This posting features Chapter 57 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
Steve Harris was lying in the back of a speeding patrol car when a pimple-faced officer he did not recognize reached over the front seat and handed him a cell phone. “It’s for you,” the officer said.
Slowly, Steve sat up and took the phone.
“Just push the ‘send’ button.”
“Thanks.” He did as he had been instructed and held the phone to his face. “Hello?”
“Is this Steve Harris?”
“Mr. Harris, I’m Captain Brent Marsh of the Alabama State Police. Please hold the line for Detective Scott Petty of the Lakeland Police Department.”
Another voice came on the line, higher pitched and less authoritative than Captain Marsh’s voice. “Uh, Mr. Harris — can you hear me, sir?”
“There’s a lot of static on my end.”
“Well, I can hear you just fine.”
“Mr. Harris, I’m Scott Petty. I work with Chief Paul Hewson in the Lakeland Police Department.”
“Now that Chief Hewson is gone, I will be temporarily handling the investigation — along with the police in Georgia and Alabama and the FBI, of course.”
Steve scratched his head. The movement sent a shock wave of pain traveling through his body. He grimaced. “What do you mean ‘now that Chief Hewson is gone’?”
Petty paused. When he finally spoke, he stammered. “S-surely you know about the accident. It’s all over the news.”
Steve’s heart pounded like a steel drum jammed into his chest. “I haven’t seen the news lately, detective. What happened?”
“Oh, man.” His voice grew muffled as though he had covered the receiver and was speaking to someone else.
“Detective? Detective, are you still there?”
“Yes. Sorry about that. It must be static.”
“It’s not static. I can hear you fine now.”
“I-I just naturally assumed — ”
“Can you just tell me what’s going on?”
“I’m sorry. If I had known — ”
“Uh, right.” Petty launched into a disjointed narrative outlining Chief Hewson’s decision to join Dana Dotson and her cameraman in the Channel 11 news helicopter as they raced to Demopolis, Alabama, in pursuit of the story and the action. He also filled in missing fragments of the tale, including new details about the fate of Steve’s attorney, Gregg Stacey, who had been found, along with his secretary, dead and stuffed into a utility closet outside his office.
“We’re pretty sure it’s the work of one man.”
“Yes, sir. That’s right. We think he’s working for Tony Marciano.”
“Oh, it’s Marciano, all right.”
“Anyway, that’s what we know at this point.”
Steve collapsed onto the back seat of the patrol car as he listened. He interrupted only once more, to ask whether Tony Marciano could have engineered the helicopter collision.
“I suppose it’s possible,” Petty conceded, “but all indications suggest it was a freak accident between the news helicopter and the police helicopter. Probably wind shear when they got too close.”
“Wind shear. The world turns on wind shear.”
“Sir, we’re here,” the pimply-faced officer said.
Steve nodded, rubbing his eyes. With the cell phone still pressed to his face, he sat up. The pain washed over him again, but he sucked it up with a sharp intake of breath. The officer opened the car door and Steve fought his way to his feet.
“Do you need a wheelchair?” the young man asked.
“So, anyway, I’m sorry you had to hear it this way,” Scott Petty concluded. “I thought you knew.”
Steve leaned against the patrol car. “So what happens now?”
“Well, sir, now we try to find Tremblor. We’re also putting the squeeze on Tony Marciano.”
“Putting the squeeze on him? How so?”
Petty summarized the plan he had conceived for pressuring the boss into cooperating.
When he had finished, Steve spoke in a small voice. “That’s brilliant. I though Marciano was squeeze-proof, but it just might work.”
“Thank you, sir. We hope so.”
The wheelchair and a nurse arrived at the patrol car. “They’re taking me into the ER now. I want you to do something for me, detective.”
“While you work on Marciano, I want to work on Tremblor.”
“How do you propose to do that?”
“I want you to inform the news media where I am.”
With his mind racing, Steve looked up at the sign over the hospital door. “It’s the Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.” He turned to the nurse. “Is this still Demopolis?”
“Tell the media I’m still here in Demopolis. I’m at the hospital. I want to do some on-camera interviews after I’m in a room.”
Petty seemed perplexed. “Okay. I can do that.”
“And I don’t want police protection. That point needs to come out during the interview. Maybe we can plant a question with someone in the media. I bet Channel 11 would be willing to cooperate.”
“Let’s see if we can smoke out Dave Tremblor. I’m hoping he’ll catch the news and recognize the opportunity to tie up a loose end.”