Authors: Roger Stelljes
liver walked out of the back of the bar, alone, a rarity for him.
Gordon Oliver was a closer.
He didn’t fail often.
Yet, tonight he had.
He’d spent the better part of three hours and sixty dollars working a pretty brunette, Natalie, going deep into his bag of tricks, using all of the tools in his toolbox, but he couldn’t reel her all the way in. But that was for tonight. Natalie was a semi-regular at The Mahogany and she was interested in him. After all he was leaving with her number and business card. However, for tonight any way, that was all she was giving up.
Gordon smiled to himself. Sometimes having to work for it made it all the more worthwhile when the deal was finally closed. And if past was prologue, he’d close the deal with Natalie soon enough.
He approached his Ford F-150 and reached in his suit pocket for his keys when he heard rustling behind him. He turned, looked towards the big dumpster and sighed, “What are you doing here?”
“Gordon we need to talk.”
“I told you I’m done talking about this. You know what you have to do.”
“Gordy, I can’t right now. I just can’t. I need a little more time to deal with him.”
Gordon shook his head and turned to walk away, saying: “I can’t wait for you to deal with him any longer. I’m sorry, you’re out of time.”
Those were the last words Gordon Oliver ever uttered.
’ll take a large Morning Jolt and a medium Dark Roast,” Michael McKenzie “Mac” McRyan said to the barista working the counter at The Grand Brew. His purchase would accomplish two things. First, the coffee would get him going as he headed to his first homicide crime scene as a detective. Second, the purchase made him a little money, as he owned part of the coffee shop and twenty others like it with some childhood friends. Mac handed over six dollars, left the change and had the coffees placed into a cardboard carrier. He walked out the front door and climbed into his Explorer and handed a cup to his partner.
“Thanks, partner,” Richard Lich, better known as “Dick Lick,” said as he set the coffee into the cup holder.
“My pleasure,” Mac answered.
McRyan put his Explorer into gear and motored east on Grand towards downtown St. Paul. “So what do we have?” Mac asked.
“Body in an alley behind The Mahogany,” Lich answered. “Beyond that I don’t know much.”
“A murder behind the competition, that should make Shamus happy,” Mac said. Shamus was Mac’s uncle and he ran the other family business, McRyan’s Pub, which sat on the southwestern edge of downtown St. Paul. The Mahogany was a pub on the eastern side of downtown. The two bars catered to different crowds, however. McRyan’s Pub catered to cops and hockey fans. The Mahogany was known as the lawyer bar.
As he drove towards downtown and The Mahogany, Mac thought about working his first crime scene as a detective. Being a cop was the first McRyan family business and Mac was part of the fourth generation of McRyan cops. He had numerous uncles and cousins currently in the department and a few retired uncles, who instead of patrolling the streets, now patrolled the bottles and taps behind the brass rail at McRyan’s Pub, which was the second McRyan family business.
More significantly, Mac was the son of Simon McRyan, perhaps the best detective ever to walk behind a St. Paul badge.
Because of that, it was not Mac’s original plan to be a cop.
When he was a kid, being a cop was what he wanted to be, it’s what every McRyan boy wanted to be because that’s what their dads and uncles were. However, even as a young boy Mac knew his dad was special. Simon McRyan appeared on the news, was written up in the paper and every tough case seemed to come his way. He was a legend. More than once as a child and then again as a teenager, Mac heard he would have a lot to live up to when he became a cop.
It was assumed, expected, preordained that Mac would walk in his father’s footsteps. It was the McRyan way after all. However, even as a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old, Mac was self aware enough to wonder if he really wanted to work under that kind of pressure.
Then another path presented itself.
Mac became a straight A student and stellar athlete at Cretin High School. He was awarded a hockey scholarship to the University of Minnesota where he captained the team to a national championship his senior season as a tough and savvy left wing. He graduated with highest honors from the University and enrolled in law school, with visions of a legal practice and maybe even politics. He graduated summa cum laude from William Mitchell College of Law. Mac accepted an offer for $100,000 a year with a prominent Minneapolis law firm. He was married to his college sweetheart, who also went to law school, graduated with honors and had a similar job lined up with a prominent law firm. They were set for a life of prosperity and success.
But then, as it so often does, life gets in the way and changes the course you have selected.
Mac’s two best friends were his cousins Peter and Tommy, both of whom followed the family tradition. They became cops. Two weeks before Mac was set to be licensed as a lawyer, Tommy and Peter were killed in the line of duty.
For most people, they would have taken it as a sign that they made the right choice, to do something other than being a cop. Mac had better options, safer options, more lucrative and socially acceptable options. But the deaths of his cousins hit Mac differently. He didn’t want to run from it, he didn’t want to feel fortunate, he no longer wanted the more lucrative and socially acceptable option. He didn’t feel entitled to it, not when he looked at what the people most important in his life, his family, were doing. Instead, he felt an obligation, to his cousins, to his family and to himself.
A week later he joined the St. Paul Police Department.
Life had veered to a different path.
Now, a short four years later, Mac was about to walk under the crime scene tape for the first time as a detective. He knew his dad would be looking down on him.
Their crime scene was an alley in the middle of a block of one-hundred-year-old brown and red brick buildings. Lich pulled the car to the curb just short of the alley which was now taped off. They each took one last long sip of the hot coffee and then jumped out into the cool twenty-degree March morning as the sun worked its way up on the blue crystal clear eastern horizon.
Lich dropped his dark brown fedora on his round balding head. The fedora, trench coat, suit and shoes were all in shades of Lich’s trademark weathered brown. The clothes tightly, too tightly, formed around the bulbous mid-section of his five-foot-eight body. Lich’s ensemble made Mac look GQ in comparison. Mac was sporting a black wool trench coat, gray scarf, navy blue suit, light blue dress shirt and blue, yellow and cream stripped tie all of which hung comfortably on his blond haired blue eyed six-foot-one athletic frame.
Mac was curious as to how things would go with "Dick Lick." Mac had known him for years, even back when his dad was alive. Lich had the reputation of being a good detective, when he was interested in being one. Good instincts, a nice line of b.s. when needed and the willingness to occasionally think outside the box, little of which had been on recent display. As of late, he’d been finalizing his second divorce and it seemed as if his interest in police work had waned considerably. Given what the McRyan name meant in the department, Mac half-wondered if he’d been assigned to Lich as a way to motivate Dick. Mac would soon find out.
McRyan stepped under the yellow tape and stopped, taking in the scene. The alley was narrow, like a canyon, running between the four- and five-story brick buildings that dotted either side. Dumpsters, the odd car or truck, stray paper, cardboard coffee cups, soda cans, and small dirty snow piles and patches of ice framed either side of the alley. Occasional splotches of graffiti added a certain off-color ambience to the alley. The dumpsters provided an aromatic stench that permeated the air. Garbage pick-up couldn’t come soon enough.
“Lovely,” Lich grumbled.
The crime scene was a hundred feet ahead. A Ford F-150 was parked along the left side of the alley, the front end nosed at a leftward angle towards the grimy alley wall just past a large overflowing rusty green wheeled dumpster. The coroner was examining a body stuffed into the truck’s rear bed and Ramsey County crime scene techs were buzzing around the scene placing small yellow numbered tents to mark potential pieces of evidence, snapping pictures and taking video.
“Your first case, Mac. Why don’t you go ahead and run it,” Lich offered.
“Are you sure?” Mac asked, a control freak by nature. He definitely wanted the reigns.
“Yeah. I’ve got your back if we get stuck.”
Mac nodded, pulled on rubber gloves, opened his notebook and approached the coroner, an old family friend named Jack Coonan. Coonan felt them approaching, looked up, saw Mac and smiled, taking in the young detective approaching him. “Let me see the shield, boy.”
Mac pulled his trench and suit coat back to show his shield on his belt.
Coonan smiled. “Is this your first case?”
“First case, Jack. So what do we have?”
“Gordon Andrew Oliver,” Coonan answered, handing a wallet to Mac. “Patrol cop ran the plate on this truck and it belongs to Oliver. Bartender also confirmed it was his truck.”
“Cause of death?” Lich asked.
“Preliminary is blunt force trauma to the right temple area,” Coonan pointed with his pen to the temple area and a large hematoma. Then Coonan pointed to the back right of the victim’s head. “He might have been hit first in the back of his head. See the bruising and blood here at the base of his skull?” The coroner pointed with his pen at the right side of the back of the victim’s skull. Mac nodded.
Coonan continued: “He might have been hit from behind, falls and hits the bumper with the front right of his head and then falls to the ground.”
Mac leaned down to look at the back of the skull, “He was hit more than once?”
“That indeed appears to be the case,” Coonan answered. “I’ll have to see for sure when I examine him but it looks like he was hit back here twice, maybe three times. I can confirm once I get the body on the slab. But it’s the blow to the temple on the bumper that probably killed him. This is very preliminary, of course, but I bet I’ll find temporal bleeding and without immediate medical attention, the blow to the front of the head from the bumper was fatal.” The coroner was an old pro who didn’t idly speculate. Mac suspected much of what Coonan was surmising would turn out to be the case.
Lich was standing to the left of the truck. “So our guy was hit from behind, hits the bumper and falls over here to the left of the truck.”
Mac walked over to the left side of the car. He looked at the corner of the metal bumper on the left side of the truck and the smudges of blood on the bumper. In addition to that blood, Crime Scene had also marked the blood pool on the ground, just to the left of the back left side of the truck. There was also a small amount of splatter on the truck’s back left quarter panel.
“You think robbery, Mac?” Lich asked, testing.
Mac shook his head, “If it were, why not take the wallet? Jack, was any money in the wallet?”
“Yeah, Mac, couple of hundred bucks, American Express and Discover cards too, plus the guy has an Omega watch, pretty nice, still on his wrist.”
Mac looked to Lich, “If you were robbing the guy…”
“…You’d take the wallet, the money and credit cards.”
“And you wouldn’t stuff the guy in the rear bed of the truck. You’d take the wallet, watch, maybe even the truck, and get out of Dodge.”
“So probably not a robbery then. I’m with you so far Mac,” Lich said.
“Jack, can you give me a time of death?” Mac asked.
“I’d say somewhere between midnight and two a.m.” Mac nodded and jotted down some notes.
“Who found the vic?” Lich asked.
“Bartender from The Mahogany,” Coonan answered. “He’s talking to the uniform cop back there.” Coonan was pointing to the back entrance to The Mahogany thirty feet behind them.
Mac and Lich walked back to the uniform cop who was standing next to a tall, thin, disheveled man with a goatee. They introduced themselves to the clearly shaken bartender named Chet Remer. “You know our victim?” Mac asked.
Remer nodded then said, “Gordy was a regular with us. He was in two or three nights a week, occasionally on a weekend.”