Authors: Robert Thornhill
I dialed Wally and asked if the woman had purchased anything.
“Nope, same as usual.”
“Good. Then I think we’ve got her.”
I noticed there was a cement trash receptacle on the curb beside the parking spot she had chosen.
Seeing that there was no way she could bail out of the passenger door, I pulled up beside her and rolled down my window.
She had just started her car and was about to pull away from the curb when I blocked her escape.
She had a disgusted look on her face as she rolled down her window.
“Look asshole, if you want this parking spot, you’re going to have to let me get out.”
“Actually, I don’t want your parking spot. What I’d like to see are the register receipts for the cosmetics you just carried out of the store.”
Her look of disgust turned into an expression of panic and then resignation as she saw that both of her doors were blocked.
“Okay, you got me. Can we talk about this?”
“Nothing to talk about. You’re a shoplifter and you’re going to jail.”
“Are you a cop?”
“Nope, but I know a guy who is.”
I dialed Ox’s cell phone.
“Hey ex-partner, are you anywhere close to Wally Bunker’s pharmacy?”
“Hi Walt. We’re five minutes away. Why?”
“How would you like a shoplifting collar?”
“Actually, I’d rather have a donut, but we’ll be right there.”
A few minutes later, Ox and his new partner pulled up in our old black & white.
“Walt, I’d like you to meet Amanda Parrish.”
A slender blonde with her hair pulled back in a bun stuck out her hand. “So glad to finally meet you. I feel like I know you already. You’re all my new partner talks about.”
“Good to meet you, too. I hope you’re taking good care of my old friend. He needs all the help he can get.”
“Okay, enough of the chatter,” Ox intervened. “What have we got here?”
Wally had just joined us and we explained what had transpired.
“So Wally, you’re willing to press charges?” Ox asked.
“Absolutely! This gal is a pro and she needs to be put away.”
“Good enough for me. Walt, move your car and we’ll get this little lady in cuffs.”
I moved my car and Ox was reading the gal her Miranda rights when she turned on him and planted her foot squarely in his groin.
He let out a moan and crumpled to his knees, and the shoplifter sped off across the parking lot.
Amanda took off after her and brought her down with a flying tackle about twenty-five yards away.
Ox was still on the ground wheezing and trying to catch his breath when she returned, pushing the gal now bruised and in handcuffs.
“I guess we can add assaulting an officer to our shoplifting charge,” she said, helping Ox to his feet.
“Nice work, Officer,” I said. “Looks like my old partner is in good hands.”
“All in a day’s work,” she said, shoving the gal into the back seat of the cruiser. She was trying to act tough, but my compliment brought a smile to her face.
“You might want to put some ice on those guys,” Wally said, pointing to Ox’s crotch, “and I’d be happy to throw in some pain medication.”
“No, no medicine, but thanks for the offer. I’ll definitely be stopping by Quick Trip for a bag of ice.”
After the cruiser pulled away, Wally said, “Good job, Walt. What do I owe you?”
I hadn’t really thought about it.
“Not a thing. I’m just happy that I could help a friend.”
“Nonsense,” he replied. “I want to do something for you. How about a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant for you and Maggie? You wouldn’t turn that down, would you?”
“No, I guess that would be okay.”
“Great. Listen, Walt. Now that you’re not in uniform and have some time on your hands, you should think about doing this professionally. There are a lot of folks out there who could use a guy like you on their side.”
As I drove home, Wally’s words kept running through my mind.
Maybe there was something more I could do before I resigned myself to frying little sausage boogers at Hy-Vee.
I really enjoyed my rib dinner at Houston’s on the Plaza, so I figured that might be a good place to take Maggie for our special night out.
Maggie tends to be conservative when we go out to eat, rarely ordering the most expensive entrée on the menu. I noticed she was mentally calculating what her order would set us back.
“Don’t be shy,” I said. “Order anything you want. Wally Bunker is treating us tonight.”
She gave me a quizzical look. “Wally Bunker? Why is he buying our meal?”
“Let’s order and I’ll tell you the whole story.”
With appetizer, soup, salad and entrée, it was going to cost Wally close to a hundred and fifty bucks for the capture of his shoplifter.
“Okay, spill it,” Maggie said, forking a bite of her smoked salmon appetizer. “What’s the deal with Wally?”
Maggie had been really busy with out of town buyers, coming home each evening exhausted and ready to hit the sack early, so I chose not to make her life more complicated with my daily exploits.
Actually, I was quite relieved that she hadn’t quizzed me about my day, because I wasn’t sure how I was going to break the news that I was still out there collaring perps.
I had sworn Willie, Mary and Kevin to secrecy, but I decided that I’d better fess up before she heard the news from some third party. I figured she might take it better accompanied by a center cut filet.
“Well, it all started when I took Willie to the pharmacy to get some liniment for his arm.”
“What happened to his arm?”
“It was sprained when Mary fell on it.”
“What? Mary fell? Is she okay?”
“She didn’t actually fall. Willie pushed her to the ground when some creeps drove by and shot up the hotel.”
“There was a drive-by shooting at the hotel and you didn’t think to mention it to me?”
“You’ve been so busy and no one was hurt so I figured ---.”
“Well you figured wrong! When three of the people I love most in this world nearly die, I want to know about it! Now what’s with this Wally thing?”
“While we were at the pharmacy, Wally mentioned he was being ripped off by a shoplifter. He couldn’t actually catch her in the act, and wondered if I might have some time to keep an eye on her. Since I wasn’t doing anything but playing checkers with Willie or video games with Jerry, I said I could give him a hand.
“The next time she came in, he gave me a call. All I did was sit in my car and watch her come out of the store. When she got in her car and started unloading the stuff she had stolen, I called Ox and he and his new partner came by and put her in cuffs. Simple as that. Wally is treating us to this nice dinner as a gesture of appreciation.”
At that moment, the server brought steaming bowls of baked potato soup.
As she spooned a few bites, I could see the wheels turning in her head.
“I have the feeling there’s more you want to share.”
Then I saw a light go on.
“You mentioned you had spent a few afternoons with Kevin. Walt Williams, what else have you been up to?”
Maggie may be seventy, but she’s sharp as a tack.
“Kevin needed some help with a couple of cases he was working on, and knew I had some time on my hands ---.”
“Kevin is working cases? Did he get a P.I. license?”
“Uhhhh, no not really. He’s just been doing some odd jobs for people who knew he was in town.”
“So my brother is doing investigative work without a license and has dragged you into the middle of it?”
“Something like that. Here, let me show you what we did.”
I pulled the article from the
that told about Spivak bowing out of the councilman race out of my pocket.
She read it. “So what? Am I supposed to be impressed?”
“That article doesn’t tell the whole story. Spivak was backed by the Russian mob. He had a significant lead and if he had won, the mob would have gotten a foothold in the Northeast District. Kevin and I tailed him and caught him with a Russian hooker at a seedy motel. He bowed out rather than be exposed. All I had to do was sit in my car and take a few photos.”
“So do we have another dinner coming for your afternoon of work?”
“No,” I said, pulling the envelope with the thousand dollars out of my pocket. “But I do have this.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “Walt, what are you doing? I thought you were retired.”
“I’m trying! But if I don’t do something, I’m going to go crazy. I can’t just hang around the apartment all day. I even thought about getting a part time job at Hy-Vee, but that’s just not me.”
“So what are you saying?” she asked, biting her lip.
“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. Several people have told me that I’d make a heck of a good private investigator.”
Maggie buried her face in her hands.
“I know. I know. You wanted me to give up the badge because of the danger and I get that, but this is different. As a P.I., I can pick and choose what I want to work on. I’ve been on three cases so far and I haven’t even set foot out of my car.”
“Three cases? You’ve only mentioned two.”
“I did one other one with Kevin.”
“Maggie, I told you before, you’re the most important thing in the world to me, and if you don’t want me to pursue this, I won’t.”
She looked deep into my eyes and I could see her begin to soften.
“So you’re actually thinking about getting a P.I. license and starting a real firm.”
“Only if you’re on board with it.”
“I suppose my crazy brother will fit into the picture somewhere.”
“I haven’t said a word to him. I didn’t want to get him excited until I cleared everything with you.”
“And you think you can do this without getting shot, blown up or thrown off a roof?”
“That’s certainly my goal.”
She didn’t speak for the longest time. Finally, she said, “I remember Helen Foster’s words when I asked her why she would let her husband run for office knowing he might become a target. She said, ‘My husband is a man of passion. Life is meaningless without passion and without a purpose. Nursing homes are full of people who have lost their passion for life, and that can be worse than death.’ Walt, I don’t want that to happen to you. If you think this will give your life purpose, and you promise me you won’t get killed, then go for it.”
I wanted to jump across the table and give her a big hug, but at that moment, our sizzling steaks arrived.
A beautiful loving wife, a sizzling filet and a new lease on life. It was the happiest I had been since I handed my badge to the captain.
If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right and I knew absolutely nothing about setting up my own company, so I figured my first call should be to an attorney.
In my opinion, the best attorney in town is Suzanne Romero. She had successfully defended Mary, Ox and me on several occasions, so I called her office and scheduled an appointment.
“Walt, so good to see you again,” she said, extending her hand. “What can I do for you today? Has Mary clubbed or shot another intruder?”
“No, nothing like that. Maybe you heard I had retired from the police department.”
“I did hear that. The department will miss you, I’m sure.”
“Well, I’m thinking about starting my own private investigation firm. I need an attorney to help me set everything up properly, and, of course, you were my first call.”
“I’m flattered, but I’m afraid I can’t help you this time. I’m a defense attorney and what you’re needing right now is a completely different kind of lawyer.”
She opened her drawer, pulled out a card and handed it to me.
“Give Brian a call. He’s our business expert. He can take care of everything for you.”
“Thanks, I will.”
I saw a big smile cross her face.
“So, my old Jedi Knight is going to the dark side. That’s going to be quite a change for you, Walt.”
“Excuse me? What exactly do you mean by the dark side?”
“You’ve been a cop for the last five years and you operated within the boundaries of the law. I’ve worked with dozens of private investigators over the years, and those guys go by a whole different set of rules.”
“I’m not following.”
“As a cop, if you want to search a residence, you go to a judge and get a warrant. The P.I. waits until dark and uses a lock pick to get into the house while the resident is away. If you’re a cop, you need probable cause to pull a driver over and search his vehicle. A P.I. will just wait ‘till the driver leaves and pop the lock with a slim-jim. It’s the difference between the light side and the dark side.”
“Are you saying I can’t be a private investigator unless I go to the dark side?”
“I’m just saying that’s the way 99% of them operate. Maybe you’ll be different. We’ll see. I hope you can be Anakin Skywalker and not turn into Darth Vader.”
“That’s certainly my goal.”
“Are you ready to take on a case? I was going to call a P.I. firm this morning, but I’m willing to give you a shot.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “You bet I am! What’s the case?”
“My defendant is the co-owner of the Heart of America Art Gallery on Baltimore in the Crossroads District. I’m sure you’re aware that the Crossroads is the city’s main art gallery hub. There are over a dozen galleries within just a few blocks and the competition has been fierce.
“My client, Jason Knight, opened the gallery two years ago with his partner, Andrew Pitts. It’s been quite a struggle for them, and they were on the verge of bankruptcy when there was a break-in and two very valuable pieces were stolen.
“The pieces were insured, and since the payoff from the insurance company would have been enough to put the gallery back on its feet, the police looked into the possibility that the robbery might have been staged by the owners.
“Long story short, they found one of the pieces hidden in my client’s basement.”
“What about the other partner?”
“They found nothing to tie him to the robbery.”
“Did your guy do it?”
“That’s not really the point. Whether he did it or not, he still deserves a competent defense, but my gut says he’s innocent.”
“So what’s your take on it?”
“Everything is just too perfect. Jason Knight is no fool. If he actually took the pieces, I don’t think he would have been stupid enough to hide them in his basement. He’s been in the business long enough to know the insurance company would take a long look at him and his partner.”
“So are you thinking he’s been set up?”
“That’s certainly a possibility.”
I certainly knew about being set up. A few months earlier, Ox and I had been framed for two murders and the theft of valuable Egyptian artifacts by a pair of corrupt cops. Kevin concocted an ingenious plan which exposed the real perps and got us off the hook.
“Are you by any chance talking to me because I’m working with the guy who set up the King Tut sting?”
“So are you saying that a similar operation might shed some light on your case?”
“Maybe. What do you think?”
“I think it’s worth a shot. Give me the details and we’ll get this thing going.”