Murder on Morton

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“You got him?” Wallace said.
“I don’t got him,” O’Connell said. “Hold on.” He squeezed the walkie-talkie under his neck and raised binoculars to his eyes.
“Where’s he at?”
“Hold on, Detective,” O’Connell said. “These things are for shit.”
“You got the night ones, right?” Wallace said. “Tell me you got the night ones.”
“I got ‘em, man, I got ‘em, but I might as well be lookin’ up your midnight ass for all the good they’re doin’ me. Hold on, I’m gettin’ closer.”
O’Connell let the binoculars fall to his chest and squinted down Morton from 6th. Of course every streetlight was out. He zipped up his jacket to hide the goggles, slipped the walkie-talkie into his left pocket, and got up off his knees. He slid the billed Redskins cap out of his right pocket, tugged it low on his head, and double-timed up 6th to Orleans, turned right and went about 20 yards before heading back down an alley to Morton. He got back on his knees and scraped down a wall to the left until he could see most of the thin two-story dirty white brick house a few doors down and across the street. He kept as low and as far back as he could to stay out of sight of any spotters on the roof.
The walkie-talkie barked from his pocket. He fished it out. “What?” he whispered.
“Where you at, Patrolman?” Wallace said. “Don’t leave me hangin’ here.”
“So sorry, just tryin’ to do my job. I’m across the way, closer.”
O’Connell brought the binoculars up again. “No one outside or on the roof, far as I can tell. What d’ya hear?”
“Wait a minute,” Wallace said, and pressed his fat headphones as tight to his ears as he could. He heard what seemed to be footsteps on wooden stairs, but he couldn’t tell if they were going up or down and he couldn’t tell how many people were walking. They stopped and he closed his eyes to concentrate.
“Hey, you up? What’s goin’ on?” O’Connell squawked over the walkie-talkie.
“I can’t hear nothin’,” Wallace said. “What do you see? Any lights anywhere?”
“Yeah, upstairs, but there’s shades down on all the – ”
“Wait a second!” Wallace hissed. He heard a voice, then another, but he couldn’t tell who it was. His man’s was louder because the wire was right there, but he was just giving one-word answers. C’m’on, man, he thought, don’t wobble on me now. This is a big one. There were other voices but they were softer, farther away. He heard someone laugh or maybe snort up close. “They’re talkin’,” he said, “but I can’t make it out.”
“Our man knows what he’s doin’?”
“He knows.” He’d been wearing the wire almost a year.
“You work with him before?”
“Yeah,” Wallace said. “I know him, good. Hang on.”
“Is that right?” he heard someone say. “That much?”
“That’s what he said,” the snitch said, louder and clearer.
“Huh. Way more ‘n your usual, ‘idn’t it?”
“Didn’t know I had a usual.”
“Yeah, you do,” another voice said. “And it’s chicken shit. Now five hundred grams? Five-zero-zero? Nice big fat round number? Somethin’ goin’ on we oughta know ‘bout?”
“Nothin’s going on, man. Just a dude I know wants it is all. I said I might be able to make it happen. Didn’t tell him nothin’ about nothin’.”
“Just some dude you know, huh? Is ‘at what you tellin’ me?” the second voice said.
“That’s what I’m telling you.”
“Well, that may be what you tellin’ me,” Wallace heard a lot closer, “but that’s not what I’m hearin’.”
“Oh shit!” Wallace said.
“Back off, man,” the snitch said.
“Back off? You got a lot of balls, you pasty-faced white motherfucker, you know that?”
“What the fuck? I’m not – ” Wallace heard a scuffle, then someone or something hit the floor, hard. A voice roared into his headset. “Say bye-bye to your boy, fuckheads!” Then he heard nothing.
“Shit! They made him, they got him!” he screamed into the walkie-talkie. “Tell me what you see!”
O’Connell jammed the glasses to his eyes. “Nothin’! I don’t see nothin’!”
“Shit oh goddamned fuck shit!” Wallace screamed and flung his headset against the wall. “I’m sending a squad down there now! Don’t lose ‘em!”

O’Connell dropped the glasses and took one more look at the house. Still nothing. He walked fast to 6th, head down, and prayed no one was on lookout. He crossed the street and ran up the sidewalk to his civilian Pontiac. He jumped in the driver’s seat, ripped the ignition on, and hung a quick left onto Morton, then pressed the brakes and crept down the street. He pulled to the right curb, his eyes fixed on the landing of the house. The night was chilly, but his face was bathed in sweat. Everything was still. He smacked the steering wheel with both palms, then gripped it tight, waiting for something, anything.

Headlights shone from an alley just behind him on the right. A black Lincoln pulled up to the street, paused, and turned his way, the only way it could go on Morton. O’Connell watched it pull slowly past. Two in the front, one in the back, all of them looking straight ahead. He waited for them to get further down the block, then eased away from the curb and followed them to the stop sign where the street dead-ended at 7th. He caught lights in the rear-view mirror and glanced up to see a beat-up minivan turning his way from out the alley. “Shit!” he muttered. Which one had the snitch? What if neither of them did?
The Lincoln pulled to a stop at the corner. He scribbled down the plate number. The rustbucket pulled too close behind him to read the tag. He couldn’t make out a face or even a head. Neither car had a turn signal on. The Lincoln bolted left, squirting between cars running both ways on 7th. He pulled to the corner, keeping his eyes on the rear-view mirror. Still no signal behind, but he knew what was coming. He flicked a look up 7th and saw the Lincoln’s brake lights flash as the light at Florida turned red. That gave him a shot to keep up so he swung left too and shook his head as he looked in the side mirror and watched the van peel out to the right. He grabbed the phone from the console and punched up Wallace.
“Where you now?” the detective said.
“I’m going north on 7th behind a Lincoln that pulled out the alley from behind the house.”
“All right. I got cars headed for Morton.”
“Roger that, but another car out the alley went south on 7th.”
“Shit in my hat!” Wallace yelled. “What’s that car?”
“Old bucket of a van’s all I could see. Couldn’t get the plates. DC’s all I know.”
“How ‘bout the one you’re on?” O’Connell read what he wrote.
“All right,” Wallace said. “Stick with him and keep this thing open. I’ll APB the van.”
“Roger that.” The light turned green. “We’re movin’. Left on Florida, headin’ for 6th.”
He stayed far enough behind so no one in the Lincoln would think they had a tail, slowing enough to let a car cut between them as they crossed over 6th N.E. The Lincoln moved into the left lane. He waited till they crossed 4th before he did too. The light at New York two blocks ahead was green. They crossed under the railroad bridge just past 3rd, O’Connell’s eyes trained on the light. Still green – then yellow a half-block from New York. The Lincoln sped up and he did too. He watched it blast through the red and stomped the gas to shoot through just behind, traffic pinching in on him from both sides. Brakes squealed and horns blared. He threw a middle finger up as both cars floored it up New York in tandem. He heard the faint wail of sirens behind him and hoped that was Wallace closing in on the van. Up ahead, the Lincoln was flying. They know they have company now, O’Connell thought, and pressed the pedal down as they charged toward North Capitol. The light stayed green and he flicked a glance at the speedometer as he flew through the intersection into Northwest – 57 and climbing. He picked up the phone.
“Yo. We’re bookin’ it up Florida. He knows I’m here, no doubt about it now. Those sirens yours?”
“Yeah,” Wallace said. “Squad car on Pennsylvania Southeast saw it go by two minutes after I put it out. We’re closin’ in.”
“Roger that.”
“You need backup?”
“Hard to know. All I got now’s a speeder.”
“Yeah. That and a corpse in the trunk.”
“Detective,” O’Connell said, “you tell me I got probable cause for that and I will pull him over and turn that thing inside out.” He waited for the word as they zipped through the light at Georgia like O’Connell was drafting him at Daytona. Wallace muttered something he couldn’t get.
“You say somethin’?”
“I said you don’t have it, least not for that. He got an expired tag? Light out?”
“Shit, I could nail him right now.” He flicked a glimpse at the speedometer. “61. In a 35.”
“Your call.”
“All right then,” O’Connell said. “I’ll let you know when.” He groped behind him and pulled a portable beacon off the floor onto his lap. He slid the window down halfway as they made the soft left onto U Street way too hard. Traffic was heavier now, both lanes, so the Lincoln slowed down and he did too, right behind. He kept his left hand on the beacon as they crept down U to a red light at 13th. A couple of brothers crossed in front of him to join the late-night line spilling onto the sidewalk from Ben’s Chili Bowl to his right. He made out a few bodies lying under the scaffolding at the Metro stop they were putting in just across the street. This was no place to pull anyone over so he kept the beacon on his lap as they crawled past 13th and 14th. O’Connell saw the driver’s eyes dart back to look at him in the rear view mirror every other second. All he could make out was a dark knit cap, a puffy black face, a mustache, and a soul patch. The Lincoln came to a full stop at the stop signs at 15th and 16th, and the driver pulled to a stop at the red light at 17th. Then burst through it.
“Motherfucker!” O’Connell spat out. He flipped the beacon on, slapped it on the roof, banged his fist on the horn, and kept it there. He swerved his way through the intersection, then floored it to catch up to the Lincoln in the left lane maybe thirty yards ahead. The light where Florida curled back to meet U just before 18th was red. The Lincoln was pinned in, the second car back. Cars sat to his right. Too much traffic coming their way off Florida to make a Uey, he thought, then slapped his left armpit to make sure the Glock was there and pulled forward to about ten feet behind the Lincoln when the light turned green. The car in front of it moved ahead but the Lincoln just sat there, brake lights on.
O’Connell edged forward, then slammed his foot on the brake when he saw doors burst open on both sides of the car, three dark forms flying out in different directions. The driver ran across the intersection and disappeared behind the lights of a car heading through it. O’Connell caught a glimpse of someone running up the pavement on the right side of Florida. He heard footsteps pound away from him up the other side, then fade into nothing.
O’Connell yanked the Glock from its holster and threw the car door open. An Oldsmobile swerved past him into the opposite lanes, horn screaming. He kept the gun trained on the Lincoln. The rear door on the driver’s side was the only one shut. “Police!” he screamed. “Put your fuckin’ hands up and get out of the car!” No one got out. He pointed the gun at the driver’s seat and side-stepped slowly to just behind the rear door. The swirling reflection of the beacon light was the only thing moving.
“Get out now! Last fucking chance!” He edged a step closer, his back against the car, them heard something and froze.
You know it, you know, and the whole world has to answer right now.
Just to tell you once again. Who’s bad?

Michael Effing Jackson. O’Connell swung around to fill the driver’s doorway, two gloved hands on the gun he levelled straight ahead. The front seat was empty. He rotated right. Back seat too. He knelt on the driver’s seat, flicked off the radio, and checked out the floorboards in front. Nothing. He leaned over the seat and saw a sea of empty Colt .45 cans on the floor. He batted them around but nothing else was back there. He spun back and slid into the driver’s seat, wedged up tight against the steering wheel. He found the button at the side of the seat and watched raindrops start to dot the windshield as he slowly glided back. He sat still for a few seconds, then turned the car off and yanked the key from the ignition. He muttered a quiet “Fuck” and pushed himself out of the car.
He walked back to the trunk, put the key in, took a deep breath, and held it. He turned the key and the lid bounced up. A spare, a jack, some brown wrapping paper, and twine. He moved to the side so his lamps could light it up and knelt down to peer all the way back. That was it. No body, no blood, nothing.
He fell into the front seat of the Pontiac and picked up the phone. “Yo. Wallace. You there?”
“Yeah. What’s up?”
“Guys ditched the car on U at Florida. Took off in every friggin’ direction.”
“You check it out?”
“Yeah, some beer cans, crap in the trunk. No body, no contraband, no nothin’.”
“All right,” Wallace said. “Impound it and call it a night.”
“Will do. Where’re you?”
“Chasing this goddamn van down P-A Av Southeast.” O’Connell heard the sirens wail through the receiver. “You need backup?” he asked.
“We got it. Two units. Goddamn it!” Wallace yelled as the car took air going over the hill at Branch. Zimmer, the patrolman at the wheel, hit the brakes. Wallace reached forward and tapped him on the shoulder.
“No, no, no, Zim. Stick with ‘im. Don’t mind me.”
“Getting’ too old for this shit,” Wallace said into the phone. “Let’s talk tomorrow. 10-4.” He handed the phone to a young black cop in the passenger seat, a kid he helped recruit named Jewelius Rodney. Zimmer slowed down anyway because they were at the van’s bumper and cars in both lanes were pumping their brakes and pulling over to get out of the way. The avenue bottomed out and they climbed towards Alabama. The rain fell harder now. Zimmer sped up the wipers but the climb slowed the van down even more.
“I never been in a chase this goddamn slow before,” Rodney said. “Friggin’ bumper cars go faster.”
Zimmer looked at Wallace in the rear view mirror. “We’re in Maryland in probably less’n a mile,” he said. “Should I call ‘em?” He picked up the phone to let Wallace know what he thought. Wallace did the math. He had a car coming down Pennsylvania behind him and another one coming up Southern chasing a van barely doing the speed limit that sounded like firecrackers on the Fourth of July and looked like it crashed onto earth sometime last century.
“No,” he said. “There’s enough of us already. Stand down.” Zimmer laid the phone back in the console. They crested over Alabama and maybe it was just gravity but the van sped up, jets of water shooting off its rear wheels strafing the cruiser’s windshield. Zimmer put the wipers on max and stuck to the van’s bumper. Wallace heard another siren fire up behind them and turned to see flashers dancing on top of the cruiser racing up. He turned back to see they were coming to Southern, where D.C. turned into Maryland.
“See if you can pass him,” he yelled to Zimmer, “box him between us.”
Zimmer shot to the right and pumped the accelerator till he pulled even with the van. There were no windows on the side until the front seat and Wallace saw just the driver up there. The guy stole him a look and shot him the bird. Young, black, full beard, close cropped natural. Wallace motioned him to pull over. He took off. The cruiser kept pace. The light at Southern a hundred yards ahead turned yellow. Just past it, the road began a long turn left.
“Bust it!” Wallace yelled to Zimmer.
They raced through the red side by side. In the left lane no more than fifty yards ahead, a dark car’s brake lights suddenly lit up the rain pouring down now. Wallace heard the van’s brakes screech and watched it start to spin away from them. The cruiser shot past and Wallace whirled to see the van spin back the other way and skid across the right lane, carving ripples in the water till it hit the gravel on the shoulder and spun like a top into a thicket of trees. He heard a tremendous wham, then nothing but the wipers beating back and forth.
“Turn around!” he yelled, but Zimmer was already crossing the grass median and speeding back up Pennsylvania. The other cruiser was pulling to the shoulder where the van left the road. Wallace’s car rolled up just behind it and he didn’t wait for it to stop before he jumped out and ran to the edge of the trees. The headlamps and beacons lit the scene enough to show the van right side up, its rear wheels on the ground, the rest of it at about a thirty degree angle, impaled on a tree trunk. Both front doors were resting open against their frames, still quivering from the crash. The side door and rear door were shut. Zimmer came to Wallace’s side. Rodney and two other cops fanned out to their right, guns drawn.
“Okay,” Wallace said, “go ahead but take it slow. Don’t want no surprises.”
Zimmer took a step forward and waved his gun hand at the others to move ahead. They stepped forward slowly until they were within five yards of the back of the van. Zimmer motioned them to stop, then tipped his head forward to Rodney and they circled wide around the van, Zimmer on the driver’s side, Rodney on the other. The other two cops closed the gap with Wallace and knelt in place, their Glocks aimed at the van. Zimmer raised his left arm and motioned to Rodney to come closer. Wallace watched them edge closer to the van, each in a crouch, gun trained on the doors. Zimmer reached for the lip of the door and jerked it open all in one motion. The driver fell in a lifeless heap to the mud at his feet. A split-second later, Rodney threw the passenger door open and jumped to his knees up on the seat, both hands in a death grip on the gun, waving it back and forth at the empty back seat.
“No one else here!” he screamed, then slid back down into the seat and put his head between his knees.
Wallace slipped on a pair of latex gloves and walked to the driver’s side. Zimmer backed off a step to let him kneel and get a good look at the body. Glass shards pockmarked his face and beard. His eyes, open and bulging, fixed their gaze somewhere over his shoulder. Blood dripped from a deep gash at his hairline down his right cheek and clung there. Wallace looked up and saw a huge ragged hole where the left side of the windshield used to be, red streaks striping the glass and the dash. The steering wheel was bent back and cracked open at the 12 position. Wallace pushed himself up and leaned into the front seat. The familiar stink of death drifted past him, mixed with menthol and alcohol.
Rodney raised his head and turned to look at him, licking his lips, his eyes rimmed red and wet. Wallace knew exactly what he was going through. He’d lived through more than one nightmare over the past twenty-eight years on the MPD.
“So what do you see down there, my man?” he asked. Rodney looked back down at the floor and picked up an open pack of Salems. “Just this, detective.” Wallace nodded and pushed himself back out the driver’s side, then walked back to the rear of the van. Zimmer was there waiting for him. Wallace tipped his head to the van doors.
Zimmer nodded, gripped the handle on the right door, and pulled it open. He saw nothing but a big black plastic bag slide his way a little. He reached in over it to pull the latch on the inside of the other door and pushed it away from him. The bag slid out and spilled to the ground, landing with a heavy thud. A knot at the top kept it closed but the red ooze caked in a long ragged slit in the plastic told Wallace what to expect inside. He took his time squatting down, sucked in a deep breath, then ripped the slit open wide and peeled back the plastic. The face of a ghost stared back at him, its eyes open wide, its head barely attached to its neck, a thick coat of blood still glistening on his chest. Wallace fell back, stunned, sickened, the vomit rocketing up his throat. He lurched to his knees as it roared out, endlessly it seemed. When everything inside him was finally out, he bent over and buried his face in his hands. He mumbled something, too low and indistinct for anyone to make out. Rodney looked to Zimmer who could do nothing but stare, then got to his knees beside Wallace and threw an arm around him. He tugged the detective’s sports jacket down and patted his back just to let him know he was there. Wallace was still mumbling the same thing over and over but Rodney couldn’t make it out. He leaned down and whispered in his ear.
“Detective. What is it? What’re you sayin’?” Wallace didn’t change his position. He didn’t raise his voice. But this time Rodney could make him out.
“Schein, Schein, shit, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said again and again and again.

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