Nate Rosen Investigates, page 1part #1 of Nate Rosen Investigates Series
NATE ROSEN INVESTIGATES
© Ronald Levitsky 2019
Ronald Levitsky has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in 2019 by Endeavour Media Ltd.
Table of Contents
THE LOVE THAT KILLS
THE TRUTH THAT KILLS
THE SPIRIT THAT KILLS
THE INNOCENCE THAT KILLS
THE LOVE THAT KILLS
Table of Contents
Chapter One – MONDAY MORNING
Chapter Two – MONDAY MORNING
Chapter Three – MONDAY
Chapter Four – TUESDAY MORNING
Chapter Five – WEDNESDAY MORNING
Chapter Six – WEDNESDAY
Chapter Seven – THURSDAY MORNING
Chapter Eight – THURSDAY EVENING
Chapter Nine – FRIDAY MORNING
Chapter Ten – FRIDAY AFTERNOON
Chapter Eleven – WEDNESDAY MORNING
Chapter Twelve – WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON
Chapter Thirteen – WEDNESDAY EVENING
Chapter Fourteen – THURSDAY MORNING
Chapter Fifteen – THURSDAY AFTERNOON
Chapter Sixteen – THURSDAY AFTERNOON
Chapter Seventeen – THURSDAY EVENING
Chapter Eighteen – FRIDAY MORNING
Chapter One – MONDAY MORNING
Musket Shoals, Virginia, was a town whose fences Tom Sawyer might have painted and whose residents still blinked twice when they read “murder” in the newspaper. Like the front page lying face up on the passenger seat of Jimmy Wilkes’s car, as he turned onto Ocean Drive going into work. He kept glancing from the drumming water on the windshield to the headlines. So, one of the Vietnamese had finally gotten killed.
The rain had ruined his whole weekend—his wife and kids down with colds, the family barbecue canceled—and now Monday morning wet and colorless as if smeared with his younger daughter’s gray Crayola. As he drove up the promontory and saw that even the great ocean was obscured in fog, Wilkes thought of his ancestors, smugglers of Revolutionary and Confederate days, slipping through the blockade to shore by sense of touch, while he crept through the rain to avoid slipping into a ditch. Already late for work but, as was his custom on such melancholy days of sun and soul, Wilkes stopped to visit Thomas Jefferson.
Opening the car door he walked to the point of the promontory where the bust of Jefferson, resting on a granite pedestal, jutted from the guardrail. Raindrops dribbled from the bust’s head and collar, tumbling across its shoulders into a stream racing around Wilkes’s feet. Jefferson’s face was barely distinguishable, the bronze having turned green long ago and the nose worn from tourists rubbing it for good luck. But Wilkes didn’t need to see the face; just standing there was enough to send a rush of warmth through his body.
Jefferson had stopped here once, while on vacation during his first administration, and made a few obligatory comments about Musket Shoals being a bastion of liberty. It was enough for a grateful citizenry to erect this monument, so two hundred years later Wilkes could gaze at his hero and reflect upon the ideals of justice, equality, and the essential dignity of man. And one thing more. Julius Caesar had wept in jealousy before the statue of Alexander the Great. Looking at Jefferson, Wilkes reminded himself that at forty, after nine years as a servant of the people, he was still only an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for the county. Not that he ever felt like crying; he hadn’t the ego of Caesar. But it was worth a slow shake of the head and, on that gray morning, a shiver.
He felt the puddle seeping into his shoes. That and the drivers of passing cars slowing to stare put him back inside his automobile to continue down Ocean Drive past the patched-up Vietnamese fishing boats, lights from their lanterns drifting ghostlike in the fog. Like a funeral procession of spirits for the woman who had been murdered, Wilkes thought as he glanced once again at the newspaper. What would her family do—send her out on a burning boat from America the Promised Land back to the realm of her ancestors? Murray Saunders would no doubt be assigned prosecution of the case; he was the specialist in crimes of violence.
Wilkes turned on the radio. After a few minutes of music and commercials, the news came on with the murder as its lead story:
“A few hours before dawn, in the Vietnamese neighborhood commonly known as the Paddy, police discovered the body of a young Vietnamese woman named Nguyen Thi Nhi. She had been shot through the heart. The woman was found in her apartment behind her parents’ tailor shop. Police have already taken a suspect into custody. We have this recorded statement, first run during our seven a.m. broadcast, from Lt. Louis Canary, who is in charge of the investigation:
“‘The murder weapon has been recovered from a trash bin in the alley outside the victim’s apartment. Fingerprint identification led to our obtaining a warrant for the arrest of Edison Basehart, who we found in his bait and tackle shop at approximately five o’clock this morning. Although verbally insulting, he didn’t give any trouble as my men took him down to county jail. The police department is in the process of conducting a thorough investigation. That’s all I can say for now.’”
Canary spoke with a soft sure drawl. Having worked with the detective years before on an insurance fraud, Wilkes remembered him as a large, pear-shaped man who blew smoke rings the size of donuts. Respecting nothing more than himself, Canary was the kind of machine that once set in motion rarely failed.
The rain let up enough so that Wilkes could distinguish the long regular piers of the Tyler Yacht Club. Sails were drawn against their masts like the wings of sleeping birds. The road dipped starboard, almost close enough for him to reach out and touch the clubhouse flag, then rolled back toward shore and began its gradual descent to the downtown area. Ten minutes later Wilkes was passing the last rows of neat little shops and tourist traps, all white with blue or green trim. He turned the corner to park in his reserved space in front of the courthouse. All the other spaces were already filled except for his boss’s, but this was the first day of Simpson’s vacation. Still, Wilkes half-expected to see the space occupied.
The offices of Commonwealth’s Attorney were on the second floor, above the police station and courtrooms. Wilkes shared a common reception area with Murray Saunders and their boss, Edgar Simpson. Walking through the double doors Wilkes saw that Martha, his secretary, was not at her desk but heard her inside Saunders’s office. Entering his own office, Wilkes removed his coat and shook off the rain. His feet felt damp, so he laid his shoes and socks beside the heat register, sat behind his desk, and thumbed through the sheaf of papers spread before him.
It was the Randolph Canning Company file, a case he had just adjudicated. An environmental issue—his “specialty”—involving violations of the state’s air and water pollution standards. He had won, after three years of investigation, research, interviewing witnesses, and two trials, so that a multimillion dollar company paid a $5,000 fine and promised never again to poison its neighbors. He shook his head, pushing the papers to the edge of his desk, and tried to think of the case as Jefferson would have—a victory of yeoman farmers over the sinister smokestacks of industry, but he had been through enough of these prosecutions to know they never amounted to much.
People didn’t really care about dead fish or a little soot on their laundry. Not like an armed robbery or, even better, a murder—like that Vietnamese woman who had just been shot to death. That was something people could feel in the pit of their stomachs. That was why they turned on the eleven o’clock news. Murray Saunders knew it, knew how to arch his brow on television when promising to get tough on crime. He talked about his conv
A knock at the door, and Martha walked in. She was old enough to be Wilkes’s mother and acted like it. “I was worried when you didn’t come in on time, with the rain and all. How are Ellie and the children?”
“Working through a box of Kleenex an hour with their colds. Any messages?”
“The boss wants you to run over to his house right away.”
“Edgar? He’s on vacation. Can’t I just call him?”
She shook her head. “Wants to see you in person.”
“I just take the messages. I think Saunders knows. He had me into his office, after I took Mr. Simpson’s call, and pumped me like I was a well needing to be primed. Then he kicked me out and reached for the phone. Dollars to donuts he called the boss.”
Wilkes blew his nose. He considered calling Simpson, to avoid a twenty-minute drive in the rain; besides, he was as curious as Saunders. But orders were orders and, as his boss was fond of saying, Wilkes was a good soldier. Putting on his socks and shoes and throwing the damp coat over his shoulder, he stepped into the lobby.
“Jimmy!” Saunders called from his office.
Wilkes stopped and leaned in the doorway. “Morning, Murray. How was your weekend?”
“With this lousy weather, about as bad as everyone else’s. I came in on Saturday to catch up on some work, so it wasn’t a total loss.” Saunders had been doing that a lot lately, ever since Simpson had announced he would not seek reelection. “Uh, you heading out already?”
“Uh huh. Early lunch.”
They both laughed.
“No, seriously,” Saunders persisted.
“Now, Murray, you’re not checking up on me, are you?”
“Of course not. It’s just . . .”
The rain had let up; a few drops splattered intermittently against the windshield as Wilkes headed up Jackson Street, the main thoroughfare. Several merchants stood under their canopies to chat with passersby hunched under their umbrellas, and some even were dragging tables of produce and knickknacks onto the sidewalk, as if their actions alone would bring out the sun. Indeed, the sky did appear lighter when Wilkes left the downtown area and passed the Georgian townhomes into the more residential areas with freshly painted clapboard houses and low picket fences. Just before reaching the first emerald rolling hill of horse country, he turned up a private road through clusters of magnolia trees, their white blossoms scattered along the wayside by the rain. Up a winding drive and behind beds of tulips, azaleas, and white bunches of candytuft sprawled Simpson’s long, rambling house.
It was a good house, filled with enough staircases, spare rooms, and root cellars to make any kid happy. Wilkes had loved visiting there as a boy, his father and Simpson having been schoolmates and political allies. Simpson’s only child Tad and Wilkes had been best friends, right up until Tad was killed in Vietnam. With their son dead, Simpson and his wife were left alone to sit quietly and remember.
Mrs. Simpson answered the door. Over the years she had grown thin and dry like a pressed flower. “Hello, Jimmy, how nice to see you.” She reached up to kiss his cheek and, as she did, he embraced her gently. “How you and Tad used to play—two little Indians.” She always said that.
“It’s good to see you, Miss Florence. Edgar left a message for me to come over.”
“He probably wants to say good-bye. We’re going on vacation.” She spoke distractedly, perhaps disturbed by the thought of leaving her garden and the house in which her son had lived. “Yes, we’re going away.”
“Away? I didn’t know . . .”
“Nor I. What a surprise this morning. Edgar was already packed. He said he’d had enough of this weather, and that we were going to spend a week in Acapulco.”
“Acapulco? That’s not like him at all.”
“We just received confirmation from the airlines. We take off in two hours. My goodness, two hours.” Her face flushed. “Do you think I can trust Ramsey watering the flowers?”
“Edgar’s in his study. You’ll have to excuse me, Jimmy. I must finish packing. Yes, we’re leaving very soon.”
Wilkes paused at the stairwell a few paces from the study entrance. Under these stairs he and Tad had hidden from Prince John’s soldiers, General Grant, and a dozen other adversaries. He had read once that places gave off an aura, a tactile sensation based on what they had experienced, and so he took a step forward to see if the warmth was still there, something left from their boyhood fun. He saw a chip in the wall that a toy spear of Tad’s had made. He reached forward to touch it.
“Ji . . . y, you, out th . . . e!” Simpson’s muffled voice shouted through the half-open door of his study. “C’mon in!”
Wilkes drew his hand away. He had sensed something, more a chill than warmth, but that was probably only his imagination.
His face hidden by a large handkerchief, Edgar Simpson sat behind the massive desk at the far end of his study. Of all the rooms he’d known, this was Wilkes’s favorite—the place where his father and Simpson had talked politics over cigars and whiskey. Rows of law books lined the dark paneled shelves and the portraits of great men looked down over the fireplace—Washington, Madison, and Jefferson. It was that last portrait, first seen over thirty years ago, that Wilkes still carried like a locket in his heart.
Dabbing his face, Simpson drew the handkerchief from his crimson nose. “Ah, Jimmy, glad you came by so fast. Not much time before Florence and me catch our plane. We need to talk about some serious business. Ooph!” He leaned forward, adjusting his ample girth between the desk and chair. “Sit down. I don’t have to tell you to make yourself comfortable.”
Wilkes walked past a suitcase and drew a chair beside the desk, his knees nearly touching Simpson’s. “It’s not like you to do something in such a hurry. You’re always so methodical, like the plaque in your office, ‘Take It One Step at a Time.’”
Simpson blew his nose and grimaced. “That’s for young men like you who have the time to take. Damn weather. I’m too old to have my vacation ruined by all this rain. Besides, might as well start practicing for my retirement. Why wait till next year to start enjoying life?”
“And all those case files you brought home last Friday to review over vacation?”
“The hell with them! I’ve looked at enough paper in my lifetime to cover the Great Wall of China. Time to pass the torch to a younger man.”
Just then Simpson’s servant Ramsey came in. “The Mrs. say she almost ready. I put your suitcase in the car now.”
“Yes, yes.” Simpson waved his handkerchief brusquely and fell into a coughing fit.
“Edgar, are you all right?” Wilkes asked, edging closer.
One more great cough, a shudder of the shoulders, and Simpson settled back in his chair. He nodded, and the smile spread on his lips. “Damn weather. I plan to lie out on some beach till I get black as Ramsey.”
“Why did you want me to come over? Just to say bon voyage?”
“Would it be so strange for someone who’s almost kin?”
Wilkes shook his head.
“Actually, Jimmy, it’s about the murder last night.”
“In the Paddy?”
Simpson nodded. “That Slant girl getting killed—some whore, I think. I’ve got the preliminary report from Lt. Canary. Here.” He handed Wilkes a typed page. “Not much at this point, but Canary should wrap things up with a nice red bow in a couple of days.”
“I heard him on the radio earlier this morning. He sounded pretty sure of himself, as usual.”
“Yeah, that old bird gets the job done. I know you don’t think much of him. . . .”
“It’s not easy to forget how he let the dogs on those civil rights workers back in the Sixties.”
“Jimmy, those men were breaking the law. I had to prosecute them. So would you, if you’d have been a pu
“Those were bad laws.”
“It’s not our job to act as the state legislature and . . .!” He began coughing again.
“You’re right, Edgar. Calm down. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Simpson cleared his throat. “I’m not upset. Besides, you’re the one who’s right. Times have changed. Take a look at the report.”
The single page belied Canary’s thoroughness. The victim’s name was Nguyen Thi Nhi, twenty-one years old, who had been killed by one bullet through the heart just after one a.m. A neighbor lady heard the noise and woke her husband, who discovered the body and phoned the police. Traces of heroin were found in the victim’s apartment, and the woman herself was probably an addict. As the radio had earlier reported, the murder weapon had already been found, a Smith and Wesson .38. From a fingerprint identification, police arrested Edison Basehart, who denied any knowledge of the crime.
“Edison Basehart,” Wilkes said aloud.
“That’s right. Sound familiar?”
“Isn’t he the head of some paramilitary organization?”
“It’s called ‘Guardians of an Undefiled Nation’—G.U.N. Pretty cute, huh? Saunders had him put away for six months a couple years back for illegal possession of firearms, and it wasn’t Basehart’s first conviction by a mile. Everything from holding a parade without a permit to several drunk and disorderlies.”
“Any violent crimes?”
“Couple of fights. But it’s been a whole new ball game with these Slants coming here to live. Hell, even the niggers can’t stand them. Coming here and settling with taxpayers’ money, taking over part of town, working dirt cheap, driving some of our citizens—black and white—out of business.”
“They’re hard-working people just trying to get their part of the American dream. I wish everyone else was as law-abiding.”
“Don’t kid yourself. They got their arms elbow-deep in drugs smuggled from their cousins in the Orient. Don’t look at me like that, Jimmy. I know what I’m talking about. You remember, last year I took part in a state-wide investigation of drug trafficking. Canary was on that too. He can tell you better than me. We went down to the Paddy several times, but those people are as close-lipped as the oysters they fish for.”