Send Out The Clowns (Frank River Series)

BOOK: Send Out The Clowns (Frank River Series)
9.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Original Copyright by Harry Hoge and Bill Walls, 2004

Published  by Behler Publications, lake Forest, California

All rights reserved.

This is a book of fiction, all Characters, names places or
incidents are either of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.


e-book copyright by Harry Hoge and Bill Walls, 2012

All rights reserved.

Chapter 1


Frank Rivers stood in the shadows, away from the mag lights
that illuminated the crime scene and the late October moon hanging over the
towering monoliths of downtown Houston, waiting as Al Shuman and his crew
finished securing the area. All Saints Eve is a perfect time to investigate a
bizarre homicide, if the word perfect applies to such an event.

He had received the call about an hour ago, rousing him from
a troubled sleep. He would have to go alone. He hadn't had a permanent partner
since Skip - Douglas Shields, his partner for more than ten years - had taken
the fall for conspiracy to murder  and been sent to "The Walls" unit
in Huntsville. Frank was the officer in charge who had busted Skip, and he had
not slept well one night since. He knew he could not work this case without a
partner; another investigator would be assigned to work with him. There had
been a parade of rookies to fill that role lately. All those with experience from
the downtown homicide division had partners, did not want to change, or refused
to work with someone who had rolled over on one of their own. Guilty or not,
turning one's partner was unforgivable.

Frank Rivers was born Francisco Riojas and raised in the
small, central Texas town of Brenham, noted for making delicious Blue Bell Ice
Cream, and for being on the annual tour for people who loved the bluebonnet
display in springtime. Senor Riojas changed the family name when Frank first
started school, judging that Frank Rivers would have fewer problems coping in a
growing Texas community than Francisco Riojas. Frank had matured tall, lean,
and dark, a handsome man by any standard. His friends commented that he looked
more like a TV news anchor than a cop. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties.
He was thirty-two.

Frank tried to peer through the yellow tape, squad cars,
inspection paraphernalia and people moving about the body taking pictures and
searching for evidence. The Uniform on duty had discovered the victim when he
made a routine check of the parking garage on the corner of Rusk and Caroline.
The original report alleged that it was the body of a youngster dressed in a
clown suit and carrying a plastic jack-o-lantern filled with candy. Yet
unconfirmed, a kid murdered brought gorge to the back of Frank's throat. All he
could make out from his "stay out of the way until it was his turn"
vantage point was the yellow, red and orange coloring of the tiny mound. Frank
turned away from the scene and spit on the street. He was always tormented by
anxiety at the beginning of a new round in the endless fight against man's
cruelty to man.

He recalled a class he had taken years earlier while
studying criminal investigation at Sam Houston State University. The subject had
been the psychology of dealing with day-to-day police activity. The professor,
a former homicide investigator from Dallas, had talked about walking the thin
line; sanity and gratification earned by removing scumbags from the street on
one side, and the danger of becoming like them on the other. "Many a good
cop," the professor had stated, "has taken one step in the wrong
direction and ended up as one of those he is sworn to apprehend." Skip
came to mind again. Frank spit once more. Maybe he had been on the street too
long, seen too much tragedy, and met too many denizens from the murky void.
Maybe. The sight of Al Shuman heading his way interrupted Frank's rumination.
It was time to go to work.

As he watched Al walking toward him, Frank tried to think if
there was anyone he respected more. Al wore cordovan penny loafers, argyle
socks, a tan corduroy sports coat, khakis, a blue oxford-cloth button-down
shirt and a maroon wool tie, an outfit known around the department as his
uniform. Frank felt himself growing excited in anticipation of Al's summary.
Even though Frank would take his time to inspect the entire area, as usual, he
doubted Al had missed any evidence. One time, years ago, when Frank became
aware of Al's intelligence, he had asked him if he belonged to Mensa. Al showed
a rare expression of disgust and shook his head. "I'm not insecure enough
to join a group of pseudo-intellectuals who spend their time talking about
solving obscure puzzles and drinking vintage wine. Besides, those folks are bragging
about something they really didn't have anything to do with... It's like being
tall. They didn't develop a good mind. It just happened."

"Figured you'd catch this one, Frank" Al said,
proffering a quick smile. "You seem to get all the weird ones."

Frank allowed his friendship for Al Shuman to chase away the
gloom of retrospection and managed a grin. "Morning, Al. What's so

."First, the clown suit.- It's not a kid in
Halloween get-up; it's a full-grown adult male, oriental appearing. I'd guess
Vietnamese. The stuff in the jack-o-lantern is all fake, rocks and plastic
wrapped in cellophane, and this." He held up a plastic bag with a second
plastic bag inside. "Street cut heroin. Probably about a hundred bucks

"How was he killed?" Frank asked.

"I'll know better when I finish the autopsy, but if I
had to guess, someone drove a gaff hook through his throat and hung him up like
a side of beef. The wound reminded me of a marlin I caught off the coast of
Mexico once. They gaffed the fish and cranked it up on a winch so I could stand
beside it and have my picture taken."

"A lot of blood round the scene?"

"No, just a little under the fish," Al paused and
grinned at Frank. "Oh, you mean here. He was killed someplace else and
transported here."

Frank could only return the grin. "TOD?"

"My guess is... let's see, today is Friday. Late
Wednesday or early Thursday, but that's a guess."

"Any ID?"

Al shook his head. "Identification will be difficult.
We took prints and bagged the hands, then swabbed for DNA, but I don’t think
we'll come up with anything unless he has a record. All the labels are cut from
the clothes and the pumpkin could have come from any of a thousand different
stores. It looks like the killer cleaned and trimmed the dead man's fingernails
then wiped the body down with alcohol swabs. I'll run details, especially on
the fake candy, but I've seen more incriminating evidence in a funeral

"I'll go take a look," Frank replied. "Later
today I'll stop by your office. When will you do the autopsy?"

"I don't want the body to get much riper. I've got my
hands full today, so I'll come in tomorrow morning. You plan to be there."

"What? On Saturday?" Frank said, sarcasm dripping
from his tone. He and Al often joked about how weekends were generally their
busiest time. "Surely you're not going to work on the weekend?"

"I don't have anything else planned."

"Damn. I'll have to cancel my tee time at the
club." He patted Al on the forearm. "I'll see you at the lab."
He walked toward the garage and up the ramp where a dead man waited.

He stood staring down at the body for a long time, barely
aware of the uniformed officer standing beside him and one-step to the rear. A
man assigned to render any assistance he might require. The body looked
artificial, a mannequin or doll. Frank realized he would come to know more
about this person than anyone else alive did. At least he hoped so, but for
now, he was framing the first page of the murder book in his mind.


Date: October 31. Time: O445. Location: Parking Garage, Caroline
and Rusk.

Victim: Adult Male. Oriental, estimated age, 25 to 30 years.

Cause of death: Unknown, apparently bled out from puncture
wound in the neck. No weapon or obvious evidence of the perpetrator or ID of
the victim.


Frank spotted a red stain on the floor of the ramp. He
turned to the officer behind him and pointed. "Did anyone sample that

"Yeah, sure, they took a lot of samples of
stains." He waved his hand at the pavement. "This is a garage. There
are stains everywhere. Mr. Shuman figured that one was probably transmission

"Okay," Frank responded. "Let me have the
camera. I'll take some pictures for my own use and then we can have the body
taken to the morgue."

Frank walked to his car, a blue and white patrol car; part
of the ever-changing policy of the department to have officers drive official
cars home. The idea was that a 'home fleet' would help impede neighborhood
crime. It would continue until some bean counter calculated unproductive
maintenance costs and mileage without credible return; then the policy would

Downtown Houston lay idle and empty in early morning
grayness; a rarity for a city that commonly throbbed with activity. Frank loved
this time of day. His city, his beat, and he had it all to himself. He took Rusk
southeast to the Southwest Freeway and turned right, cruising at a speed that
would not be possible in an hour or less. He smiled to himself as the few cars
he encountered slowed, regardless of the speed limit, when the drivers saw the
patrol car. He turned north on 610 loop and took the first exit, crossed under
the freeway to Post Oak and pulled into a coffee shop in the shadow of Galleria

"Hi, Frank," the woman behind the counter shouted
when he entered the door. "You're up early this morning."

"Morning, Thelma," Frank countered with a smile.
"I'm up early most mornings, but I usually try to drink my coffee in more
respectable establishments."

"Still trying to improve your reputation," Thelma
grinned as she placed a large, steaming, 'brown mug on the counter and remained
there, leaning on her elbows, her face close to Frank's. "You wouldn't
come here at all if your girlfriend didn't work next door." Frank smiled
and took a sip from the mug. "You and Paulette are still a number, right?"

"Yeah, we're sailin' at the moment."

"Too bad. If you ever get tired of her, I'll be right

"That's why I come here, Thelma. I never get tired of
seeing you."

"Yeah, right," Thelma said and straightened up,
reaching for her order pad with one hand as she pulled a pencil from behind her
ear with the other. "What'11 you have besides the coffee?"

"Two over easy, hash browns, sausage, patties not
links, and wheat toast."


"Yeah, orange, small."

"Be right up." She went to turn in the order and
left Frank alone with his coffee. He pulled his notebook from his pocket and
leafed through the pages he had written at the parking garage. He made side
notes from memory and studied his sketch of the scene. No clues. He looked at
the Polaroids taken of the victim. They struck him as pathetic; the dead man
was the size of a twelve-year old boy, dressed in a clown's costume with his
face painted—a broad white mouth, rosy cheeks, a red bulb for a nose and an orange
wig. There was not enough information to draw a profile of the killer, but
Frank had no doubt he was looking at one, probably the first, of a serial
killer's work.

Al Shuman had guessed the victim was Vietnamese; maybe some
veteran of the war who had freaked out, tut why the clown suit? Al was certain
the killer had dressed the body post-mortem. He saw Thelma coming with his
food. He put the notebook and photos away and glanced at his watch. Pauley
would just be getting up.

"Here you go, sweet cakes," Thelma said.
"Enjoy." She laid an early edition of the Chronicle beside the plate,
refilled his mug and carried the pot down the counter to two men dressed in
work clothes hovering over their cups.

Frank ate the breakfast, scanning the morning news and mulling
over the case. He had too little information. He considered interviewing some
Vietnamese he knew around town to see if anyone had reported a missing person.
He decided it was too early for an official report and most of the people he
knew lived and worked far from downtown. He finished eating and wiped his mouth
with a napkin, then fished out enough money to pay for the meal and leave a
generous tip. He gulped the last of his coffee and waved goodbye to Thelma as
she moved toward a man in a booth near the window.

Outside, he sat in the patrol car and punched in Pauley's
number on his cell phone. When she answered, she said she was pulling into the
parking area for the Galleria. He did not mention the case, but explained he
would be too busy to meet her for lunch, before heading for the office.

Traffic was picking up. He followed the 610 loop north to
Memorial Drive, then headed east through the southern edge of Memorial Park
golf course and along the north side of Buffalo Bayou to Reisner Street and
Police Headquarters. He entered the building, milling with the crowd arriving
for the morning shift.

When he reached his office, he poured a cup of coffee from
the perennial Bunn coffee maker and settled into his desk chair. He took a sip
of the bitter, "bottom of the pot" coffee and turned on his computer.
While the machine booted, he went to a tall storage cabinet and removed a new,
blue folder and several forms with punched three-ring holes. When he finished
recording the information he had from his inspection, he searched the case
files for any information on homicides involving Vietnamese. By the time he
satisfied himself that he had all the background that might help from that
venue, he was ready for another cup of coffee. Before he could get out of his chair,
the phone rang.

"Rivers, Homicide," he barked, leaning back.

"Detective Rivers, would you come to my office,
please?" It was Lieutenant Barker. Her voice always sounded polite and
cordial over the phone, but she seldom called Frank to her office of late when
it had been good news.

"I'm on my way, Lieutenant," he answered, and
heard the click of her hanging up. As he made his way to her office, he tried
to recall if he had done anything recently to incur her wrath. He rapped on the
opaque glass of the door and turned the knob. He was surprised to see a woman
sitting quietly in a side chair near the wall to his left. He gave the visitor
a glance, taking in her appearance: Black, short-cropped hair like a man,
full-bodied, wide serious mouth, large silver earrings of geometric design,
hands folded in her lap and dark quizzical eyes staring at him. Frank decided
she was a cop.

BOOK: Send Out The Clowns (Frank River Series)
9.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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