fresh look and athletic physique of the varsity volleyball captain she had been at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Damon,” Jack added, “you're starting to show a little wear and tear, if I do say so.”
The middle-aged Tirabassi's once-black head of hair had noticeably grayed as it simultaneously thinned. His bright white shirt showed the start of a midriff bulge over his belt. He winced as Doyle continued, “Hey, no offense, Damon. You know my middle name is candor.”
“I thought it was Smartass,” Tirabassi growled.
“Is that Bureauspeak now?” Doyle asked. “Let's get down to business here, folks. What's this about more horse killings”?
Tirabassi took the lead after reaching into his suit coat pocket for a well-worn notebook. “March eighteenth this year was the second one we've been assigned to investigate. The first was in February at the University of Racine veterinary school in southeastern Wisconsin. The recent one was at another Midwest vet school, this one at Croft College in south central Illinois. A twelve-year-old thoroughbred mare found dead in its stall. An autopsyâ¦”
“You mean necropsy,” Karen politely interjected. “That's an autopsy for horses.”
“Yes, the necropsy determined the Croft College cause of death was a massive dose of phenobarbitol. Same as with the first one at Racine.”
Doyle leaned forward. “What the hell? Why would somebody knock off an old mare living at a college?”
Karen opened her briefcase and extracted a five-by-eight note card. She waited until waitress Darla refilled Doyle's coffee cup before handing it across the table. In large, bold face, printed letters, it read:
NO MORE EXPLOITATION FOR
THIS ONE OF GOD'S CREATURES
“This was it? No signature? Nobody taking credit? Not some religious nut?” Doyle said.
“Look at the back of the card,” Damon said. “We don't have any idea what it means. Could be from some deranged horse-hater. Or somebody who doesn't like horses used for testing. You know, a so-called ethical humanist. Or humane ethicist. Whatever.”
Doyle saw one line of type:
RIP FROM ALWD
“Rest in peace from who? What's ALWD?”
“It is some previously little-known, evidently very radical imitator of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA for short. That organization, a self-described âanimal rights advocate,' claims to have more than three million members and supporters around the world. ALWD stands for Animal Life With Dignity.
“All we know about this outfit,” Tirabassi continued, “are the cards, identical to this one, that were attached to the two horses that were killed this way. We questioned the national president of this ALWD, a man named Randolph Stumph. Lives in Urbana, Illinois. He wouldn't say how many people belonged to ALWD. And he swears he knows nothing about any horse killings. All Stumph would tell us is that ALWD âcampaigns vigorously for the abolition of all animal experiments.'”
Doyle signaled Darla for a coffee refill. “I'm not sure I understand why these horses were sent to college.”
Karen said, “Racine and Croft both have research centers dealing with horses. They study breeding, reproduction, parasite problems, foal diseases, all kinds of equine issues. Parasites have become a particular concern recently, they tell us. So, people at these vet schools work to develop preventive measures. Like vaccines to combat infectious diseases. Or new diagnostic tests.”
“Retired horses,” Damon said, “are donated to the vet schools for these research purposes. The donors are assured their horses will get absolutely top, humane, painless care. But I guess these ALWD kooks don't believe that to be the case.”
“How was anybody able to get to these horses to kill them?”
“Jack, university or college vet school barns have not been on high security alert. Until now,” Damon said. “Whoever, if it is just one person, got into the University of Racine building by opening a side window and climbing through. This last one, down at Croft College, entrance was gained by picking the lock on the front door. With, evidently, a so-called security guard snoozing in his car only a few yards away,” Damon said disgustedly. “Both of these killings came late at night or in early morning, and the horses killed were retired thoroughbred runners. ALWD's Stumph explained that it was âperhaps some overzealous activist.' How I hate that word! Along with gadfly, which also means loudmouth,” Damon added.
Doyle gave Tirabassi a long look. “Yeah, I know you FBI people have a hard-on for activists. The Occupy protestors. Dr. King. Hell, probably Paul Revere, if you would have had the chance. All enemies of treasured complacency.”
“Jack, we didn't come here to argue with you or your views,” Karen said sharply.
“It wouldn't be any argument you'd win,” Doyle shot back. He drained his coffee cup, took a deep breath. “As to the matter at hand, is there any money involved in these killings? Like warnings to pay for protection against this shit?”
“Nothing,” Karen said. “These killings seem to be the work of some fanatic, some animal-lover who evidently opposes the horses being used for any experimental purposes, no matter how benign and well-monitored the treatments.”
“Lover of animals,” Doyle corrected. “The only animal-lover can be another animal. Unless, of course, you count some shepherds of sheep flocks.” Darla arrived with the check. Doyle, with a practiced motion, slid it under Tirabassi's coffee cup. “You ever hear of an attorney named Art Engehardt?” Doyle said. “A friend of mine?”
Karen smiled. “I think so. He represents a lot of racetrack people, right?”
“Correct. But years ago, right after he got out of law school, he worked as a prosecutor for a county down in southern Illinois farm country. One of his first cases involved a sheep herder who had been caught having intercourse with a female member of his flock. A Humane Society member had provided a photograph of this bestial incident. It showed the ewe, or whatever they call them, turning her head around and licking the hand of the herder. Art went into court thinking he had slam-dunk conviction. That changed when the jury had seen the photo and Art overheard one of the elderly bib-overall-wearing jurors say to another, âYou know, Seth, some of 'em will do that.'”
Tirabassi glowered. “Can we get down to business here? Are you going to take this situation seriously or not?”
“Why the hell should I? I don't owe you people anything. And why, may I ask, is this on the Bureau's front burner? Haven't you got enough to busy yourself with dopers, illegals, terrorists, Occupiers, etcetera?”
The agents exchanged a glance. Then Karen said, “I'm almost embarrassed to tell you this, Jack. But our Chicago supervisor is a longtime, uh, admirer of horses. He was a show ring competitor in his youth. He's got two daughters who are currently avid equestrians. Believe me, he's fired up and on this case.”
Doyle drained his coffee cup. “Why me?”
“Frankly,” Tirabassi replied, “we don't have the time or manpower to devote to this matter. Even if we did have them, we don't have an agent with the background to deal with horse problems.
where you come into it. You know racing, the people in it, you know and like horses. Your success with Plotkin proves that. And I understand you're currently not wanting for money. Besides, you're not busy now, are you?”
“I'm between assignments,” Doyle said. He hadn't worked since his client, young jockey Mickey Sheehan, had returned to her native Ireland the previous year after her very successful campaign at Heartland Downs Racetrack outside Chicago. As her agent, Doyle had done very well financially with his twenty percent of her considerable earnings gleaned aboard horses he had selected for her to ride. Now, the profits from Plotkin's stud career were being added to an investment account the size of which Doyle had never in his dreams envisaged.
A few years earlier, Kellman had advised Doyle to turn his investment portfolio over to a man named Marcus Dehnert. Moe, like so many clever Chicagoans, always had “a guy,” a go-to specialist in important fields of endeavor. His “guy” for financial advice was Dehnert. “He's called âThe Man With the Golden Grasp,' Kellman had said. “He's made money for me for years, Jack. Last year he bought gold for me at eight hundred dollars an ounce and sold it at twelve hundred. Yeah, it went up after that. But Marcus goes along with Bernard Baruch's theory. Baruch, a famous financier years ago. You ever hear of him?”
“Before my time.”
“Baruch was huge. Advisor to presidents, so on. He said, âNobody ever went broke taking a profit.' Sound advice, believe me.”
Doyle sat back in the booth. “Damon, you say you think I'm not âwanting for money?' Has somebody at the IRS filled you in?”
“Where we got our information doesn't matter.”
“It matters to me,” Doyle said. “Although I know there's nothing I can do about it. As for my situation, yeah, I've got a nice cushion. I'm not threatening to join the One Percenters. But I'm in good shape. I am not like some poor bastards I know who probably wake up every morning with creditors next to their beds, testing their breaths with a hand mirror to make sure they're still alive. But I don't see how I can help you deal with these horse killings.”
Karen said, “With all your contacts in racing, you could start asking around. Are people aware of what's going on? If they are, I'm sure they're concerned. Do any of them have an idea about who could be doing this? Look, Jack, we're desperate for any information you could garner,
possible leads. This killing campaign, and it looks just like that, a campaign, has got to stop.”