Authors: David Carlisle
The Midtown Murderer
late Saturday night. Trent Palmer was in a glum mood as he drove home on his Ducati motorcycle. He had found a man and lost him in the maze of terminals at the Atlanta International Airport. When Trent picked up his trail again, it was as cold as the driving rain outside. The man had caught a flight to Florida, and Trent’s instructions went no further than Atlanta.
It was Christmas
week, and the city had turned gray and frigid. The roads were slick and the skyscrapers looked as though they were cut from wet cardboard and propped against the sky.
his attention was caught through the bike’s rearview mirrors by an erratic driver in a small, low-slung truck coming up fast behind him. In front of him a line of concrete barriers topped with red-flashing lights narrowed the twisting interstate to two working lanes; the barriers were protecting a caravan of heavy-construction machines sitting idle in the closed lanes.
Trent was wondering if the driver was drunk when he
started to pass on the left; then he swerved toward Trent’s Ducati. “No!” Trent yelled, knowing that one touch of the truck would send him smashing into the barriers.
He gunned the throttle
, and the bike seemed to sprout wings, lengthening the distance between him and the truck. But an obstacle arose in his escape path; a vast car transporter loomed in front of him. Its driver had chosen to drive in the middle of the narrowed freeway for greater safety in the darkness and rain. Trent signaled by flashing his high beams, but the driver seemed unaware.
The space between the
concrete barriers on the right and the transporter truck was hopelessly narrow and flowing with ankle-deep water; but there was no room to pass on the left.
As the low-slung truck approached, Trent caught si
ght of the man sitting next to the driver; he was sticking his hand out the window. Then the bike’s mirror exploded. “Fuck!”
heart thudded as he rolled on the throttle and swung the Ducati hard right. He could feel his tires slicing through the currents as the bike shot off, almost scraping the side of the tractor-trailer as he sped forward. Almost clear, he thought, clenching his teeth. Suddenly the concrete barriers choked the lane to nothing and ended in a black abyss ahead of him.
grabbed a handful of brakes; the tires locked on the wet pavement and the Ducati skidded through a gap in the barriers, narrowly missing an earthmover. For a moment it seemed that he would collide with an overpass retaining wall, but his apprehension subsided as the tires found purchase and the protesting bike slowed.
He came to a stop
beside the concrete wall. The narrow escape from death had shaken him. His heart jackhammered; his hands shook. He let the droning rain fill his ears and tried to calm himself.
n eighteen-wheeler rounded a bend on the interstate, and the beams of the headlights swung onto the retaining wall and illuminated a Lexus with its emergency flashers on parked along the break-down lane. Fog blurred the car’s windows; exhaust smogged out the tailpipe.
had decided to see if the driver needed help when he saw a bread delivery van nosing in toward the luxury car, its brake lights flashing bloodred on the retaining wall. Then he heard a squeal of brakes and saw the low-slung truck in dark silhouette pull in behind the Lexus.
His throat tightened as he
unclipped his Glock ten from under the seat and sprinted through the slashing rain. The perfect spot came up twenty feet or so from the Lexus. He crouched behind the curved metal blade of a bulldozer. Sweat mixed with cold rain slicked his face; shivers passed through his body.
low-slung truck and the van had the luxury car boxed in tight. The low-slung truck’s door was ajar, but no light spilled from the cab. Then a man dropped his leg to the pavement.
watched a wide-shouldered man approach the driver’s door of the Lexus. Then he heard a high-pitched whistle.
Man or women? He couldn’t tell.
Suddenly the van’s headlights were switched on. The swirling rain looked like diamonds twinkling in the light as the man swung a crowbar into the driver’s window.
The window cobwebbed into a thousand shards.
The crowbar knocked the cobwebbed window into the car.
rowbar grabbed the driver’s hair; he pulled her through the shattered window and slammed her to the pavement. “You and the kid are hostages!” he yelled, stomping her ankle with his heavy boot. She struggled and whimpered; but no sound came.
supported his arms on top of the shovel. He sighted his target and squeezed the trigger: two pounds of pressure-no more, no less.
The sharp crack and muffled thump as the heavy ten-millimeter slug drilled a mineshaft in
to Crowbar’s face were instantaneous. The slug smacked him like an invisible pile-driver, carrying his lifeless body backwards and dumping it onto the pavement.
men wearing ski masks with weapons drawn emerged from the van and took up positions on the far side of the Lexus. Trent dropped behind the curved blade as a shotgun roared. The flash-thundering shots ricocheted off the blade and shattered the bulldozer’s windows.
rent squeezed off two quick shots; the van’s headlights exploded and cast the stage into darkness. Then he ran crouched alongside the construction machines and dove under a road sweeper. Keep still, he told himself, willing his drumroll heart to slow, as ice water soaked his clothes and gurgled down a catch basin opening.
Nothing happened-no sound but the hissing of rain as it found the hot metal of the blown headlights. Then he heard a swishing sound.
Shoes slapping the water? The concrete wall and the machines acted like a man-made amplifier, and he could tell the thug was quite close. Then he heard soft steps; a shadowy blur clutching a rifle appeared. Trent slid his fight knife from his ankle sheath, crawled on his elbows to the rear tire, rolled out—
He rose like a cobra behind the man.
Glock in one hand and knife in the other, he wrapped an arm around the man’s mouth to silence him, then cut him ear to ear, clean through his windpipe. Trent was listening to the thug’s strangled cries when he heard the sharp double metallic click of a weapon being locked and loaded. He figured his odds of survival were nil when a flash of lightning cast a tall shadow against the wall. When the thug lifted his shotgun, the shadow took on the appearance of a hunchback.
fired twice. Jagged lightning freeze-framed the thug rolling against the wall, then splayed on the pavement like a discarded ragdoll.
the van burst into flames. A revving of motorcycle engines and a shifting of gears followed; the echoing cacophony faded as the shooters escaped down the highway.
chanced drawing fire and bolted to the prone woman. He dropped on his knees and shouted over the din of the rain, “Quick! Quick! We gotta go!”
-my daughter,” she cried in a frail voice. “On the back seat.”
Trent leaned into the Lexus and found a
child dressed in a knee-length sleep shirt and slippers; she was clutching a teddy bear and crying hysterically. He snatched her off the seat and held her tight to his chest.
“Stay low,” he said. “
Run to that truck.”
He put an arm under her shoulder and lifted her up. “Good, good.
They had hobbled to safety
when the van’s gas tank exploded, sending up yellow and orange flames that lit the construction machines and flickered dully off their clothing.
Trent negotiated the slippery steps of
the truck and placed the child on the floor. Back on the ground he said, “Wrap your arms around my neck.”
She leaned against him
, her eyes closed.
“Hold tight,” he said, feeling her tremble as she rested her head against his shoulder, him feeling as if she were an extension of himself, melding into a single body as he climbed into the cab and set her
beside her daughter. “Stay down until I come back or the police show up.”
“We will,” she said
in a soft voice. Her shoulder-length hair was the color of honey; the lovely complexion of her face, like that of a rose petal first opening to the light, illuminated from the brightness of the fire.
Red sparks and a cloud of black oily smoke poured from the blazing truck. T
he smell of burning gasoline filled Trent’s nostrils as he scanned the dark areas that danced with moving shadows from the flames. How long before the cops show? Maybe his luck would hold for a few minutes.
He crept along the retaining wall with his Glock drawn, then directed his
pencil flash onto the body lying at his feet. The overcast made everything pale, but the dark pool on cutthroat’s chest was blood, and there was more of it blending with the running water. He directed his light and studied the acne-scared face and spiky hair; he had never seen him. His flash glinted off a thick gold chain and five-pointed gold star the size of a Krugerrand dangling in the thug’s gaping neck wound; he quickly removed the item, then grabbed a bloodied, leather shoulder purse floating in the water next to the body.
raced along the wall and tossed the purse on a pile of construction trash near his bike. He was attaching the icon around his neck when he heard footsteps; a dozen police officers dressed in full body armor had materialized as though from nowhere, their weapons brandished and aiming at his head and torso.
” a voice bellowed. “Freeze!”
Drop your weapons!”
Trent dropped his Glock.
“Do as you’re told, or we’ll shoot to kill,” a plainclothesman shouted. “Understand?”
“Good boy. Now raise your arms above your head
; take five big steps to your right. Stop.”
Trent did as he was told.
“If you move you’re dead. Got it?”
“Slowly lower your arms to shoulder height
; keep them there. If you drop an arm we’ll shoot.”
n officer wearing a Kevlar vest stepped forward and patted Trent down. He turned to the man giving the orders and said, “Nothing.”
The plainclothesman ambled toward Trent
. He was short and blocky with a protruding forehead and a jutting chin that gave him the look of a stubborn bulldog; he was dressed in black, with a black nylon
parka over a turtleneck and jeans. He wore a dark watchman’s cap pulled down low over his ears and a huge frown on his face. “Keep the hands visible,” he said, kneeling and sticking a fat finger into the trigger guard of Trent’s gun. Then he dropped the weapon into a transparent evidence bag that a technician was holding.
Sergeant Radcliff,” the man said, eying Trent distrustfully. A stream of water dribbled off the front of his watchman’s cap. “Hand me your credentials.”
flipped open his worn-out Bosca and passed it to Radcliff.
It was then that
the mother hobbled out of the shadows clutching her daughter. She pointed at Trent and said, “Sergeant Radcliff, he . . . saved us from those awful thugs.”
Rikki Clay,” Radcliff said in an astonished voice. “Get some medical attention over here!” he screamed. “It’s Chief Clay’s daughter. And she’s hurt!”
A white-coated medic helped
Rikki onto a stretcher, and a heavyset officer held the child and opened an umbrella above their heads.
“Ms. Clay,” Radcliff said
, as the medics boarded them into an ambulance through the open rear doors, “I’ve notified your father; he’ll drive immediately to Holy Cross.”
Sergeant Radcliff,” she said out the open doors. To Trent she said, “I’ll never be able to repay you, but thank you so very much.”
“Glad I happened along,” Trent
said, noticing some gold rings and bracelets, but no rings on the all-important finger. He was warming his hands in the heat of the exhaust pipe when Radcliff tugged on his shoulder and motioned him toward the police cars. Trent swiveled his head and watched the ambulance’s red and blue strobes disappear on the highway.
he winter was coming in fast and cold; snow blew in sideways and clouds of sand rose from the construction piles and sucked away over their heads.
Radcliff leaned into the window of a police car and handed Trent’s credentials to the officer
; the man’s glasses reflected the bluish glow of the laptop screen that was mounted on the dash. While the officer typed on the keyboard, Trent lighted a cigarette and stared blankly at the snow.
A few minutes later
he heard boots crunching over the broken glass.
turned and saw an African-American man approaching him. He wore a wide brimmed hat and his parka was shiny with water; his sharp, watchful eyes suggested a deep intelligence. “I’m Inspector Priest, in charge of Atlanta Robbery/Homicide,” he said, handing Trent his wallet. “We checked you out, Palmer,” he said, holding out one of Trent’s business cards. Peoplefinders.com? Are you currently working as a private investigator?”
No. I’m no Sherlock Homes; I find missing people. Occasionally I deliver a summons or run down deadbeats who miss court hearings.”
says you were a police investigator in Miami, Florida for fifteen years; when it came to investigating drug cartels you were their special go-to guy.”
Trent said nothing.
“Radcliff said you had Citations and medals. You must have been good; up until the time you got fired from the force for beating an innocent citizen.”
glanced away a moment, then met Priest’s eyes straight on. “That innocent citizen was a Syndicate triggerman; he deserved far worse than that.”
Priest looked at Trent with distrust in his eyes, as though he were seeing the perpetrator of this crime in person.
“I don’t buy it.”
looked away, buttoning up tight against the eye-watering cold. “Believe what you want,” he said, jamming his hands deep in his coat pockets, “but I was a damn good cop.”
“The only thing going your way
is that you have a concealed-weapons permit; and that the Police Chief’s daughter backed your story.”
shoot-out went down the way I described it.”
Priest motioned Trent with a quic
k snap of the wrist for him to follow.
The police had towed in portable generator
s with grids of floodlamps attached to long stalks; the purplish glow cut through the snow, illuminating the vehicles and casting oily rainbows on the shiny asphalt.
Atlanta Investigative Unit arrived to do their work, Priest abandoned his study of the corpses. His body was haloed with snow in the light behind him; his face shadowed. “When you factor in the darkness, the rain and wind, and moving targets that were hardly in view, those were some tricky shots.”
“I was a cop
; I’ve had plenty of practice.”
cutting people’s throats?”
“It was him or me.”
Priest shook his head. “I’m not convinced that you were just passing by. What are the odds of you stumbling onto this attempted car jacking?”
tried to run me off the road.
shot out my rear-view mirror.
put me in the middle of it.”
seemed to weigh the information. “If any of these felony and murder charges stick, swear to God, I’ll burn you down.”
The cold wind whipped his face painfully, like shaving with a rusty razor.
“Do you know where the Midtown Police Plaza is?”
“It’s the redbrick and glass building on Ponce De Leon, right?”
“That’s it.” To Radcliff he said, “Drive Palmer to his bike. And make damn sure he arrives at the station.”