An old chum asks Stanley Korski for a favor. Her brother has been arrested on a manslaughter charge. Could Stanley come to investigate
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Victor J. Banis is an Author
Homicide Inspector Stanley Korski ison leave when an old chum calls and asks him to investigate a manslaughter charge against her brother. A perfect vacation in Bear Mountain, expenses paid, and what danger could there be? This wasn't a murder, just a tragic accident.
Wrong, Stanley. Deadly wrong.
The Bear Mountain police station was an unremarkable cinder block building just across from the local post office. There were none of the elaborate security precautions you found in the San Francisco stations. Apparently mountain bad guys were less prone to murderous rages aimed at the constabulary.
A uniformed officer sat behind a check in counter working at a computer. He stood when Stanley came in and walked to the counter.
"'Hep you?" he asked.
Stanley showed him his badge and his SFPD identity. "I'm looking into a local crime. Unofficially, of course, just a favor for an old friend. I thought it best to check in with you first, just to let you know I was in the area."
The officer took the ID, looked from it to Stanley, sizing him up in a way with which Stanley was all too familiar, not quite managing to suppress a smile, like a patient parent smiling at something silly but cute her kid has done.
"Well, see, we don't have any unsolved cases at present," the officer said. "Maybe there's been a mistake."
"The Carl Hunter case," Stanley said. "His sister called me, asked me to check things out."
The officer's smile faded. He stared blankly at Stanley for a long moment. "Wait here," he said finally, indicating a row of wooden chairs along one wall. He waited for Stanley to seat himself on one of the chairs, as if he suspected Stanley might try to follow him, before he disappeared through a door behind the counter, taking Stanley's ID with him.
The wait was a lengthy one. Stanley got up and strolled to the window to look out. He could see the lake from here. How cold would the water be? He was a swimmer, had been a diver in high school, but he preferred the heated water of a pool. Natural bodies of water made him uncomfortable, wondering what might be lurking under the surface. He thought of those vegetarian piranhas. Was there really such a thing? And Libby hadn't said about sharks, or giant man-eating squid. He flashed on a scene from a movie, this enormous giant squid, and divers… wasn't it John Wayne?
The officer reappeared. He opened a gate at one end of the counter. "Chief'd like to see you," he said.
Stanley gave him a cheery smile, unreturned, and walked past him. The officer nodded toward the door at the rear, standing open.
A tall, beefy man in uniform was just getting up from a desk as Stanley came through it. He stretched across the desk to offer Stanley his hand. "Chief Burger," he said, "Bear Mountain Police," and indicated a chair to Stanley. "Have a seat, Officer…" he paused to look down at Stanley's ID.
"Korski. Inspector Stanley Korski. San Francisco Homicide."
The chief smiled at him, rather patronizingly, Stanley thought. "Well, Inspector Korski," emphasizing the title, "welcome to Bear Mountain. Bound to be a big change from Frisco but I think you'll find it a beautiful place to visit. We're awfully proud of our little town."
Stanley cringed. Locals hated to hear the city called Frisco. It was San Francisco or, just "The City."
"Yes. It's lovely, isn't it?" Stanley agreed.
The chief' grew more serious. "Only thing is," he said, handing Stanley's card and badge across the desk, "Officer Patterson said you were looking into a homicide. We haven't had a homicide in four, maybe five years. I'm a little confused…"
"Carl Hunter," Stanley said.
The Chief's chuckle was just short of a guffaw. "Well, now, you see, that isn't really a homicide case, more of an involuntary manslaughter. And there isn't anything to look into, not any more. Never really was. Boy killed another fellow. They were quarreling, Carl pushed the kid, the kid hit his head on a rock when he fell. It was accidental, which is why it's manslaughter and not homicide. Still, the other fellow is just as dead as if it were deliberate, and this Carl Hunter, he confessed to it right off the bat, so…"
"I understood he'd changed his story later."
The Chief sighed. "If you've investigated very many homicides," he said, and paused to give Stanley time to tell him how many. Stanley didn't. It had only been one case, but he didn't see any point in bringing that into it. "You'll know," the Chief went on after a significant silence, "that's a fairly common occurrence. They get to thinking about what's going to happen to them, they talk to a slick lawyer, he convinces them to change their story…"
"I don't think this was lawyer's advice. I think Carl decided on his own that his first statements had been wrong."
"Have you talked to Carl yet?"
"Actually, no, I…"
"Do you know him?"
"Only slightly. I mean, I knew him a long time ago, when he was little. I'm more acquainted with his sister, actually, Libby. Do you know her?"
Again, the barely suppressed grin. "Yes. We know Libby Hunter. Most folks hereabouts know her." Translated, Stanley thought, they knew she was a lesbian. A San Francisco queen and a local lesbian, his attitude seemed to say, how important could their concerns be?
"Carl Hunter is, I don't know any polite way to say this, but the boy is a born loser. He's been a royal pain in the backside for years. I don't mean he's done anything really bad, up till now. He hasn't, far as I know. But I don't know how many times we've picked him up, busted him."
The Chief shrugged. "All kinds of shit. Little stuff. Truancy. Drugs, a lot. Mostly drugs, I guess, mostly marijuana, a few pills, nothing hard core. Drunk, too, even when he was little. You know, it's kind of sad when you've got to pick up a twelve year old for drunk. And disorderly."
"That was the time he was taking a piss in old lady Bryant's back yard, in broad daylight, where she didn't have to more than look out her kitchen window to see him. Like I said, nothing serious, just all the time like he was on a different track from the rest of the world."
He paused as if considering what he'd said, and nodded his head, satisfied with it. "A born loser," he said again.
"Still, like you say, nothing serious, just the kind of stuff a wayward kid does."
"I don't know how many kids take daylight pisses in somebody's yard. When they know the woman's at home, right there where she can see them."
Maybe he wanted her to admire what was on display, Stanley thought. Boys did like to show off, especially if they have something to show off. But he thought better of saying that aloud. Maybe boys were different in the mountains. Though he sort of doubted it.
The Chief cocked his head, grinning. "Did they tell you there was a witness?"
Stanley's eyebrows went up. "No."
The grin got broader, kind of a "gotcha" look. He nodded his head. "Anetta Beasley. She saw them together, just before the, uh, the accident. That's why I asked how well you knew this Carl Hunter. It seems him and Donnie—that's the dead boy's name, Donnie McIntosh—seems they were engaged in, how should I put this?" His lips pursed, disapproving. "Mrs. Beasley said they were fornicating. Orally."
Stanley had to think about that. "I'm not sure what that means, exactly."
It was the Chief's turn to raise an eyebrow. "No? I'd have thought you would. I mean, coming from San Francisco and all. It's the sort of thing doesn't happen much here, this being the kind of town it is. A man's town, you know what I’m saying. Guys around here, they most of them drive pick up trucks, wear boots, that kind of thing. But, now, San Francisco, you hear about all the queers there, I just figured…" He shrugged.
"Yes. I've heard that too, about San Francisco." Stanley couldn't help thinking of the gay men he knew in San Francisco who wore boots and drove pick up trucks. "What I meant was, fornicate doesn't usually refer to oral sex. That means sexual intercourse—you know, one individual poking in and out of the other."
The Chief scowled and held up a hand in warning. "I'd just as leave not hear any details of these activities. If it's all the same to you. I go to church on Sunday mornings, every Sunday. I don't want to take that kind of filth along inside of me, to the Lord's embarrassment."
"I understand. The Lord knows, I wouldn't want him embarrassed. My point was, it's generally one or the other. Fornicating or oral sex. So I've heard, anyway."
"Is that right? I'll have to take your word for it, I wouldn't know about that. Like I said, it's not the sort of thing goes on here in Bear Mountain. I expect that's about the first time it's ever come up."
You might be surprised what comes up, and when, Stanley thought, but did not say. He'd known more than a few of those outdoor types who were all woman under their macho garb, and he'd be very surprised if there weren't a few of them around Bear Mountain. But he decided for the moment it was best not to shock the Chief with that information. Plus, it might be better for the fornicators, too, if the local police remained blissfully unaware of their presence.
"And this witness, she saw the accident, how it happened?"
"Not exactly, no. Not all of it. She was disgusted when she saw what they was up to. You can understand that, I reckon. A good Christian woman."
"Absolutely. So, what exactly did she see, this Christian woman?"
"Enough. You understand, she didn't hang around for the whole show. Can't say I blame her any for that, being disgusted as she was, and all. See, what happened was, she was looking out her bedroom window, happened to see what was going on between those two, the oral fornicating business, just plain didn't care to see any more. So she pulled her curtains closed. But, she looked out the window again a few minutes later…"
"Changed her mind, evidently."
The Chief ignored the sarcasm, if he even noticed it. "By that time, they'd finished what they had been doing, apparently. They were standing now, arguing. Pretty fierce, she says. Then Carl, he gives the other boy, Donnie, a big shove, and Donnie falls to the ground, and Carl stomps off. Mrs. Beasley, she says she didn't pay them any more mind until Donnie was found later that night, dead. Like I said, he hit his head on a rock when Carl knocked him down. She told my officers what she had seen, and when they went to pick up Carl, he told them, yes, that was how it had happened, just the way she said. So, they arrested him. Like I told you, there's no mystery about any of it."
Stanley thought about all that. On the surface, it certainly sounded like everything was cut and dry. Still, he had promised Libby. And he was getting a vacation out of it, even if several of his planned activities had been curtailed. "It doesn't sound like there is, I'll admit," he said.
The Chief leaned back in his chair, crossed short fingered hands across his belly, regarded Stanley for a moment.
"Look, I'll tell you what. You talk to Carl, okay? You tell him, things will be a lot simpler for him if he just takes his punishment like a man instead of making a lot of fuss. Won't be any major punishment either, I reckon. He pleads guilty, chances are he'll get off with a slap on the hand. No biggie. If it comes to a trial, well, who knows what a judge will hit him with? He could find himself in prison for a few years. Not the pleasantest place for a young man, so I hear."
"I'll tell him that," Stanley said. "In the meantime, I hope there won't be a problem with my looking around while I'm here, see if I turn up anything that might be of interest? To your investigation, I mean."
"You're welcome to look around, course, if it makes you feel better. Unofficially. You learn anything new, you come to me with it, okay? This is Bear Mountain's business. I'm just extending you a professional courtesy. Policeman to policeman." He actually managed to keep a straight face when he said that.
"I appreciate it."
The Chief got up from his chair to indicate that the interview was over. "Course, so far as turning up anything of interest to our investigation, as you put it, bear in mind, our investigation is over. A boy is dead. We know how it happened and who did it. Nothing much more to investigate, the way I see it. Inspector," he added.
Stanley got up too. "Then it can't hurt anything if I sniff around a bit," he said.
"I guess it can't hurt anything."
For all the good you'll do, his expression said.