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Authors: Michael Bowen

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Service Dress Blues

BOOK: Service Dress Blues
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Service Dress Blues

Service Dress Blues

Michael Bowen

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2009 by Michael Bowen

First Edition 2009

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2009924174

ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-667-9 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-1-61595-317-2 Epub

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.

Poisoned Pen Press

6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103

Scottsdale, AZ 85251

www.poisonedpenpress.com

[email protected]

Dedication

This story is dedicated to MEB, RN.

Author's Note

Service Dress Blues
is a work of fiction. The characters depicted do not exist, and the events described did not take place. They are products of the author's imagination. Conversely, any perception of a resemblance between characters or events in this story and characters and events in the real world will be the product of an overactive imagination on the part of the person doing the perceiving.

Chapter 1

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hell is knowing what you're missing. Gunnery Sergeant (Ret.) Champ Mayer had heard that from a chaplain somewhere, and he figured the padre was onto something. The constable loitering at the Cloverleaf Motel's registration desk, for example, was missing plenty about the naked guy on the floor. Soon Mayer would clue him in and make his life hell in the process.

Right now, though, Mayer was concentrating on the naked guy himself—kid, really, nineteen if he was that.

Pinching the kid's nose shut and pinning his tongue roughly against the back of his front teeth, Mayer locked lips with him for the eighth time. A gale-force lungful of breath redolent of Jim Beam and Skoal rushed down the kid's windpipe. Mayer rocked back on his heels and released the nose. He kept the tongue pinned, though. He hadn't liked fishing it back from down the kid's throat, and he didn't want to do it again.

That one did it. With a hint of a shudder, the kid started breathing again. The breaths were shallow and the kid was still out like a boot after a twenty-mile night-hike, but he was breathing. Mayer released the tongue.

Now he looked up at the constable, who was intently studying the monitor for the lobby's security camera. The video loop showed the kid striding up to the desk about forty minutes before, if the timer was right, with a bulging duffel bag in his left hand. In grainy black-and-white he set the bag down and with a looping, southpaw flourish signed a card the desk clerk pushed at him. Then he disappeared screen right and the loop started again. Mayer couldn't have said why, exactly, but he could tell the kid on that tape was a soldier.

The constable finally felt Mayer's gaze. Even in a faded checkerboard plaid flannel shirt and aging denim jeans and with every one of his fifty-two years showing in the salt-and-pepper stubble on his seamed face, Mayer came across as someone it would be imprudent to ignore. The constable turned his head and tried unsuccessfully to meet Mayer's eyes.

“An ambulance is on the way.”

“Well that's real good.” Mayer's tone asked whether the constable was expecting a medal or something. “When it gets here they're gonna want a name to plug into a computer for some medical history before they try anything too ambitious with this youngster. You got one for 'em?”

“No idea. Signed in as John Smith and paid cash. SOP at a flophouse like this. Whoever dosed him took his bag and everything else except his lighter. Even his cigarettes.”

Mayer glanced over at the young woman in shiny vinyl pants who was nervously smoking a few feet away. She washed her hands a lot, Mayer knew, but even so he could see a faint orange tinge on the tip of her left index finger. Nothing like that on the kid, and no tell-tale discoloration of his teeth.

“How do you know he had cigarettes?”

“The lighter.”

The woman took three baby steps and crouched next to Mayer to whisper at him.

“This is great, what you're doing, honey, but I'm on the clock.”

Mayer jovially smacked the damsel's rump and grinned at her.

“The commodore and I have things to talk about darlin', so why don't you just go warm up the sheets?”

With only a
pro forma
pout at the swat—after all, the customer is always right, at least if he doesn't go too far—she jumped to comply. She deftly caught a room key the clerk tossed to her. She and Mayer hadn't gotten around to registering yet, but the clerk didn't stand on formality with regulars.

“Do me a favor, constable,” Mayer said then. “Call the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and see if they're missing a mid—'cause if they are, that's where this kid oughta go.”

“It's almost midnight. No one's gonna answer the phone.”

“There's a midshipman on watch at every duty station twenty-four hours a day. They'll answer the phone all right.”

“But there must be two-thousand kids at that place. You think they're gonna know whether one of them missed bed-check?”

“There are more than four-thousand midshipmen in the brigade, divided into two regiments. Each regiment is divided into three battalions. Each battalion is divided into twenty companies. Each company has a company officer and two stripers in charge. And one of them for damn sure knows if he has a mid unaccounted for.”

“Why do you even think he's from the Academy? Just because he has a crewcut?”

That did it. A Camp Lejeune beam lit Mayer's eye. His left eyebrow twitched. When he spoke his words came in a deliberate, unhurried cadence and his voice was low, so that the constable unconsciously leaned forward as he strained to hear.

“Two reasons. First, this pillow shop is nineteen-point-four miles from the Academy, so it's within the twenty-two mile radius where a plebe with town liberty can legally go—and why would anyone his age come to a pissant dump like Fritchieburg if he could get laid in Baltimore or Washington? And second, that shoulder-board of yours wouldn't pass inspection at the Academy. You need one of these.”

He stopped talking long enough to dig his own lighter from his pocket. It was a brushed steel Zippo—the lighter that won World War II—embossed with a USMC globe-and-anchor seal. As he opened it and thumbed the friction wheel, a fragrant blue and orange flame popped up. The constable retreated, as if he thought Mayer were actually going to attack his epaulet with the lighter.

“Most midshipmen don't smoke these days, but they almost all use lighters to burn the fuzz off their shoulder-boards and melt shoe paste when they polish their shoes.”

“Look, we got priorities. Fritchieburg is part of a county-wide metro squad. This probably isn't the only kid got cold-cocked by a hooker in Anne Arundel County tonight.”

Mayer sighed.

“Constable, do you know the most important thing that's going to happen tomorrow?”

“Your day off, I hope.”

“The Army-Navy football game. Which will be attended by the Corps of Cadets from West Point and the Brigade of Midshipmen from Annapolis. And by the President of the United States. Who will start the game sitting on the Army side and at halftime cross the field and sit on the Navy side. All in front of something like eight-thousand cadets and midshipmen who've marched in without a security check. It's a hundred to one that whoever slipped this kid a mickey walked out of here with a United States military identification card and a duffel bag holding a service dress blue uniform. Someone in service dress blues will fit right in at that game.”

Mayer paused. The deputy blinked and swallowed. When Mayer spoke again, his voice was very, very quiet.

“Now you be makin' that call, son.”

Chapter 2

December 6-9, 2008

Ole Lindstrom never hit his wife except with his open hand, which in Loki, Wisconsin, made him a liberal. Lena liked to give as good as she got, and since Ole had six inches and sixty pounds on her she'd been known to use blunt objects to even the odds a bit. When deputy sheriff Moose Svenson saw Ole lying on his living room rug with his scraggly, gray-blond hair stuck in a pool of his own blood, Lena would have been his prime suspect even if she hadn't been standing there with a cast iron skillet dripping something red onto the orange shag carpet.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say—”

“Skip it, I didn't do it. You got a cigarette?”

Svenson sighed and an exasperated
it's-just-not-fair
expression spoiled his broad face. Lena had told him—more than once—about how a Chicago cop had billy-clubbed her across the backs of her thighs at the 1968 Democratic National Convention for just
standing there
. Everyone in Sylvanus County had heard the story at one time or another. But he didn't see why she had to take her negative attitude about law enforcement officers out on him, disrespecting him this way when he was just trying to clean up Loki's first major crime in three winters. He looked at her—snow white hair tied back in a neat bun, rosy red cheeks courtesy of the Northwest Ordinance Tavern around the corner and six country blocks up County Highway M, nowhere close to drunk even if her robin's egg blue eyes were a little glassy—and sighed again.

“Lena, I got to read this to you. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be taken down—”

The doorbell rang. Without waiting for an answer an EMT swung the storm door open so that his partner could wheel a gurney into the room and over to Ole's body. Moose managed to finish reading Lena her rights while the two med techs examined Ole.

“Why aren't you going after the guy who broke in here and conked Ole?”

“Didn't you hear what I just read? Don't say anything. Anything you say I got to write down and tell in court.”

“Well you write down that I found the back door wide open when I got back from Northwest Ordinance.”

“Lena, you're
holding
the frying pan he got hit with.”

“Well of course I am. It's evidence.”

Svenson face reflexively morphed into a
why-me-Lord?
expression.

“Lena Lindstrom, you are under arrest for the murder of Ole Lindstrom. Now put down that frying pan and—”

“Attempted murder,” the first med tech said. “Looks like Ole needed more killing than Lena had in her. I think he's gonna make it.”

Moose wasn't buying that. The first thing he'd done when he came in was check for a pulse and if Ole still had one Moose had missed it. He might not be dead
yet
, but no way he was gonna make it.

Moose would linger in stubborn disbelief on this point until the following Tuesday morning, when Ole showed up at the Sylvanus County Justice Center in Appleburg to bail Lena out. Ole was heavily bandaged and looked even more short-tempered than usual, which was saying something. It took considerable gumption for Moose to approach him.

“Lena says there was an intruder,” Moose said while Ole was fussing with the paperwork.

“You caught him yet?”

“Did you see an intruder?”

“I got hit in the back of the head. I didn't see nothing but stars and I didn't see them for long. Don't suppose you found any footprints, did you?”

“Only three-hundred or so. You guys might wanna think about shoveling that driveway once in awhile.”

“Yeah, that's on my list.” Ole pushed the bail papers across the counter to a uniformed clerk.

“Ole, I haven't heard you say she didn't do it yet.”

“You haven't heard me say you're a goddamn Republican, either, but that doesn't mean it ain't so.”

“We've got to talk about this sometime soon.”

“Listen,” Ole said. “I ought to be lying in a hospital bed right this minute. But this blessed country doesn't have a rational health care system, so some desk jockey at an insurance company told the doctors to kick me out with a handful of ibuprofen and a pat on the back. For the next couple of days I'm not gonna be talking to anyone except Lena Lindstrom, and I won't be saying much to her.”

A heavy metal door with a diamond pattern of steel wire covering its opaque glass panel swung open. Lena and a matron stepped through.

“You'll be sorry you stuck me in that jail cell, Moose Svenson,” she said as the door began to swing shut. “I told all the ladies you're holding what their rights are, and I gave them the number for Legal Action of  Wisconsin. When the sheriff is up to his neck in writs, you just tell him you're to blame.”

Moose met this pronouncement with a prudent stoicism. Lena swiveled her gaze to Ole.

“How are we getting home?”

“Gary fetched the Ford. It's waiting outside.”

“He's good for something, anyway. Let's go.”

They left the imposing granite and cream city brick building that housed Appleburg's police department along with the Sylvanus County Jail, its sheriff's offices, and the precincts of a few county officials without enough pull to get offices in the courthouse two blocks away. The steps and sidewalk had been shoveled and ice-scraped down to bare pavement, for it's hard to survive an upper Midwestern winter psychologically if you don't fight for small and temporary victories against the snow and ice. They found the Ford hybrid SUV right where Ole had told Gary Carlsen to park it and climbed into the thing—Ole at the wheel, bandaged head and all—without exchanging a word.

Their silence continued for the first ten minutes of their drive. When Lena saw Appleburg in the rear view mirror and spotted the sign saying Loki was ten miles away, she spoke.

“You figure I need a lawyer?”

“If you don't then no one ever will, I guess.”

“How about whoozit, Thorstrom or whatever, back in Appleburg?”

“He's a goddamn Republican.”

“Everyone in Sylvanus County is a Republican except you and me and a couple of English professors at Joliet University—and I'm not even sure about them.”

“Plus Thad Thorstrom couldn't win a case against a drunk Indian if he had his mother on the jury.”

Lena waited for Ole to say something more. When a full mile had clicked past on the odometer without another syllable from her husband, she spoke up again.

“You don't think I'm the one who whaled on your brain-pan, do you? 'Cause if I'd done it you would've been halfway to Valhalla before you hit the floor, I guess.”

“No, I don't figure it was you. What I do figure is I'm going to be paying a lawyer instead of going to the inauguration in Washington, D.C. next month—that's what
I
figure.”

Ole slapped the steering wheel with the heel of his right hand. Lena could tell he was struggling to keep the Viking
berserkers
in his DNA from making him do something that would generate more paperwork for Deputy Svenson. They finished the rest of the ride in silence.

As soon as they got in the back door, Ole went straight to a large room on the other end of the house, tacked on to the back almost as an afterthought. A wood-carved sign over the door read “Gaylord Nelson Democratic Club of Sylvanus County.” If there had been an intruder, it figured he was after something and Ole wanted to see if anything was missing. Lena went to the living room to check the voice mail that had piled up while she and Ole were guests of the county.

Against the background of the droning, indistinct, mechanical recorded voice from the answering machine in the living room, Ole checked the computer and the drum of CD ROMs next to it. Then he checked the rack of hand-labeled DVDs. They were really the only things of more than sentimental value in the room unless you were heavily into American flags which, furled and unfurled and in a variety of sizes, stood ready along one entire wall for the next rally or public announcement Ole organized.

He found nothing amiss. Then a sudden, panicky thought fluttered across his semisedated brain. Hands trembling a bit, he pulled open the thigh-level drawer above the white oak storage cabinet that defined the door end of a secretary/credenza stretching across most of the room's front wall.

He saw the key and sighed with relief. He picked the thing up, as if to assure himself of its reality, and then laid it back in the drawer's curved tray with some paperclips and rubber bands. With a rare and silent prayer of thanksgiving, he gently closed the drawer.

Lena's voice, shrill and imperative with a tinge of angry panic, shattered his momentarily mellow mood.

“Ole Lindstrom, get in here.”

Sighing heavily, he left the club room and lumbered down the hallway into the living room. He winced a bit as he noticed the stain his own blood and tissue had left in the carpet.

“For planning purposes, woman, is this just a hissy-fit or am I in for the full-blown psycho-bitch from hell routine?”

“Shut up.” Her voice was now strangely subdued. She stood slouched at the end table where the phone sat. Her head was bowed in what someone other than Ole might have mistaken for submission.

“What is it, then?”

“Harry's in trouble. Pretty big trouble, maybe.”

“At the Academy?”

“Where else, you think? Ole, we got to get a lawyer damn quick I guess.”

Ole blinked at this new information. His head throbbed, and his body screamed simultaneously for caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, but data were somehow getting through. One was pertinent.

“What day is it?”

“Tuesday.”

“I'm seeing a lawyer tomorrow afternoon. From Milwaukee. Gary is supposed to pick the feller up in Appleburg and run him out here so he doesn't kill himself on the way. I'll talk to him.”

“Better call Gary and remind him. Otherwise he'll be resting on his Laurels tomorrow instead of running that errand.” She straightened from the subdued stoop and looked straight at him, a spark in her eye and a half-smile playing at her lips. “That's what I said, Ole Lindstrom. ‘Laurels,' with a capital L.”

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