“We need your help, Detective Summers.”
I put down the Sports section and moved my size twelves from their perch on my desk so I could get a better look at Deputy Chief Maria Ortega. The view was worth it. She had legs that went beyond the call of duty and could throw more curves at you than a Cy Young winner. Twenty years ago I never thought I’d be under a woman like her. Not in the professional sense, anyway.
“What brings you in so late, Chief?” I asked.
“Another Krispy Kreme arson. Over by Soldier Field.”
I grunted. The young kids would take the news hard. Personally, I prefer donuts you could play horseshoes with and coffee stronger than a Bears linebacker. But without their KK fix, these new kids wouldn’t be worth tits on a lizard.
“I’ll see what I can do, Chief.”
I rolled my old Chevy up to the crime scene just past midnight. I left the lights on and climbed out. All that remained of the Kreme was a few charred timbers and piles of smoldering soot. The whole block smelled like a chain-smoker’s ashtray. I found a young cop sitting on the curb, his red-rimmed eyes glazed with the thousand yard stare of a man who’d seen one tragedy too many.
“Excuse me, son . . .” I began.
“It’s . . . gone,” he muttered.
I patted his shoulder to give him some strength. My partner had that same look, back in ’69 or ’70, after the orphanage fire. It took the shrinks a year to get him talking in multiple syllables.
A portly civilian stood near the KK’s remains, his loose jowls jiggling as he shook his head. I walked up and flashed my shield. “You the owner?”
He sighed. “Manager. At least I was. Jacob Mallows.”
I took out my notebook. “Any idea what happened?”
“Just like the others; someone broke the back door window, climbed in and set the fire.”
“How do you know that?”
He pointed. “I’d just closed and got to my car when I remembered some paperwork I needed. I saw some black kids running out the back. I chased them for a block, but they got away. By the time I returnedÂ .Â .Â . ”
I scowled. My instincts told me this guy was dirtier than a bus station men’s room. “Don’t look like you worked up much of a sweat.”
He glared at me, but kept his flabby jowls shut.
I walked over to the back door. The frame and door were still upright, but leaning like a drunk on Fat Tuesday. Broken glass lay scattered around. Mallows followed, watching me carefully.
“Looks like the glass blew out, rather than in,” I observed. Fat Boy squirmed in his fifty-dollar suit. I pulled on a pair of latex gloves, bent over and carefully picked up some shards. “Interesting.” I pulled out my magnifying glass and examined them in the beam of my Impala’s headlights. “You see these edges?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Mallows answered cautiously.
“Clean break. That’s caused by fire. If someone breaks in, the edges have curved stress lines from the impact. I’d guess this door was opened with a key. You have a key on you, Mr. Mallows?”
Fat boy squirmed some more.
“I don’t much care for all these new hi-tech gadgets the youngsters got,” I said. “But there’s one I do like: it’s called a Gas Chromatograph. They can test the remnants of the accelerant used, say gasoline, and match it to a liquid sample. Is that your car over there?” I pointed.
He made a break for it, but I guess all those free Krispy Kremes came with a price. I may be pushing sixty, but I had him on the ground quicker than a four dollar hooker.
“Good job, Summers,” Ortega said, a fifty-thousand watt smile complementing her big brown eyes. “Mallows was our guy. Insurance scam with the owner.”
I nodded. This time I didn’t move my feet; I had a good enough view where they were.
She sat on the corner of my desk. “You know, Summers, if you were twenty years younger . . .”
I arched an eyebrow at her. “Yes, Ma’am?”
She grinned. “I’d say that you had a hell of a career ahead of you.” She stood and left the room, hips rolling like the ocean on a good day.
I just smiled and turned back to the Sports section.
Copyright 2009 T. L. Burlison
All rights reserved