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Crime scene tape surrounded the area in the train yard where Dennis Pierce’s body had been found. State Police detectives Captain Robert Burke and Lieutenant Isabella Sanchez arrived an hour after receiving the call. Burke pulled his state-issued Ford Fusion between a black and white Eastborough Police cruiser and a two-tone blue State Police SUV.
The two detectives got out of the car and ducked under the yellow tape. Eastborough Police Chief Jeb Miller approached with another Eastborough police officer. According to his nameplate, the officer’s last name was Davidson.
Chief Miller was a stocky man, of average height, in his late sixties. Officer Davidson looked to be in his early to mid-thirties with an athletic build, and about an inch on Burke’s six feet. Miller appeared relieved to see the State Police detectives. Davidson seemed irritated at their arrival.
“Detectives Burke and Sanchez? I’m Jeb Miller, Eastborough Chief of Police. This is Officer Bobby Davidson.”
Skipping any pleasantries, Burke asked, “What have we got?”
“The vic’s driver’s license says his name is Dennis Pierce,” Chief Miller replied. “He lived in Boston. We also found a stack of business cards inside his suit jacket pocket. He was a partner in some political consulting firm. Pierce and Wilcher on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.”
Miller was trying to be helpful, but Burke figured this was his first murder. Probably his first major crime of any type. Eastborough was a small town fifty miles northeast of Boston near the New Hampshire border.
“Poor guy took a single gunshot to the back of the head,” Miller stated as they approached Dennis Pierce’s body. The victim was lying face down in the snow. While the Medical Examiner would rule on the official cause of death, the blood splatter and wound in the back of his head left little doubt how Pierce died.
Burke looked down at the body. “What was a political consultant from Boston doing in Eastborough?” he asked to no one in particular.
“We don’t know,” Officer Davidson offered. “But he was murdered here. This should be our crime scene. We should handle the investigation.”
“Pipe down, Bobby,” Chief Miller said. “Our department is not equipped to handle this type of investigation. It belongs to the State Police.”
Officer Davidson shook his head in disgust and walked away.
“Don’t mind him,” Chief Miller said. “Bobby is a good cop, but a bit headstrong.”
“We get it,” Sanchez said. “It’s tough to turn over an investigation for a crime committed in your town. Was Officer Davidson the first to arrive at the scene?”
“No. I was closest when the call came in, so I got here first.”
“Who called it in?” Burke asked.
“Worker here at the train yard. He showed up for work about five this morning and discovered the body.”
“We’ll need to speak with the worker,” Sanchez stated.
“We’ve got him with one of your State Troopers. Poor guy was in a bit of shock from finding a dead body on the train tracks as he did.”
“Any sign of the gun used to kill Mr. Pierce?” Burke asked Miller.
“We haven’t found anything yet,” Miller responded. “But there are only three of us on the entire Eastborough police force. Officer Davidson, Officer Stewart, and myself. Not to mention it is a big train yard.”
Burke nodded. He didn’t expect to find the murder weapon anywhere near the actual crime scene, if at all, but he was thorough. The State Police Crime Scene Services were already at work searching the area and processing evidence, including footprints left in the snow.
“Do you have any idea why Mr. Pierce was in Eastborough?” Sanchez asked Miller.
“Not a clue. We don’t get many visitors in town.”
“Can you think of anyone in town who might have a connection to the victim?” Burke asked.
“No,” Miller said. “But we can ask around town. The problem might be sorting out fact from fiction. News of this will travel fast, so there is likely to be at least a dozen different stories as to what happened by the end of breakfast at the diner.”
“We’ll know what we have to work with when CSS finishes processing the scene,” Burke commented. “If you hear anything, let us know.”
“Eastborough isn’t exactly a hotbed of criminal activity,” Chief Miller responded. “We mostly write parking tickets and deal with bored teens drinking out by the old quarry.” He looked down at Dennis Pierce’s body. “Never in a million years could I imagine being at a murder scene.” He drew in a breath and sighed. “Poor fellow,” he said shaking his head. Then Miller looked up and back over to Burke and Sanchez. “I sure hope you catch whoever did this.”
Detective Captain Robert Burke of the Massachusetts State Police entered my office just before noon on a Wednesday. Dash, my beagle-mix, jumped down from his spot on the couch and greeted him with a wagging tail and an expectant look in his big brown eyes. Burke promptly handed him a dog treat from the bowl on the credenza next to the office door. Dash looked for a second treat. When one did not materialize, he went back to his nap on the couch.
“Here to take me to lunch?” I said to Burke.
He removed his overcoat and hung it on my coat rack. I took that as a ‘no’ for lunch. Burke blew into his chapped and reddened hands to warm them as Old Man Winter was bearing down on the Bay State. I had never seen Burke wear a hat or gloves. I think it had something to do with being a tough Irish guy from South Boston.
The digital thermometer on my desk displayed a bitter twenty degrees Fahrenheit outside. In the top left corner of the digital display was an image of clouds and snowflakes. The view out my window confirmed it was both cloudy and snowing. Nice to know the technology worked.
Burke walked over to my coffee maker, grabbed a Red Sox mug off the mug tree, and poured himself a cup of coffee. “What’s the flavor today?”
“Organic French Roast,” I said. “From Peet’s Coffee on Mount Auburn Street.”
I liked a variety of coffees and spread my business around to keep a healthy dose of competition between purveyors of fine coffee. Burke added what seemed a pound of sugar and stirred. He then selected a glazed donut from the Dunkin’ box next to the coffee maker.
“It’s a wonder you don’t have Diabetes,” I commented.
“Good genes,” he said with a shrug. “I had two jelly donuts for breakfast.”
“You wouldn’t be much of a cop if you didn’t like donuts.”
Burke gave me the finger as he sat in one of the client chairs in front of my desk. He stretched out his long legs, which contributed significantly to his six-foot frame. And despite Burke’s penchant for sugary sweets, he was only slightly overweight. Overall, he was in good shape compared to most men in their late fifties.
He wore a charcoal wool suit, white dress shirt, and a deep green tie. He kept his tie in place with a Boston Celtics tie clip. A small smudge near the bottom of the tie looked like Burke had wiped away jelly donut filling from breakfast.
I was in my interpretation of business casual wearing one of my favorite pair of Levi’s jeans and a Cotton Fisherman Sweater from LL Bean. The sweater had been a Christmas gift from my love, Jessica Casey. She said the sweater complimented my dark hair and steel-blue eyes.
“So, what brings you over from Leverett Circle?” I asked Burke in reference to the location of his office at the State Police barracks in Boston.
“I’d like to hire you for a case.”
“Hire? As in paying me money for my investigative services?”
“I’m shaking loose some cash from our consultants’ fund.”
“Interesting you have never used said fund to pay for my help in the past.”
“What can I say? I’m desperate.”
“Tell me more,” I said.
Burke dunked the donut in his coffee, took a bite, then said, “I need you to look into the murder of a guy named Dennis Pierce.”
“Political consultant they found in the train yard up in Eastborough?”
Burke nodded as he drank more coffee to wash down the donut.
Eastborough was a small, unremarkable town tucked in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. It was only fifty miles from Boston, but it might as well have been on the moon. And a strange place for a high-powered Boston political consultant to turn up dead.
“I thought that was all wrapped up. The news said Boris Grigorev is the alleged killer.”
Boris Grigorev was a Russian mobster suspected of trafficking drugs, guns, and human sex workers. A bad guy to be sure. Shooting a person in the head was not out of the question for Grigorev.
“Every news outlet, State Police Colonel, ME, Governor–you name it,” Burke said. “Pretty much everybody likes Grigorev for this.”
“Okay. So what do you need me for?”
“I’m not convinced Grigorev is our guy.”
“But you’re feeling the heat to close the case?”
“From the Governor on down. Pierce had a long list of prominent clients. Including the Governor. Not to mention a half-dozen U.S. Senators, state legislators, and judges.”
“And they want to follow up the very public perp walk with a swift conviction,” I added.
“I’m not saying there isn’t convincing evidence,” Burke stated. “Heck, if I were looking at this case from the outside, I’d be ready to convict Grigorev along with the rest of the commonwealth.”
“Walk me through it,” I said. I got up to fill my mug with some of Peet’s Organic French Roast. While at the coffee pot I grabbed a chocolate donut so Burke didn’t have to snack alone. I returned to my desk and sat down.
Burke finished his donut, so I would need to catch up. I began doing so as he settled in to give me the details of his investigation up to that point.
“Pierce was grabbed sometime after ten on Monday night and driven to a train yard in Eastborough. He got a tap to the back of the head and his body was left at the spot. A worker discovered the body around five the next morning. Eastborough Police Chief turned it over to us right away.”
I nodded as Burke told me. It wasn’t unusual for small-town cops to turn major investigations over to the State Police. Small towns neither had the manpower nor the experience to handle crimes like a murder investigation.
“Sounds like a mob execution,” I said. “Or made to appear like one.”
Burke got up from the chair. Dash lifted his head to see if Burke was headed toward the dog treat bowl. When Burke walked to the coffee maker, Dash sighed and dropped his head back down. Burke filled his mug, dumped a mound of sugar into the coffee, mixed it in, and returned to his seat.
“Here’s the interesting part,” Burke commented. “Slug matches an MP-443 Grach Yarygin pistol.”
“A Russian made handgun?”
“It’s a standard sidearm of Russian military forces,” Burke noted. “We also know it is the favorite weapon of Boris Grigorev.”
“Last time I checked, Grigorev’s territory included an area near Eastborough, Massachusetts.”
Of course, the last time I checked into Russian mob activity was ten years prior when I was still a special agent with the FBI. Things can change when you are not paying attention.
“It is more of disputed territory these days,” Burke said. “The Ukrainian mob has been gaining a foothold in that part of the state. But, yeah, Grigorev is still active up that way. He even lives the next town over from Eastborough.”
“Okay,” I said, “so the same make of gun we know Grigorev carries was used to kill Pierce. The murder also occurred in Grigorev’s backyard, so to speak. Certainly suspicious. But circumstantial.”
“It was enough to get a friendly judge, particularly tough on organized crime, to issue a warrant. It also didn’t hurt that so many politicians were eager to find Pierce’s killer. At any rate, we found Grigorev’s gun in a trash can in his backyard.”
“Convenient,” I said.
Burke nodded and continued. “When we checked ballistics, there is no doubt the gun was the murder weapon.”
I whistled. Then I said, “I can see why the case is running hard against Grigorev.”
“There’s more,” Burke said. “Grigorev has no alibi for Monday night. He told us he was drinking hard with some buddies earlier that evening and was home alone sleeping it off.”
I whistled again.
“Grigorev would have means and opportunity,” I said. “What about motive?”
“No clear motive,” Burke replied. “The higher-ups figure it is mob-related.”
“And that is good enough given the politics of this,” I stated.
“I have little doubt the DA will make this case. It’s not hard to convince a jury that a mobster is guilty of an execution when you literally have the smoking gun.”
“It’s almost too perfect of a case,” Burke said. “Grigorev is much smarter than to use his own gun and then throw it in the trash can behind his house.”
“Sure,” I said. “He has eluded federal, state, and local authorities for years. But, just playing devil’s advocate here, maybe he slipped up this time. That is often how bad guys get caught.”
“Certainly possible,” Burke said. “But I don’t think so. Everything about this has been too easy for us. It doesn’t smell right to me.”
“So you want me to poke around and see if there is more to the story?”
Burke nodded and said, “I need you to look into this because I can’t make any move which doesn’t end with Grigorev on trial for Dennis Pierce’s murder.”
“Unless I can prove he didn’t do it.”
“And maybe he pulled the trigger,” Burke said. “If that is the case, so be it. We both know Grigorev is a reprehensible human being. I have no doubt he is guilty of many crimes. Including murder.”
“But not this murder?” I said.
“I don’t think so. Not that I would lose much sleep over Grigorev going away for it. I suppose it would be justice for crimes we can’t nail him on. But that would also mean someone else would get away with this murder.”
I knew Burke well enough to know he would lose sleep over that. He didn’t like having an unsolved case. And not solving the case meant someone got away with murder. That would haunt Burke for the rest of his life. I understood where he was coming from.
“It’s always the cases we can’t solve that stay with us most,” I said.
Burke nodded and sipped at his coffee. Then he said, “I am reassured in knowing the feds are close to bringing down the hammer on Grigorev in another case. He’ll be fitted for an orange jumpsuit soon enough.”
“I’m sure the politicians will find a way to claim victory for that,” I said.
Burke shrugged his broad shoulders. He tried to stay away from the politics of cases. His concern was locking up bad guys and finding some measure of justice in the world. I could relate to that as well.
“So you’ll take the case?”
“Was there ever any doubt?”
The Eastborough Police Department, located in a small, unremarkable building on Center Street, captured most people’s impression of the town. I parked out front and climbed the steps to the department’s entrance. Inside there was a reception counter only four paces from the front door.
A tall, wiry guy in an Eastborough police uniform sat with his feet up on a desk behind the counter. He was reading a Marvel comic. As he lowered the comic and looked over at me, I read the name ‘Stewart’ on the tag pinned to his right breast pocket.
“Can I help you?” Officer Stewart asked, not bothering to get up.
I introduced myself and held out one of my business cards. Officer Stewart reluctantly put down his comic and got up from his seat. He took my business card and inspected it.
“Anybody can get a business card made up,” he said. “You have any identification?”
“True,” I said, “but I doubt you will find many business cards as nice as that one.”
“Do you have identification?” Officer Stewart repeated. Not a chatty fellow.
I showed him my private investigator’s license.
“Okay. What do you want?”
“I’m here to see Chief Miller.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“What time? Chief Miller is out of the office at the moment.”
I glanced at my watch. “My appointment is now.”
“You can take a seat and wait,” Officer Stewart said as he tilted his head toward a bench against the wall to my right. I sat on the bench. Officer Stewart returned to his comic.
A few minutes later two of Eastborough’s finest walked through the front door. One officer was older and stocky. My detective’s intuition told me he was Chief Miller. The second officer was an inch shorter than me and looked like he had been the high school quarterback.
The older officer looked over at me and extended his right hand. “Chief Jeb Miller,” he said. “You must be our private detective from Boston.”
I stood and shook hands with Chief Miller. He had a firm and trustworthy grip.
“This here is Officer Davidson,” Chief Miller said referencing the younger officer with him. “I see you’ve already met Officer Stewart. So, Mr. Patrick, you are now acquainted with the entire Eastborough police force.”
Officer Davidson did not try to welcome me to Eastborough as he looped his thumbs through his gun belt. His deep gray eyes bore into me.
“Don’t see a need for some private dick to be snooping around our town,” Davidson sneered.
“Mr. Patrick is working with Captain Burke,” Chief Miller stated in my defense.
“Don’t need the State Police up here neither,” Officer Davidson said.
“We are to give Mr. Patrick our full cooperation,” Chief Miller said.
“Don’t understand why, Chief,” Davidson said. “They got that Russian mobster dead to rights.”
“Captain Burke wants me to investigate this with fresh eyes,” I said. “Make sure we have everything to build the strongest case.”
“Wasting your time, gumshoe,” Davidson said. “Boris Grigorev will fry for killing that guy.”
“We don’t have the death penalty in Massachusetts,” I informed Davidson. “But if he is guilty of murdering Mr. Pierce, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
“If?” Davidson said incredulously. “If he’s guilty? What sort of horseshit is that? Grigorev did it. Everybody says so. The evidence says so.”
Davidson was adept at parroting the headlines. And the case against Grigorev looked solid. I doubted Davidson knew anything about actual evidence. Or crime, for that matter. And Burke had doubts, so it was reason enough for me to have doubts.
“Calm down, Bobby,” Chief Miller interrupted.
Chief Miller was as Burke had described him—a straight shooter with no false pretense. Davidson also seemed just as Burke described him. “A pissant,” I believe were Burke’s actual words.
“Why don’t you go out on patrol,” Chief Miller added.
Officer Davidson shot me one last look of contempt as he turned on his heels and exited out the front door.
“Let’s talk in my office,” Chief Miller said to me.
I followed the chief into his office. It was small, like the rest of the department, but orderly. Chief Miller sat behind an old wood desk and motioned for me to sit in a chair opposite him.
As we sat down Chief Miller said, “I apologize for Officer Davidson.”
“No need for you to apologize for him. I’ve encountered worse behavior.”
“I bet you have,” Chief Miller said. “All the same, Bobby didn’t treat you right.”
I shrugged. Officer Bobby Davidson was of little concern to me at the moment. If he became a concern during my investigation, I had little doubt I could handle him. From what I had witnessed from Chief Jeb Miller, I also had little doubt that the Chief would back me — within reason.
However, if Davidson pushed the limits of reason, which guys like him were wont to do, there would be trouble. But I figured that was a bridge I’d cross if we came to it.
“So I understand Captain Burke has some concerns about Grigorev’s guilt?” Chief Miller said as he tipped back in his chair. It was old and wooden like the desk. He had outfitted the chair with cushions. They had little sailboats stitched on them.
“There is no question about Grigorev’s guilt,” I replied. “He’s not an innocent guy. We’re just not sure about his guilt in Dennis Pierce’s murder.”
Chief Miller nodded understandingly. “The politics behind this must be tough,” he said. “I don’t envy Captain Burke’s position.”
“At the moment, neither does he.”
“I assume that is why he hired you?” Chief Miller asked. He let out a soft laugh, then said, “Although you know what they say about assumptions?”
“You seem more than capable of avoiding looking like an ass,” I replied. “However, I’ve stepped into that role a time or two.”
Chief Miller let out a full-bellied laugh. He’d make a great Santa Claus.
“And you are correct,” I continued. “Captain Burke has asked me to look into whether the charges against Grigorev for Pierce’s murder will hold up.”
“Then I don’t envy you, either,” Chief Miller said.
“That is often the case.”
“I’ve heard a lot about Captain Burke. If he has reason to believe Grigorev might not be guilty of killing Mr. Pierce, then that is good enough for me.”
I nodded my agreement.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, too,” he added. “I may be a small-town police chief in a place few would even give a thought about, but I’m not without my contacts in the big city.”
Chief Miller leaned forward and rested his arms across the desk. He looked directly at me. “Be careful how you go about this,” he warned me. “I tend to agree with Captain Burke that this case was gift-wrapped a little too neatly.”
“And that troubles you?”
“Sure,” Chief Miller said. “And it should trouble you. If Captain Burke is correct, then whoever framed Boris Grigorev for this murder won’t like you sniffing around.” He sat back in his chair. “But I don’t need to tell you that.”
“No, Chief, you do not. But I appreciate it all the same.”
“Despite the impression you have likely formed of my officers, the Eastborough Police Department is available to assist you in any way you may need.”
“I appreciate that, Chief. Despite it being a few days, and with additional snow on the ground, I’d like to visit the actual crime scene.”
“There probably isn’t much you can get out at the crime scene at this point, but I can give you directions to the train yard.”
“Thanks. And if you have the names of anyone who might have seen anything that night, I’d appreciate you pointing me in their direction.”
“You’ll probably want to talk to Mack. He’s the worker at the train yard who discovered the body.”
“Mack working today?”
“Should be. I’ll call ahead and let him know you are coming.”
“I appreciate that,” I said.
“There is also a homeless encampment under the bridge near the train yard,” Chief Miller said. “If anyone saw anything the night of the murder, it would likely be them.”
The fact that Eastborough had a homeless population surprised me. I thought of homelessness as an urban issue, but Chief Miller’s statement proved me wrong. I would have known about the encampment had I asked to see the State Police file. While I often wanted access to whatever Burke had, in this case, I did not. Given the political pressure, I felt it was best to work the investigation fresh — with as little influence as possible.
Perhaps Chief Miller sensed the hamster wheel turning in my head. “The men in the encampment didn’t have much to say to me or the State Police,” he said. “But they might talk to someone who isn’t officially in law enforcement.”
“That can often be the case,” I agreed. “A private investigator can be less intimidating than someone who carries a badge.”
Chief Miller gave me directions to the train yard and wished me well in my investigation. He reiterated his support, and that his officers would cooperate as well. I believed him on the first count. I was less sure about the second.
“And remember,” he added just before I exited his office, “be careful. We don’t know who you might be up against.”
Ebook File: EPUB and MOBI (for Kindle)
Book 4 in Drew Patrick Private Investigator Series
Crime Thriller, Hard-Boiled Detective, Private Investigator
Published: March 2020
Wheelhouse Publishers, LLC
(Indie Author owned publishing house)