Misdirected Justice


“Mario!” the excited voice of Ashlee Smith greeted the detective when he answered what seemed like the ninth call in a row.

“What? Talk fast…I’m starving up here!” he teased the police investigator.

“Well excuse me! I wouldn’t want you to starve…but I need you to answer me just one tiny little question…then you can go eat!” she playfully replied. Mario sighed, knowing Ashlee had absolutely no possibility of confining herself to only one question, big or small; she had apparently been the type of child who asked, Are we there yet? Where are we going? Why? a thousand times on a trip across town to the hardware store. Her questioning nature was a superb asset as a police investigator, but she tended to drive her fellow cops crazy from time to time; especially at quitting time or at moments like the present, when they were hungry.

“What’s the question?” Mario asked, shaking his head and knowing he would regret it.

“What did you find out about that vandalism case…you know…the social worker who had her tires slashed and her dog poisoned?”

“Nothing much…at least yet. No prints, no trace evidence at the scene. Not much to go on. The woman hadn’t had any sort of threats. Have you got anything?” Mario asked, rummaging through his stack of files. “What’s it been…almost two weeks since that happened?”

“Almost three,” Ashlee replied. “I talked to her extensively…she’s pretty tore up…especially about the dog! I asked if she’d had any odd calls, any threats, but she said no. That was when I interviewed her two days after the crime, and again the following week. She called me today,” she added coyly, and waited for Mario to take the bait.

“What for? To talk about the weather?” he replied, knowing she was trying to incite him.

“Mario! You know better!” Ashlee chided him.

“Oh, okay…well, I answered your question, so I’m going to go have dinner,” he suggested, expecting this would get her riled up. He was not disappointed.

“Mario! She got a call…threatening her!” Ashlee’s voice had become several octaves higher, betraying her frustration.

“Well…why didn’t you say so! Got you, didn’t I?” he declared, having won their subtle game. They were always trying to get each others goat.

“You’re a turd!” she sighed, and laughed. Mario listened, as she shifted mental gears and sobered.

“Okay. Yes, someone called her. He gave no name, and only whispered, Judgment day is coming. That’s all he said, but she’s really scared…a lot more than she was before.”

Mario leaned back in his old wooden swivel chair, considering this. “That’s definitely a threat. Did you ask her if she had recently had any unpleasant run-ins with anyone…especially over kids? People get real crazy… especially if they lose a child because of a social worker’s report.”

“Yeah…I talked with her about that…she does a lot of that…works with a whole case load of marginal parents…you know…ones in danger of having the kids taken away. She didn’t recall any that seemed angrier than any others.”

Mario rubbed his stubble, trying to ignore his growling stomach. “If I had to guess, I’d say the biggest danger comes from the people who make the least fuss…who say nothing, but fume and fester quietly…holding it in until they explode. Tell you what…call her and set up an appointment for tomorrow evening…as early as you can…I’m here at least by four…we need to go talk to her some more. Have her start making a list of everyone she’s had to make a negative report on in the last year…and especially any that might have lost custody. We can’t guard her twenty four seven…even if we need to. Now…can I have permission to go eat?” he asked.

“Please do…you’re such a grumpy bear when you don’t eat!” Ashlee suggested and laughed.

Mario went in search of some company for dinner, found one of his undercover men coming in from a run to a pizza and sub shop.

“Ah, Mario! I got you something…didn’t look like you were going to get out of here to eat!”

“Man, Tony, you’re better than my mother!” he declared, as Tony tossed him a fat sub.

“I had ‘em load yours up with veggies…don’t want Ellen to come down and kick my ass for taking you off your diet!” the man suggested, snickering slightly.

“Oh thanks! See if I remember you at Christmas!” Mario sighed.

“Hey…we’re just helping your woman out…she’s trying to keep your sorry ass healthy. That’s what you get for takin’ up with a hot, younger babe!” someone suggested, as Mario snorted, nearly choking on a bite of food. He had become a solid item with the widow of a serial killer’s victim, whom he had fallen for utterly. She was fifteen years his junior, which elicited the continual ribbing from his fellow cops.

Mario concentrated on getting half of the sub down, wanting to subdue his crabby stomach. The guys mostly left him alone, having learned that, like a hungry bear, interrupting Mario when he was hungry was a good way to get bitten. When he had slowed down, they actually began talking about odds and ends, details of on-going cases and investigations. Before he went back to his desk, he tossed out Ashlee’s latest tidbit.

“We may have a problem on our hands,” he said vaguely, being not only a skilled fisherman, but good at baiting his fellow officers too.

“Really?” one named Joe Cartman  responded. “How so?”

“Remember that vandalism at the social worker’s place? Tires slashed…and her dog poisoned?” Everybody slowly nodded. “Well, she got a threatening call; something like, judgment day is coming. I’m gonna go see her with Ashlee tomorrow evening…hopefully.”

“Think she’s really pissed someone off enough to do something to her?”

Mario shrugged. “Beats me, but you know what sort of people we got in this town…they ain’t all members of the Chamber of Commerce!”

“If they were, we’d all be out of a job!” Joe suggested.

“Not too likely…is it?” Mario countered. “Why don’t you see if that call can be traced? Here…her number and the approximate time she got it. Let me know what you find!” he suggested, absentmindedly, already engrossed in new thoughts.

As he returned to his desk, Mario considered that fact. Mayhaven was an old, Midwestern rustbelt town, a once prosperous place filled with blue collar workers, many of whose ancestors had moved north from West Virginia or Kentucky, looking for work in the thirties. They had found it, in abundance, had prospered and thrived, until the seventies, when all the factories had closed. All the prosperity had gone with it, leaving behind a hardened group of people, many of whom that had grandfathers who were bootleggers back in the hills. The current generation easily adapted to the old ways, selling drugs and making meth. The town was constantly battling against this lawless tide. This kept Mayhaven’s police quite busy, but it was tiring and much less than satisfying.

Mario was interrupted in his thoughts by his cell phone, finding his girlfriend’s daughter on the line, wanting to say goodnight. She had survived the abduction of both herself and her older sister Clairine, something which Clairine had not done. They had been taken by the man who killed their father, in a twisted plot to torment Hugh, before the killer extracted his revenge. Now, she, and her mother, were living with Mario, and he was a changed man. Mostly.

He spoke to her several minutes, before saying goodbye, then telling Ellen, “I love you too,” before hanging up. He had been scanning paperwork as he talked, and was curious about an item he had uncovered in his pile.  He got up, and headed to the room where the other men were still relaxing.

“Anybody know anything about this: Patrol was dispatched last night around…eleven, to Judge Hoffman’s house…he reported an intruder prowling around the yard?”

Everybody looked blank. “Who was the patrol guy?”


“Tinkerbell!” Joe declared, and everyone burst out laughing. Even Mario smiled. She had been nicknamed this because of her diminutive size, but no one would have called her that in her presence, not wanting to risk getting their ass kicked; she was both stronger than she appeared, and quite skilled in the martial arts, a fact several of her fellows had painfully discovered when she joined the force. “Call her,” Joe suggested.

Back at his desk, Mario reread the report, then looked up her phone number and dialed. When she answered, he got right to the point. “Officer Weeks? This is Detective LaCone…can you talk?”

“Let me pull over…we’re running traffic tonight.”

When she returned, having radioed her status to the dispatcher, and turned her radio down a bit she was less tense.

“What can I do for you?”

“Officer, I just went over this report from last night…the one where you responded to the Judge’s call. Tell me about that…anything other than what you wrote.”

“I don’t know…he was pretty annoyed. He told me, he thought he heard someone on the porch, but when he turned on the light, he saw no one. Then his dog started barking…at the back door. He saw what he thought was a man, running across the lawn, and leaving out the back. He has a chain link fence in the back and side…for the dog. Apparently, he jumped the fence. I went all around with my light…couldn’t find anything. There’s an alley behind the property, but I didn’t find any vehicle or sign of a man. We took a report, but told him to call, if he came back, and not to turn on the light, if he could….so he wouldn’t scare the guy away. He has a gun…the Judge does.”

“Did he mention getting any threats? Or maybe it was just a burglar…he lives out off the boulevard, doesn’t he?”

“Sure does…big house…lots of nice stuff. He’s had no threats, not even a hang up call. But…I don’t think that was a burglar.”

“Really? Why?”

“I can’t see a burglar making that much noise, if he was casing a place…you know? They like to be super stealthy. Now sure, if he wanted to see if there was a dog, or anyone home, but he could have just tossed a stone at a door, to find that out! Why chance getting caught, especially after the front porch light was turned on.”

“Maybe he’s trying to get on Cops, as one of the Stupidest Criminals?” Mario suggested, teasing.

The officer sighed at Mario’s pathetic humor. “You know better!” she chided him. “I think the guy is up to something, but I don’t know what!”

“Well, if it makes you sleep better, I agree with you…but I don’t know what either,” Mario suggested.

“Now that makes me feel better,” she replied, trying not to laugh.

It didn’t make Mario feel better. I wonder if the social worker thing and this, at the Judge’s place are related? If so, how? He considered this. I need to check, see what Judge Hoffman handles…criminal? Probate? Juvenile? Tinkerbell is sharp…that didn’t feel like a pre-burglary. But wouldn’t anything else be worse? I’d bet my ass whoever was prowling around, wasn’t wanting an autograph! he sighed, gazing balefully at the mound of paperwork waiting on him. I wish just once my damn premonitions would come with more substance! I really do, he sighed.



Gordon Bremmer simply wished he out fishing, so he wouldn’t have to listen to his wife complaining. Or drunk. If he was drunk, she’d still whine and complain, but he wouldn’t really care. Being both present and sober was proving to be an annoying burden.

“So what the hell do you want me to do!” he finally yelled, louder than he wanted. “I didn’t send the kids to foster care!”

“You didn’t do anything to prevent it!” his wife Cheryl screamed, repeating, for what seemed the hundredth time, the words she had first hurled at him two weeks previous, after their last court appearance, when the judge had placed their two children in the hands of Children’s Services.

“What was I supposed to do?! I wasn’t here when you let the kids outside without coats and shoes! It’s my fault someone called and reported that?!”

“I didn’t just let them go out! I was in the bathroom, throwing up! They just snuck out!” Cheryl retorted. “That wasn’t that big of a deal, but it let that damned social worker get her nose in our affairs! We’d have been fine, if’n you hadn’t whipped Jason hard enough to leave bruises!”

“Oh, hell! I got my ass beat a hundred times worse than that when I was a kid…didn’t do anything bad to me. That woman’s a crazy bitch!” Gordon snapped.

“Doesn’t matter what she is! All the judge cared about was what she put in her report!” Cheryl cried, sitting down heavily in a rickety kitchen chair. “You didn’t even make an effort to act nice to her!”

“Why should I? She came in here, acting like a stuck up bitch! This place may be a dump, but a little dirt won’t kill the kids! She acts like she’s special cause she went to college! Cunt ‘otta have to work at a real job…freeze her fat ass off! Maybe she’d understand how life is for real people!” Gordon insisted, his bitterness plainly exposed. Working at an unheated freight terminal, moving heavy crates in bitter cold or the burning heat of summer had fostered a certain envy of people who lived a climate controlled life.

“I don’t care! I just want my kids back!” she shrieked.

“Good luck with that! You saw the list of crap we’re supposed to do? Psych tests, parenting classes, counseling…where am I supposed to get the money to fix up this place…or move to a better one? They think everyone is rich!”

“We’d have more money, if you’d stop drinking!” Cheryl suggested, looking miserably at the table top.

“I have to put up with this crap sober, I might as well kill myself!” he suggested snidely.

“Tammy’s brother’s church will help us fix up the house…I talked to her this morning! We just have to do the other stuff ourselves,” she added.

“Sure. And when that’s all done, they’ll want us to do another thing or two, and another. Remember Kelly and Dick Hartman? They never did get their kids back from those assholes!”

“We have to try!” Cheryl screamed. Gordon shrugged.

“I’m goin’ over and see Mark. He may know something useful,” Gordon sighed.

“Don’t get drunk! We can’t afford to deal with a DUI!” she complained.

Looking up, puzzled, she asked, “What would he know about getting the kids back?”

“You might be surprised,” he said, and went out.


Gordon drove their old Dodge mini van across town to where his old Army buddy Mark Snyder lived. Gordon had been a Ranger, staying in the service for a second enlistment while Mark had done four years and departed. Gordon had hoped to make a career of the Rangers, but he injured his left knee, and was discharged.

He had returned to Mayhaven with no sense of direction, and little ambition; having lost one dream, he found nothing to replace it with. Except drinking. Friends had set him up with Cheryl, who was eager to find a husband and have children, but otherwise had no more dreams than Gordon did. Having her get pregnant had seemed to make getting married inevitable and they did so. This gave Gordon a reason for going to work, and a semblance of necessity in an otherwise directionless life.

Gordon was reasonably fond of Cheryl, especially when they were getting along, and when she wasn’t complaining. Her not being happy usually resulted in Gordon drinking excessively, which caused even more upset and complaining. This always led to a nasty fight and days or weeks worth of misery. That he had avoided this over the loss of the kids seemed astounding to those who knew them, in light of Cheryl’s nonstop misery and angst.


“How’s Cheryl?” Mark greeted him, while handing him a beer.

“She’s a fucking basket case!” Gordon sighed. “All she does is cry or yell…usually at me!” Mark’s wife Hydie stuck her head in the room.

“Hi Gordon…I can’t imagine having my kids taken away…especially for a bunch of bull pucky! The damn social workers have too much say!” Mark nodded.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad…except when you see some of the people who they leave kids with! I think they just pick on the people they can push around…who won’t beat their butts!”

Mark chuckled at this. “Apparently you’re one they think can be pushed around? I’m surprised you didn’t beat her ass…or worse,” he suggested quietly, knowing Gordon’s history in the Rangers well.  Gordon stared at him, a wicked, intensely vicious glance that made Mark’s ass tighten. Finally, Gordon shrugged.

“Not much you can do when they’ve got a couple of armed cops watching you!” he gave Mark a small grin, which seemed more of a leer or grimace. “Rangers work best at night…” he whispered, staring into space, and idly pulling on his right ear lobe. Hydie missed this comment, having ducked out of sight to chase one of her young toddlers. Mark merely chose to ignore it, having heard many war stories and threats from Gordon over the years.

“It’ll work out. How much crap do you two have to do?” Gordon snorted, shaking his head.

“Too damned much!” he growled, before outlining what the court had mandated for them to do, to have the children returned.

“You know we’ll help! I can help fix on the house…it is a piece of shit!”

“Don’t get no mansion for five hundred dollars a month, even in this place! No one gives a fuck that we aren’t rich, either!” Gordon suggested disgustedly. “What do you guys pay for this house?”

“Nine hundred…” Hydie answered, having reappeared with a squirming two year old boy tucked under her arm. “Behave!” she insisted, “or I’ll wear out your butt!” The child subsided a bit.

“I have trouble paying the damned five hundred…can’t afford that some months.”

“You need a better job!” Mark advised.

“Shit! I’m lucky to even have a job…no ones hiring anymore…unless it’s for a temp job. Can’t make no money doing that!”

“To bad we ain’t crooked politicians…they don’t lack for cash!” Mark laughed.

“Hmmmph…if I had enough money to be in politics, I wouldn’t need to be a crooked politician, now would I? Ain’t no poor folks running for office…that’s for sure!”

Mark got Gordon a fresh beer, and they went out to the garage, where Mark was haphazardly working on restoring a sixties vintage pickup he’d inherited from his grand father.

“Damn…you got the front end done!”

“Herb Kessle…works with me…he did the welding…put in the new sheet metal. I just bondoed everything. If I get enough money on my tax return, maybe I’ll get the engine done. Well, if Hydie doesn’t piss it away on bills!” he said, grinning.  Mark perched himself on a stack of tires.

“So, what’s really going on with Cheryl? I gathered you didn’t want to talk in front of Hydie?” Gordon shrugged.

“They talk too much!” Gordon said simply. Looking at Mark, a deep and worried gaze that made Mark suddenly alert, Gordon continued, his voice tight and worried.

“I think she’ll kill herself, if we don’t get the kids back!” he admitted.

“What about you?” Mark wondered. Gordon shrugged.

“I’d hate to see that. I’d probably take a whole bunch of assholes with me, if that happened,” he declared. “Wouldn’t be much point in hangin’ around.”  Something about Gordon’s manner made Mark nervous. They had been friends since grade school, and knew each other’s mannerisms and personalities well. Something seemed…odd about Gordon.

“You’re more upset than you’re letting on…aren’t you? Come on, Gord…you don’t have to act like a hardass! Nobody wants to lose their kids!”

Mark watched his friend wordlessly clench and unclench his free hand, noted the tension in his muscles, his furrowed brows. He was only partly surprised when Gordon exploded, and punched a wooden post three times, any one of which blows would have seriously crippled a human, had he hit someone. He slammed his hand down on a board, lying on two saw horses, snapping it in two like a piece of kindling, while emitting a strangled growl, that sounded like it belonged to a wounded beast.

Gordon had witnessed his friend’s incredible strength and fury only a few times, always directed at inanimate objects. That the Rangers had trained him, honing him into a vicious killing machine, was something Mark had no desire to experience directly.  He was relieved that Gordon had seemed to relax, hoped he had expended his anger and tension.

“I’d really rather do that to the people who are making my life hell,” he said softly.

“That might feel good, but it would likely have unpleasant consequences!”  Mark suggested. Gordon stared at him a moment, before he shrugged.

“Only if they catch me…” he said simply. “I know where the damned social worker lives,” he added, offhandedly. Reaching down, to retrieve the beer he had dropped, he grinned at Mark, who was still digesting his friend’s previous comment, wondering what that implied.

“Waste of a good fucking beer!” he sighed. “You consider yourself a good friend?” he suddenly asked.

Mark, disconcerted, nodded. “I suppose…we been friends a long time. Why?”

“Good enough to help bury someone?” he asked. “Come on…I need another beer!” he said, leaving Mark chilled by Gordon’s suddenly shifting moods and comments.

He’s probably just talking out his ass. He’s never been mean…well, not too much…Mark thought, not wishing to dwell too much on the subject.



Mario had arrived at the police station two days after his chat with Ashlee at almost four. Working basically second shift, when much of the crime occurred in Mayhaven, was quite efficient for the city. He stopped in to see his old friend the Chief, to find out if anything new and exciting had occurred while he was off duty.

“You used to be in an hour early most days. Nice to see you having a life outside of here!” John teased. They had served in Vietnam together as a Marine sniper team; Mario, an Italian kid from New York and John, a black kid from Akron. Mario shrugged and grinned.

“You know how women are…you can’t get anywhere on time! So, what’s up? I assume the usual wickedness?” John nodded.

“You’ve got a whole stack in your in-box. Oh…that meth head your undercover guys nabbed last Saturday? He rolled over on his supplier…Bret Jacobs…his ass is in the county jail! They picked up a whole lab when they searched his trailer.”

“Nice! One down, probably a hundred more to go,” Mario sighed. “It’s like playing Whack-a-mole! As long as we’ve got addicts, we’ve got someone selling.”

“And vice versa,” John agreed. “Anything new on your cases?” Mario gestured helplessly.

“Not much. Ashlee and I went to see the social worker…Tanika Martin…the other evening. She’s pretty nervous over the call she got, but hasn’t seen anything else. No more calls either.”

“You think maybe it was just someone being stupid?” the Chief wondered thoughtfully.

“Nah…I’ve got one of my…feelings…we’ve got the patrol folks watching her place, especially at night…but there’s not a lot we can do.”

“Does she live with someone?”

“By herself…her kids are grown…she’s a widow, actually. She goes all over town too…checking on people. You know the type of people she deals with!” Mario observed.

John nodded. “Yeah, I do. Just wish I didn’t…it’s sad we have so many dysfunctional humans in this town!” he scowled. Mario chuckled.

“We’d be unemployed if all the people here acted civilized and behaved!”

“No danger of that! Even back before the factories all closed, this was a tough, gritty place. Lots of blue collar hillbillies, hard drinking and fighting. I looked at some of the old records from back in the thirty’s and forties…it was like the wild west! Shootings, stabbings, fights, an occasional murder, even had people stealing chickens! Dear God…Friday and Saturday nights were always crazy, especially over on the west side of town. Lots of bars and a bunch of whorehouses there. Trouble constantly!”

“Well, nothing much has changed…except for a lot more drug dealing. They’re finding used syringes in the parks and on the school yards constantly,” Mario declared, clearly annoyed. John smiled knowingly at Mario.

“You’d be a lot happier if we had a nice gallows by the courthouse, and simply hung all the ones we arrest and convict…wouldn’t you?” he demanded slyly.

“Probably…” Mario admitted. “It gets tiring being on a first name basis with half the hoodlums in town, since I’ve arrested them a dozen times!” he said, sounding bitter.

“Well, get your butt busy…I’m sure some of your friends will want a ride to the jail tonight!” the chief advised him, winking.

Mario headed off to his desk, sat down and sighed at the new pile of paperwork that awaited him. Much of it was merely updates on court cases and notices of impending hearings. He was partway through a stack of reports from the last twenty four hours of patrol runs, when his phone rang. He found Ashlee on the line. “Mario! Are you busy?” she coyly asked.

“I’m always busy! But you know I’ll make time for my favorite investigator!”

“Nice try…I’m your only investigator!” she complained, managing to sound both put upon and disappointed simultaneously. Mario viewed the young woman as almost another daughter, admiring her sharp and acutely observant mind. He was fond of her playful devotion, and almost jealous when she occasionally worked with someone else. Ashlee had been delighted by Mario’s mentoring and guidance when she was first hired, having arrived fresh out of college, green and utterly lost. Ashlee was quite well aware of their seeming father/daughter relationship, and was as fond of it as Mario. If Mario wanted to make her cry, all he had to do was threaten to retire.

“You do any work today?” he teased, knowing she would be outraged.

“Don’t go there! I’m even reading things when I’m peeing, for God’s sake!” she complained vigorously.

“So I’m assuming this isn’t a social call?” he asked.

“Hardly…we ran that phone number…the one that someone called Tanika from…it’s an old pay phone at the bowling alley south of town!” Ashlee informed him glumly.

“Really? They still have pay phones?” he said incredulously. “I’m shocked that you even know what one is!”

“Actually…I have no idea…what are they?” Ashlee asked, sounding utterly innocent and puzzled. This left Mario with his mouth open, but before he could respond, Ashlee erupted in loud giggles, delighted to have fooled him with her act.

“I may come up there and paddle you!” he grumbled. “I suppose pulling prints would be useless?”

“Probably…lots of drunks use it to call a cab or home, to lie to their spouse! The lounge does a pretty brisk business, all in all,” she agreed.  “The smart phone crowd isn’t hanging around there!” she added and laughed.

“No, I suppose not…different class of people. So we’re back at square one?” Ashlee squawked quickly.

“The only thing that left square one was our hope! You know how seldom we get a break! If I was a bit more pessimistic, I’d guess God is punishing us for something wicked we did in a previous life!”

“That’s my line!” Mario complained, having said some version of it hundreds of times whenever things weren’t going well. “Well, at least we have each other!” Mario teased her.

“Maybe that’s part of God’s punishment?” she said coyly, before bursting into laughter.

“That does it…I’m coming to see you as soon as I find my paddle!” he suggested.

“Good! I might like that!” she said, before saying goodbye and hanging up. Mario tossed down the handset, and sat staring at the phone a moment.

Just what did she mean by that? Has she got a kinky streak I don’t know about? Better not go there, Mario, You’ve got your hands full with Ellen!  He reached for some paperwork, and shook his head.


Long before it got dark, Mario had finished his reading, and had met with his undercover officers, to plan their night’s affairs. Normally his men managed to handle their assignments without his direct involvement, unless there was something huge going to happen. The normal undercover work, buying drugs, arresting hookers, conducting meetings with known people inclined to pass along incriminating info, seldom rose to the level of a major event. This left Mario free to respond to other problems, like assaults, armed robberies, and the occasional shooting or murder, things that were beyond the city’s patrol officers to resolve. He was seldom not busy.

Having finished another bar fight investigation, wherein one drunk patron had stabbed another drunk patron, he was getting eager for his shift to be over. He had sorted out the requisite paperwork, and was writing a note for Ashlee so she could finish up the next day, when one of the patrol officers approached his car, talking on his radio. Mario glanced up, to see what might be of interest.

“That was Tinkerbell…Officer Weeks!” the man hastily corrected, grinning. “She wants you to come see her. There’s a body been found behind a dwelling over on Claymore Court!” Mario felt himself tense.

“What number?” he asked. The officer radioed and in a moment Mario heard Officer Week’s distinct voice.

“Three twenty two…Tanika Martin’s house!”

“Damn it!” Mario sighed. “Tell her I’m on the way!” he instructed the cop, and tossing the paperwork on the seat, he hastily started his car.


It took Mario less than fifteen minutes to get across town, and to reach the social worker’s house. The quiet, tree lined street was littered with police cars, a medic unit from the firehouse, and several people could be seen in the glow of the emergency lights, standing on their porches, worried and puzzled. He was swiftly directed through a chain link fence gate, and around the house, into the back yard.

He found a pair of medics, an assortment of cops, which included Officer Weeks, and a distraught woman whom the police officer was trying to support, and keep calm. Keri glanced to where the body was lying, beside the walk, sprawled haphazardly, partly turned on her back. When she looked back at Mario, she looked perilously close to either throwing up, or breaking down.

“Who got here first?” he asked.

“I…did,” the officer managed to hesitantly say, swallowing hard. “This is Tanika’s daughter…Kelly…she found her…and called 911.” Mario nodded.

“I’ll need to ask her some questions,” he suggested. “Why don’t you take her out front, and sit with her…” he suggested. Turning to the medic, he asked, “Coroner?”

“On the way,” the man replied. When Officer Weeks had disappeared from sight, with the young woman, he asked his next question.

“Give me the low down,” The medic nodded.

“We got here at ten twenty six. The daughter was waiting out front…pretty frantic. The victim was lying mostly face down, with her body turned a bit. No breathing, no pulse…she was gone. There’s a nylon rope around her neck…I’d guess she was strangled, but her neck is broken, too. She didn’t fall down the stairs, and do that, either!”

“Any signs of trauma other than that? Bruises on the face, blood…anything?” Mario wondered aloud.

“Nothing. I’m sure the coroner will send her to Columbus for an autopsy.” Mario nodded. He borrowed a flashlight from one of the officers, and gave the area a look over.  There was a bag of trash lying a couple of feet from the body. A swift sweep of the light showed a pair of trash cans at the back of the yard, by a garage.

“She must have been coming out with the bag,” Mario idly theorized. He noted a large shrub at the corner of the porch. Someone lurking behind it would have been invisible to anyone next door, as well as to Tanika, emerging from the screened in porch. The area was quite dark, shadowed by several large trees. An assassin could have easily struck, and then quietly walked back, and down the alley unnoticed by anyone.

Nobody garrotes someone just to rob them! Whoever killed her wanted her dead; quick, efficient and silent. Most people don’t know how to take down a person this way. Spies do. Military or ex-military people do, and martial arts devotes might be able to.  Mario thought, annoyed, knowing that Mayhaven held probably a few thousand who would be capable of such a crime.

I hope the list of people who hate her is shorter! he thought, before heading towards the street to deal with the murdered woman’s daughter.