The disgusting man lies face down on his one bedroom studio apartment floor in front of an old, barely working, black & white cabinet television set. A twenty-year-old Gunsmoke rerun is blaring, though barely loud enough to pierce the man’s hearing aids. Blood is oozing from the back of his head. The old dirty green shag carpet sopping up the dark sangria-red liquid.
Slowly the killer walks around the worn out green and yellow striped fabric recliner from whence his victim fell. He lays the unidentifiable firearm down on a dry patch of carpet and stands inches outside the ever-expanding thick pool, inspecting his work. Two minutes steadily tick past. The man, dressed in newly purchased midnight-black attire, forms a smile beneath the wool skeleclava, pulled tightly over his head. His eyes enlarged from his hard deep-lined face.
The assailant bends low stretching his gloved left hand out toward the middle-aged leaking corpse. He lightly wiggles and gently tugs the end of a high-polished stainless-steel rod, protruding through the sticky matted hair on the back of the head. As the rod breaks free a tiny released suction of stale air sighs softly out the hole.
The dark figure stands. He pulls a new handkerchief from his rear pants pocket and methodically wraps the four-inch projectile. After shoving it back into the pocket, he picks up the unidentifiable weapon and conceals it up his right arm coat sleeve.
The dead man’s apartment located one block east of the Pacific Ocean. Until tonight, he worked the late shift at a dingy old cluttered liquor store around the corner, a block and a half, in the opposite direction. Longhair beach bums, clutter the area, most too young to drink legally. The dead man sold cheap fifths of Thunderbird wine to anyone with a buck. Most of the young skaters and surfers only put up with the heavily pock-faced “old man” because of his disrespect for the California liquor laws.
The state subsidizes a share of most tenant’s rent in this small eight-unit weather-beaten apartment block. The murdered man was no different, his portion only a couple hundred dollars a month. The remainder of his meager pay went for cheap Russian Popov vodka, the British distillery’s liquor being Russian only in name. When out of money, he simply helped himself to his employer’s stock. The man’s miserable life, as a constant drunk, scarcely afforded him an existence above homeless level.
The intruder walks to the exit door, turns and stands to bask in satisfaction while taking a final look over the room. The man’s content there is no evidence he had ever been in the apartment and reaches to the wall and flicks off the low-watt dim light.
After closing the door from the outside, the assassin reverse-follows his previous route along the heavily cracked cement exterior walkway and down the single-level staircase to the parking lot below He is not in a hurry, but keeps a steady gate continuing to the sidewalk beyond, and melts into the night.
It is late December, six days after Christmas, nineteen-sixty-nine, and somewhere close to three-thirty early Wednesday, New Year’s Eve morning.
The solid-black dressed man strides up the dark deserted Reed Street sidewalk. He pulls on the top of his long wool mask stretching it off and rolls the bottom edges up before replacing on his head; now it looks like a regular toque anyone could be seen wearing on a chilly morning. The near-freezing ocean wind whipping all around him. He suddenly jumps back into reality and grasps how cold he is. He wraps his light nylon windbreaker as tight as he can around his lanky body. The man needs to concentrate and finish his night’s work.
The strange shadow scans the street in both directions, before turning left on Mission Boulevard, he still has fifteen blocks north back to his vehicle, parked discreetly in the Law Street neighborhood. It is a long irksome walk but he has chores to do along the way. He hurries up the boulevard in the cold early morning air. The assassin is acutely aware of appropriate spots to dispose of his lethal, one-use weapon.
He stops and stands at an alley entrance two blocks up the wide street. Squinting, the figure eyes a familiar group of dented steel trashcans down the nearly indiscernible alleyway. The murderer again glances up and down the boulevard ensuring nobody’s wandering around. Not a soul in sight! The current northern cold wave must have everyone warm and cozy, snuggling in bed.
Plan “A” still in effect. He starts down the alley, pulling the straight plastic tube-gun from his sleeve and proceeds to dismantle the alien-looking object as he walks. By the time he arrives at the cans both his encased hands juggling the seven parts. His gloved right-hand fumbles its contents and drops them. The steel barrel-powder chamber combination tinkles to the concrete and rolls to the middle of the alley.
“Shit,” he quietly mumbles as he glances around. The man becomes a part-of-the-darkness statue and waits to see if any faces appear in one of the numerous overlooking windows. After minutes of nothing, he picks up the plastic guide handle and slide trigger, jamming them into a jacket pocket, and walks over to retrieve the offending steel part.
Quickly he throws the split metal retaining ring, and large spring into different cans and rushes back to the Boulevard.
Stepping around the corner, a pimply-faced teenage boy runs him over while speeding down the sidewalk. His rear bike rack holding a heavy canvas Union Newspaper bag stuffed with the morning edition.
The shocked man jumps to his feet, yelling, “What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m… m… m, sorry. I never seen anyone walking this early.” The boy, still on his knees, grabs his old red Schwinn bicycle and pulls it close. The dark figure scares the young teenager and he starts stuffing the scattered papers back into his bag as fast as he can.
“You should be more damn careful!” lowering his voice to almost whispering level.
Realizing it is too late to hide his face; the black figure hurriedly turns and continues his walk. He stops a half-block away, thinking, “Should I go back, and fix this problem? He concludes, “That stupid kid is probably too afraid to take much notice of me.” Before totally making up his mind, he frantically starts checking pockets to make sure nothing dropped out. The figure looks back at the kid, who is already speeding away down the sidewalk. Unsure what to do, he continues north.
Another four blocks the murderer comes upon the old Safeway Grocery Store, his next and most import dumping ground. He is hopeful no homeless will be sleeping amongst the bailed cardboard bundles or in the trash-littered lane behind the store. He previously scouted this alley on numerous occasions at varying times at night. A few occasions the spot besieged with bums and others times, not a soul found. So far it has been, more or less, a lucky night. Fortunately, the latter holds true, the area is free of the unkempt vagrants, the cold snap forcing them into homeless shelters. It is a relieving break.
He walks to one of the countless charred fire-warming metal garbage drums and throws his three plastic parts into one of the half-full containers. The man retrieves discarded packing paper from the store’s large commercial dumpster and throws it on top of his parts. He struggles ripping off larger cardboard chunks sticking out from one of the many bailed cubes and throws them into the can. He continues to the wooden pallet storage area, rips a few boards from a destroyed pallet, and adds them. Finally, the man pulls a can of lighter fluid and a disposable lighter from a front pants pocket. He squirts a steady stream of clear liquid all over and around the mound of flammable debris he constructed, and throws in the empty fluid container. He ignites the jumble.
The soaked pile sparks to life and the dark figure throws in his Bic. As soon as flames shoot high out of the can, the killer walks down the alley toward the beach and away from the boulevard. He plans to miss any called fire trucks or cops coming down Mission and take the safer path up the beachside boardwalk. The disposal took him less than five minutes. He knows the full rage fire will dissolve his parts into a lump of melted plastic before anyone can put out the inferno. The heat scarcely has to reach a hundred-five degree. He confidently thinks, “Besides nobody would know what the tubes are anyway.”
The man peeks around the final alley building, under a dim yellow exposed lightbulb; he looks up and down the boardwalk, and back at his burning can. The walk’s clear, but he believes he sees a black mass somewhere down the alley, behind the fire. Narrow-eyed he cannot detect any movement and concludes he only imaging. He steps onto the planked walkway and continues north.
Close to the end of his oceanfront walk, he again takes a hard look around. Still no one; he enters the sand. The man kneels down just past the entryway through the concrete barrier and hand-scoops a small hole at the base of the low wall. He pulls a pocketknife from his pants and pries the primer from the firing end of the barrel. After inserting the used primer and small steel firing pin, he fills the hole in and smooths the top sand. It is time to move on to Law Street and the final beach-area dumping site.
Back on Mission Boulevard, he looks south. Two sets of flashing red lights are just approaching his alley. “Only another four blocks to freedom,” he softly mutters to himself as he turns and continues the final leg of his journey.
The killer reaches Law Street and turns towards the Pacific. Rapidly he moves past his outdated Ford Galaxie to the white boarded barrier at the ocean-end of the street. The man proceeds down the solid thick wooden-planked stairs to the cliff hidden beach. Excitement permeates his body and he has long forgotten the cold wind. Under the stairs, he digs the second hole. The man pulls the handkerchief and stainless steel slug from his pocket. After wiping the blood and chunks of brain matter off, he pushes the four-inch rod straight down through the bottom of his hole as deep as he can into the sand. He covers over the part and returns the bloody handkerchief to his pocket. The night’s last beach task; he pulls a hacksaw blade from his shirt pocket and saws the steel barrel in half.
The man walks through the soft sand to the ocean’s edge and throws the first half of the narrow tube towards the south, as far as he can, into the waves. Turning north, he throws the powder chamber end just as far into the pounding surf. If either or both of these parts ever found they will be well cleaned by the raw salt water of any gunpowder residue, and hopefully partially rusted, if not into oblivion.
At his car, he removes a glove and reaches into a pocket for his key. Fumbling around his pocketknife, he feels a foreign object at the bottom. His hand pulls out two keys. He had overlooked discarding his victim’s apartment key in the burning can.
Across Law Street, he spots a sewer vent below the edge of the cement sidewalk. The man walks over and chuck’s in the extra key. He cannot help but whistle a soft tune as returns to his vehicle while removing his other glove.
The executioner has one more stop on his way home. Before driving away, he pulls a large-sized paper grocery sack from under the seat. He puts the gloves and light jacket along with his wool hat into the bag and drives away.
After hiding through a maze of side streets to the Morena business district, the man turns down Sherman Street, and pulls into an industrial complex, stopping in front of an outside large green commercial dumpster in front of the unit where he works.
Exiting his car, he entombs the brown sack of clothes deep within the trash filling the container; satisfied it will go unnoticed until Friday’s early morning pickup, with all the small industrial workshops closed for New Year’s Day and most of them through the four-day weekend.
He bends the hacksaw blade in half and tosses it in. Lastly, he just throws the bloody handkerchief on top. It will go overlooked no matter what; the container always holds an assortment of bloody accident rags. Even the local dumpster-divers avoid this grotesque can.
He jumps back in the car and drives home.
Once in his driveway, he sneaks along the fence, dividing his property from the neighbors. He tramples through overgrown weeds, to the side door of the paint-faded garage and enters.
Inside he removes shoes, setting them on top of the dryer before undressing and placing his jeans, shirt, and socks and underwear into the large plastic laundry sink attached to the wall beside his washing machine. He pushes in the rubber sink stopper and fills water just above the clothes. Grabbing two gallons of bleach, he was ready and pours them over the clothes.
The man walks naked through the empty house to his bathroom and showers after which he sits at the kitchen table and has a beer before he pulls the Galaxie back into its garage home.
Jellybean hangs up the phone. The Assistant District Attorney is again upset with her boyfriend. It is a petty argument, but that is all they do anymore, endless fighting over stupid things. She needs to end it once for all. There is no way it will ever work out with Detective Jake Smith.
Jillian Ross, senior ADA worked in this office since passing the bar nine years prior.
Jellybean, as her boyfriend, nicknamed her, and Jake shared a tenuous on and off relationship since they met, before his wife and he split up. Though never discussed, she knows the reason for his divorce. She never believed she was Jake’s first extramarital affair; she was wrong. Even with his shortcomings, he had always been faithful to his wife until meeting the slim, gorgeous lawyer.
An early homicide case, after he made detective grade, had him working closely with Jill. They started with occasional all-business lunch meetings. From there it escalated faster than a dry-grass fire in a Santa Ana windstorm. Smith was working around the clock on unwarranted overtime. The vast majority being in Jill’s upscale downtown apartment and it was not on paperwork.
It took Jake’s homemaker wife a couple of months to figure out the situation. The final straw came after Jellybean and her detective finished their first major fight; her lover refused to get divorced! Jill phoned the wife planning to end their marriage under the guise of apologizing, saying she had not known he was married. She guaranteed the woman the affair was over. Also, assuring the woman Jake loved her very much and always would. She ended the conversation, that in his mind nobody could replace his wife. Jellybean hung up confident her scheme worked.
As she anticipated this did not relieve Jake’s wife mind; it only confirmed her suspicions. Jake’s wife of twelve years kicked him to the curb, having a locksmith change the locks and throwing all his belonging on the front lawn before he got home from work. His soon to be ex then drove four hours to Santa Barbara for an extended visit with her supportive parents.
Jillian Ross’ plan put the final nail in Jake’s divorce. The ADA is as smart as her UCSD, Magna Cum Laude degree said she was; Jake was hers.
It’s seven tenuous years later, during lunch hour on New Year’s Eve. Jill has two tickets to Hilton Hotel’s Olive Lounge bash. After their daily phone battle that morning, she decided not to go with Jake. Jillian Ross phones Smith’s partner. His line goes straight to the recorder. Perfect! The pair must be at lunch or out celebrating early. She redials Jake’s number and leaves a voice message, “I can’t do this anymore. I won’t see you tonight. Don’t call me!” After a few minutes of guilt over breaking up on a phone message, she adds, “maybe we can talk in a few weeks,” and hangs up.
Later that afternoon, preceding the long holiday break, the offices are empty and Jill believes she must be the only one still working. She heads to the employee lounge vending machine to buy a soft drink. The room filled with city attorneys chatting away without a care in mind.
After she selects a Diet Fresca, Jill joins a group of males. She stands quietly listening while sipping her cold lime and grapefruit drink. Outgoing Jonathan Jerrod, the self-appointed master of ceremony, leads the discussion.
Jon is eight years younger than Jill. They had only one real conversation over a case, but from that point on, whenever they passed in the halls, break room or wherever, Jon constantly hit on her. She rebuked every attempt even though she secretly loved the flattery.
Standing quietly within the circle of men, Jill takes a long hard look at Jon’s chiseled face and broad shoulders. He has not taken his eyes off her since she entered the room. Jill needs to get back to her office and starts for the door.
“Hey Jellybean, where are you going?”
How could have Jon called her that? It is Jake’s secret pet name.
Jill stops and turns, “Jon, I need to talk to you. Can you come by my office when you’re finished?”
Exuberant Jon runs the halls the long way around and beats her to her office. As Jill turns the hallway corner, she sees him holding open her door and grinning like a pubescent schoolboy.
“M’Lady,” Jon bows and holds his arm across his body towards the open office door.
“Cut the crap and don’t EVER call me Jellybean.” Unbeknownst to her the nickname already widely used throughout the office outside her presence.
“I’m sorry,” he genuinely apologizes. “Can I call you Jill-O?” smiling.
“Call me Jill…ONLY!”
“Your wish is my command, M’Lady.”
“And knock off the English crap!”
“And the Spanish crap! Speak like an American!”
“How’s an American talk?” raising his eyebrows in a pseudo look of confusion.
“Englis… forget it” rationalizing, “This isn’t going to work.”
“Where are we going for New Year’s?” handsome, immaculate-dressed Jon gleefully inquires.
“Well...” reluctantly. “That’s why you’re here. THIS IS NOT A DATE! But I happen to have an extra ticket to the Olive Lounge.”
“What time should I pick you up?” eager Jon.
“I’ll meet you THERE at eight.”
“It’s easier if we just go together. I promise I’ll sit on my hands.”
“The Bayside Hilton! If you’ll excuse me I have work to do.”
“Me too.” At the door, he turns back and winks, “I’ll see you there.” Jon ignores Jill-O’s ungrateful look and rushes out. He has to get last week’s suit to the cleaners. Jon prays “One Hour Martinizing” is not a come-on bait and switch, advertising scheme.
Just after noon, the man wakes and heads directly to the garage. The hihitman rains the beach soaked water from the laundry sink and hand rings out the garments before throwing them into his dryer.
He heads to the kitchen and grabs a beer from his never cleaned refrigerator, and plops down at the eating table to wait.
A half-hour later, he returns to the garage and takes a shovel and a small tree in a steel five gallon can to his backyard. He digs a large hole in the center of the yard, removes the tree, laying it next to his small crater, and inserts the empty container well below surface level. He solidifies in by packing dirt between the sidewalls and shear edges of the hole.
Retrieving his dry clothes, he throws them into the can on top of the charcoal briquettes already placed. Just for good measure, he adds dead limbs and weeds from the unkempt yard. Lastly, he pours on charcoal lighter fluid, and tosses in a huge raw steak before igniting. The gas burns off quickly leaving the heap smoldering. He is thinking, “The cooking meat will mask any foreign smells, and if the nosey old neighbor peeks over the fence, he can only conclude, “I’m a lousy barbecuer, with no idea what I’m doing.”
The man is walking back into the house and sees a shoe came untied. As he is retying his sneaker, he notices a hard to distinguish small smear of dried blood. They’re the one item he had not planned to dispose of.
The man makes a decision. Removing the all-black sneakers, he pads to his bedroom and slips his work boots on without bothering to lace them up.
He checks on the smoldering clothing and adds more gas. The flames shoot high but quickly burn down. Smoke and burning meat smells permeate the air. He worries about the heavy smoke hanging like a thick fog. Not knowing how to stop it, the man picks up the shovel and scoops out the burned steak tossing it on the piled dirt. He sticks the shovel back into the pit and stirs the lump of clothes and charcoal. A small flame jumps to life momentarily; the rising smoke almost tolerable.
The man picks up the sneakers and heads for his dented old pickup truck. He drives to a Salvation Army donation drop-off site, in the corner of small shopping center lot, a few blocks from his home. He throws his shoes at the collection bin without even exiting his truck and returns home.
The killer checks his barbecue, the coals glowing, and clothes smoldering nicely; the smoke all but disappeared. After throwing the steak back in, he walks to his living room. Exhaustion consumes his body. The man lays on the couch and snores for hours.
It’s dark outside when he wakes. Under the glowing back porch light, he fills the hole from the pile of previously dug dirt, and grabs the small tree, planting it over the fire pit.
He returns to the couch and watches TV before falling back asleep.
Daylight eventually fills the room, waking him. The groggy man takes a leak and stumbles to his bed to finish sleeping the day away.
Jake Smith spends a quiet New Year’s Eve sitting alone on a tall uncomfortable barstool in the Cactus Club off University Avenue, five blocks from his apartment. He walks over knowing he will need to walk home later.
Hours pass with him drinking neat double Scotches. Smith is a handsome man, dark almost black hair with a light tinge of graying temples. He’s slim and fit, of average height. He spends the evening rebuffing women wandering in and out of the bar looking for a date. He uses the payphone a couple of times trying Jellybean’s place with no answers.
A little after eleven o’clock, he had drunk his sorrows away and walks home.
At midnight, he is sitting on his couch, chain-smoking Marlboros alone in the dark apartment listening to the thunderous sounds of exploding fireworks in the distance, and honking horns throughout his neighborhood coupled with a few gunshot sounds. The year just rolled over to nineteen-seventy.
Late New Year’s morning, Jake wakes, still slumped on his sofa. He stumbles to his kitchen alcove and makes a strong pot of coffee to go with a handful of aspirin.
Just before noon, he decides to try Jellybean’s number again. Still no answer! Justifying in his mind, he resolves to drive over and make sure she is okay.
After pulling into her apartment’s underground parking garage, Jake maneuvers his dark-green Chevrolet Beretta around to Jill’s assigned spot. The ADA doesn’t own a car; living downtown it’s not a necessity. Most places she goes, work, courthouse and police station, is an easy stroll, besides it’s the only exercise keeping her sleek. And there is always an abundance of cabs close-at-hand if needed. Moreover, if she wants to get away for a weekend, Jill simply rents a car.
There is an unknown automobile already parked there. Jake pays it no mind, frequently there are strange vehicles parked in her unused space. Smith drives to the front of the garage and takes one of the empty visitor’s spots.
He takes the elevator to her seventh-floor unit and rings the bell. No answer! Now he is sure she needs him and lets himself in with his key. Not calling out, he wanders down the hallway and stands to view the living room and kitchen areas. Jellybean, standing with her back to him is wearing only a white t-shirt covering her half-exposed derriere while drinking coffee and cooking bacon.
A few seconds of watching, Jake says good morning. Shocked Jill spins, “Jake, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!”
“I’m sorry. I rang the bell.”
“I heard it. There’s no law that says I have to answer it!”
“I’m sorry, but when I haven’t been able to get a hold of you, I thought I better check.”
“I’m fine. You need to leave!”
A tall athletic built man, wearing only a wrinkled pair of unbuttoned slacks appears at the bedroom door, “Is everything all right Jill?”
Smith recognizes him from the District Attorney’s office though never introduced.
“No it’s NOT!” she blurts out. “Jake, I told you to leave!”
Smith fidgeting, “I…I thought you might like to spend the day watching some college football at my place?”
“I’m busy; as you can see. Goodbye Jake!”
“I think you’d better hit it, buddy,” the calendar appearing pin-up interrupts.
“I’m not your BUDDY!”
Without choice, Jake turns and leaves. He aimlessly strolls around downtown ending at Horton Plaza Park across the street from the historic U.S. Grant Hotel and plops on a bench beside the fountain. Being New Year’s Day all the stores and shops are closed and the city is a ghost town.
Standing and conversing feet away from him is two transvestites, of which, are part of a group that frequents the park trying to pick up wayward sailors.
The detective flashes his badge. They understand and ignore the lone man, eventually moving on leaving Smith alone with his thoughts.
Jake tries to formulate a plan to regain Jellybean’s affection. Nothing magically appears in his again throbbing head. Concluding he has blown it, Smith solemnly returns to his car and drives home.
Excerpted from "Bang Stick: A Jake Smith Mystery" by H David Whalen. Copyright © 0 by H David Whalen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.