DEATH AND TAXES
By Jim Doherty


It was 0930 when I reached Sac Prairie City, Wisconsin, after a four hour drive from Chicago’s Loop. That made me thirty minutes late for “Problem-Solving Day.”

“Problem-Solving Day” is a program the “kinder, gentler” IRS puts on to “help” delinquent taxpayers pay off their debts to Uncle Sam. The idea’s that a local IRS office will schedule a Problem-Solving Day, hopefully generating a lot of publicity, so that taxpayers who are behind will be encouraged to come in and meet with an IRS employee in a non-confrontational, low-stress kind of environment, and work out reasonable payment schedules, settle disputed claims, or do whatever else it takes to get the citizen out of debt.

Of course, this being the Government, nothing ever gets settled that day, because any solution that might be proposed has to be approved through channels, which means that the problems that brought those citizens into the office aren’t really solved, which, potentially, makes for a lot of frustration. Which is why I was there.

I’m a uniformed officer in the Federal Protective Service, one of the Government’s more obscure cop shops. We’re the law enforcement arm of the US General Services Administration, and since GSA is, among other things, Uncle Sam’s real estate manager, our job is providing basic police service on federal property and in federal buildings. The easiest way to think of it is that, if you shoved all the roughly nine thousand Government buildings and offices in the country together so that they formed one big city, we’re that city’s police force. This is necessary, but not particularly prestigious work, and it puts us considerably lower on the federal law enforcement food chain than glamor agencies like the FBI, the Secret Service, or the DEA.

My role that day was just to stand around Sac Prairie’s local IRS office, and, by my uniformed presence, discourage any frustrated taxpayers from acting out their frustrations violently. Basically, it was, like a lot of FPS’s activities, low-level security guard stuff rather than real police work, but the IRS had requested actual cops, rather than contract guards, so here I was.

The local office turned out to be in a small, and rather charming enclosed shopping mall just outside the city limits. Late as I was, it turned out I’d still gotten there before any customers. Apparently they’d had a hard time getting the word out. Of course it might have just been the weather. It was mid-January, and, though the skies were clear and blue, it was bitterly cold. Not the kind of climate you’d necessarily venture out in even to do something you enjoyed, let alone voluntarily walk into an IRS office when you were in arrears.

Quite a few IRS employees from the regional headquarters in Madison, some forty miles to the east, were in Sac Prairie County to help out the locals. Revenue agents, auditors, tax lawyers, at least one criminal investigator, even the district director himself, Paul Coogan, were all there to lend a hand. I introduced myself to Coogan, apologized for being a little late, and explained that the second officer who’d been scheduled for this detail had come down with the flu, delaying my departure, and reducing the number of assigned coppers to one.

He replied that it was quite all right, that I wasn’t that late, and that he was sure one officer would be sufficient. We spent a few minutes chatting. Turned out Coogan’d been a copper himself once, having started his Government career as an agent for the ATF (another hotshot outfit), before transferring over to Central Intelligence and, eventually, Internal Revenue.

I called the Sheriff’s Office to inform the watch commander that I was operating in his jurisdiction, then grabbed a doughnut off of the tray that had been set out for visitors, bought a can of Coke out of a vending machine in the employees lunch room, and went out into the corridor to take up a fixed post by the front door. Supposedly anyone with trouble on his mind would be pacified if the first thing he saw before entering the office was an armed, uniformed policeman. But so few people were showing up that I wasn’t really doing a whole lot of pacifying.

Coogan was right; this wasn’t really a two-man detail. In fact, for the amount of business they were getting they probably could have gotten by with a cardboard cutout of Jack Webb. But a partner would have at least been someone to talk to and pass the time. As it was, the hours were dragging by with agonizing slowness.

Since I was solo, the criminal investigator came out and spelled me a couple of times for pitstops and lunch. During one of my breaks, I happened on a nice little antique shop in another corner of the mall, where I found a Fiestaware covered soup bowl for my wife, Katie Anne, who collects the stuff. During another I browsed a used bookstore where I snagged a copy of The Trail of the Poppy the autobiography of legendary US Narcotics Agent Charles “Charlie Cigars” Siragusa. I’d read the book before, of course, but this was the first decent copy I d ever found for sale. Katie collects plates; I collect cop memoirs.

With Charlie Cigars to keep me company, the second half of the shift went a little quicker, and when they decided to call it a day at 1630, I didn’t feel as washed out as I’d expected to. Due the distance of my trip, I didn’t have to drive back that night. I looked forward to a relaxing evening.

“Daniel Sullivan,” I said to desk clerk at the Red Barn Inn. “I’ve got a reservation.”

She smiled pleasantly, immediately erasing the momentary surprise her face betrayed at a uniformed policeman in a marked squad car asking for a night s lodging, and said, “Yessir. You asked for a federal employees’ rate?”

“That’s right,” I answered, sliding a credit card over to her. In a few moments the formalities of commerce had been completed, and she handed me the key to Room 9.

Though Sac Prairie County is more of a working agricultural community than a resort area, it still boasts a number of hostelries notable for being both picturesque and comfortable. The Red Barn Inn is one of the most picturesque and perhaps the most comfortable. Designed (by a graduate of a nearby, world-renowned architectural institute) to resemble the circular-roofed barns found on so many Wisconsin farms, its spacious rooms and convenient location in the town of Greenspring make it very popular with tourists. The last time I’d stayed here, during a weekend of antiquing with Katie, I’d been one of those tourists.

The drive from the outskirts of Sac Prairie City to Greenspring had taken fifteen or twenty minutes, and the process of checking in, finding my room, stripping off my uniform, showering, and changing into civvies another forty-five, so it was roughly 1730 (well, I was off-duty, now; it was 5:30 PM) when I walked into the Inn’s lounge/restaurant.

The Inn had few guests staying that night, it being the middle of the week in winter, not exactly peak tourist time. Coogan and two of his IRS subordinates were seated around a table in the lounge watching a basketball game on the lounge TV. A thin, ascetic-looking priest, presumably off-duty like me, but still wearing his uniform of a well-fitting black business suit and turned-around-collar, was sitting by himself at the bar, tapping a ring that looked too big for his left ring finger against a glass of wine from which he took an occasional sip, his eyes on the same game. A young couple, casually dressed, sat by themselves at one of the smaller tables, ignoring both their drinks and the TV, eyes only for each other. Two men were seated at a third table, engaged in quiet conversation. One of them was a familiar acquaintance.

I walked over to their table. “Shep,” I said. One of the men looked up. “Dan Sullivan,” I went on. “Katie Anne’s husband.”

Shep Michaels and I had met on one or two previous occasions. His wife and mine worked together. A computer consultant, his photographic hobby had turned into a part-time paying business when he’d begun to sell wilderness photos, taken during weekend camping trips, to such prestigious publications as the Chicago Tribune Magazine and Wisconsin Monthly. Now, I guess he could legitimately describe himself as a free-lance photo-journalist.

He smiled, shook hands, asked me how I was, and invited me to join him and his friend, whom he introduced as Peter Carpenter.

“The psychiatrist?” I asked.

“The same,” he answered. “Do you listen?”

“Not too much. I don’t get up to Milwaukee that often, and your show hasn’t made it to Chicago, yet. I’ve read a few of your articles, though.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding. Though still a comparatively young man, not yet 50, Dr. Carpenter had pretty much retired from clinical practice, becoming a local radio personality who hosted a call-in medical advice show on a talk station in Beer City. Sort of a Midwest Dr. Dean Edell. He supplemented his broadcast income by writing self-help pieces.

He was, it turned out, working on a book about the therapeutic benefits of spending time in the wilderness, and was meeting Shep to discuss the possibility of illustrating it with his photos.

We went into the dining room, spent a bit more than an hour sharing a good meal and pleasant conversation, at the end of which I begged off joining them as they scouted locations for night-time shots.

“I’ve got to make an early start tomorrow,” I explained.

Since I hadn’t ordered dessert after finishing dinner, I felt relatively guilt-free buying a couple of chocolate bars and a can of Coke from the vending machines in the lobby. These I took to my room and set on the nightstand next to my bed. The Inn’s cable system had a few channels Katie and I don t get at home, so I fed my sweet tooth to an uncut, uninterrupted broadcast of a dandy 1948 film noir called T-Men, in which Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder, as undercover Secret Service agents, get the goods on a murderous counterfeiting gang. When that ended, I relaxed through a few more chapters of Siragusa. Sustained by both visual and literary accounts of what federal policing was supposed to be like (as opposed to the reality I’d experienced with FPS), I drifted off to sleep.

During the night it snowed. And I mean snowed. Cold as it was the day before, the skies had been clear and blue, but I awoke the next morning to find that storm clouds had gathered over Sac Prairie County during the night and dumped several feet of the stuff in the matter of a few hours. Had dumped and were continuing to dump. It took me over fifteen minutes, after I’d checked out, to dig my squad out of all the accumulated snow, and another fifteen minutes to warm it up enough that I felt reasonably confident I could proceed without the engine dying. Once started, it took me a another half-hour to go all of one mile down US 14 toward Madison with the snow, ice, and wind flaying unmercifully at my windshield and my wipers ineffectually trying to give me a reasonably clear picture of the road ahead.

“Hell with this!” I said out loud. I stopped, turned the squad around, and headed back to the Red Barn. As I walked into the lobby, the desk clerk was already holding up the key to Room 9.

“Figured you’d be back,” she said.

By the time I d returned to my room it was past 0800. I called the office in Chicago to inform my supervisor, Sergeant Albin, that weather conditions would prevent me from returning.

“The way it’s coming down, I’m not even sure I’d make it to Madison, let alone Chicago, and if I’m going to spend the night away from home, I might as well just stay here.

The sergeant reluctantly agreed. I said that I’d probably see him the next day, if the weather moderated. He said he hoped so, and to keep him informed. I told him I certainly would, and we rang off. Katie Anne wasn’t expecting me home till that evening so I figured I could call her later.

There’s something about heavy snowfall that makes crawling under nice warm covers particularly appealing, and, as I still hadn’t completely made up the sleep deficit of the night before last, and was now off the hook with the sarge, I saw no reason not to try to catch a few more hours shuteye. Fifteen minutes and a chapter of Siragusa later, that’s just what I was doing.

The knocking at the door was loud and insistent. So was the voice that accompanied it.

“Mr. Sullivan? Please open up!”

I shook myself awake. Damn! Had I forgotten to put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign? I looked at my watch on the nightstand. 1000 hours. Well, that was probably time to get up anyway. I called, “Just a minute,” pulled on a t-shirt and jeans, and opened the door to find the desk clerk, in a state of extreme agitation, on the other side.

“It’s Mr. Coogan in Room 6,” she said. “Please come look.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Just please come!” she said.

We went down the hall to Coogan’s room. She fumbled with a key ring, found the room master, slipped it into the lock, and led me into the room.

Coogan was still in bed, turned on his left side. As I moved closer, I saw a brownish-red stain, not as large as you might imagine, but still noticeable, on his pillow. There was a small hole, like a puncture, under his right ear, but the black burn marks around it suggested a gunshot with a small caliber weapon, maybe a .22.

His face, or anyway the right side of it, was unnaturally pale, and cold to the touch. The left side, still resting on the pillow, seemed to be one large purplish/reddish bruise. I pulled up the covers and saw that the bruise-like mark continued down his whole left side. Post-mortem lividity. When the heart stops pumping all the blood still in the body starts to settle to whatever part of the body is closest to the pull of gravity. It’s what they call a “positive sign of death.” It means you don’t have to go through the motions of administering first aid. You can consider the subject irredeemably deceased.

“Guess he’s made his final audit,” I said softly.

“What do we do?” asked the desk clerk.

“Call the police.”

“I thought you were a policeman.”

“Not unless the Government’s bought the Inn.”

“It’s not my jurisdiction!” I shouted into the phone.

“Why not?” asked Douglas Cody, Sheriff of Sac Prairie County, and top-ranking peace officer around these here parts.

I’d been a little surprised, but not dismayed, to find that the Red Barn was part of Greenspring only for postal purposes. The inn was actually situated a bit beyond Greenspring’s city limits, which put it outside the jurisdiction of the Greenspring PD. I hadn’t thought that would be a problem. It was just a question of calling the Sheriff’s Office instead. However, fifteen minutes of buck-passing over the phone had finally gotten me put through to the top man, who was trying to pass it right back to me.

“Isn’t he a federal employee?” Cody went on. “Aren’t you a federal officer?”

“It’s beyond the scope of my responsibility,” I said firmly. “And there’s no proof that he was killed because of anything arising from his employment. Until there is, it’s a local case.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “But this is a small department, and right now we’ve got all we can do handling the emergencies this blizzard’s generating. I don’t know when me or any of my deputies’ll be able to get out to you. In the meantime, you’re right there, and you’re a trained law enforcement officer.”

“This is a homicide!”

“That’s right. And that means the victim’s already dead, so there’s nothing I can do for him. I’ve got people in this county who are still alive needing whatever service I can give ‘em. Until the blizzard stops they’ve got to be my main priority.” “What about the Greenspring Police?”

“Son, you and I both know the reason you’re calling me is ‘cause you’re a hundred feet outside of Greenspring’s municipal boundaries, and I’m here to tell you no Greenspring cop is going to set one toe over that boundary to get himself mixed up in a murder case that’s not his business. Just hold the fort ‘til we can get somebody out there. The weather reports say the storm should start tapering off around midnight. You won’t be able to leave ‘til then anyway. Y’might as well make yourself useful.

“Sheriff, I am not the constabulary giant you seem to think. I don’t know anything about processing a homicide scene. I’m just a uniformed beat cop, and my beat’s nothing but a bunch of office buildings. I’m not too much more than a glorified security guard.”

“Well, I’m just a hick sheriff in a farming community, and I don’t get lot of murder cases, either. Just do the best you can. That’s all I’m asking, one cop to another.

Finally, after I reluctantly agreed, Sheriff Cody officially authorized me to act for Sac Prairie County until relieved. My next call was to the US Attorney s Office in Milwaukee. I spoke to the duty prosecutor, explained my jurisdictional predicament, and told him my position vis-a-vis my supervisors in Chicago was going to be lot stronger if I could say that he approved my remaining in charge until the arrival of local authorities. Most Assistant US Attorneys are buck-passers, but, fortunately, this guy was a little more decisive. He told me to have my bosses get in touch with him if they gave me any grief, and to go ahead and handle things ‘til the sheriff’s men arrived.

It was the next call I dreaded most. GSA hates the idea of its police arm getting involved in any law enforcement activity “off-property.” And I was sure Sergeant Albin and Lieutenant Miller would tell me that I was to do absolutely nothing ‘til the locals got there, no matter how long their getting there took.

Which is exactly what they did.

Being advised that the sheriff had deputized me, not only legally entitling me to act but legally requiring me to, and that the AUSA had also given his imprimatur, left them both somewhat nonplused.

Finally, they admitted defeat, and, all bureaucratic obstacles swept aside, I was, however temporarily, the primary investigator of a high-ranking federal official’s murder.

“But I’m not a forensic pathologist,” Carpenter protested.

“You’re an MD, aren’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I’m not asking you to autopsy the guy. Just tell me whether or not he’s dead.”

“But you said lividity had already set in. Why do I need to confirm it?”

“I say he’s dead, and it’s one man’s opinion. You say he’s dead, and it’s a pronouncement by competent medical authority.”

With that, I led him and Shep down to Room 6. Inside, Carpenter made a cursory examination of the corpse, and announced that he was officially dead, that he had been for at least six hours. I noted the time, told him he could leave now, then turned to Shep.

“Is there a roll in that camera now?”

“Six or seven shots.”

“Go outside and burn ‘em off,” I said. “Then put in a fresh roll. Once you start shooting, don’t stop ‘til you’ve gone through the roll. Any rolls you start with in that room, finish in that room. Eventually, they’re going to have to be booked into evidence, so any roll you use for this crime scene has to be used exclusively for this crime scene.”

Shep nodded, did as I instructed, and, in a few moments, was snapping off shots of the body and the room from every conceivable angle.

What a trio we made. Carpenter, as he took such pains to point out to me, wasn’t a medical examiner. Shep wasn’t a crime scene tech. And I sure as hell wasn’t a homicide detective. But we were all I had.

While Carpenter and I stood outside the door, Shep snapped away, taking care not to touch anything but his camera, and doing his best to tread lightly so as to contaminate the scene as little as possible.

When he’d gone through three rolls, he stopped and asked whether I thought that was enough. I decided it probably was. Undoubtedly, the sheriff’s techs would want to take their own photos, but I’d wanted a set taken as soon after the actual crime as possible.

I turned to Carpenter. “Think we should move him?”

“Where?”

“Restaurant has a big, walk-in fridge. I figure he’ll keep better there. God knows when the locals’ll be able to get here, and I don’t like the idea of him putrefying ‘til they do. On the other hand, moving the body’s kind of a major disturbance of the crime scene. It won’t exactly endear me to Sheriff Cody.”

“Well, it’s awfully cold outside,” Carpenter said. “If the heat in the room is turned off, he should keep as well right there as he would in the refrigerator.”

I nodded, closed and locked the door, and tacked an “X” in yellow, plastic “Police Line” tape across it. Then I took Shep’s three rolls, placed them in a manila envelope, sealed it, and stapled an evidence tag to it.

“I’m going to lock this in one of the safety deposit boxes at the front desk,” I said. “Here’s the key to my room. Why don’t both of you meet me there? I want you to help me brainstorm.”

“Why us?” asked Shep.

“’Cause I’m reasonably sure neither one of you’s the killer.”

*

“The way I see it,” I said to my ad hoc staff, “this was a professional hit.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Carpenter

“Manner of the death. It happened during the night, while we were all asleep. None of us heard the shot, suggesting some kind of suppressor was used. One shot, a contact wound to the base of the skull. Very cold-blooded. Small caliber weapon, probably a .22. Supposed to be a favorite with pros from what I hear. Plus, Coogan had a resume that might have made him a target. Before joining Internal Revenue, he was in the CIA. ATF prior to that. Good places to make enemies.”

As I spoke, I was removing my civvies, and putting on my uniform. Once, a few months earlier, Sergeant Albin had called me in the middle of the night and ordered me down to the Loop because some whacko’d called in a bomb threat to the Dirksen Building and they wanted me to mount a search. I immediately drove from my home to 219 South Dearborn, organized some contract guards into a makeshift search team, and conducted a floor-by-floor canvass. We didn’t find anything, but the effort had to be made.

Anyway, the point is, instead of being thanked for getting out of my nice warm bed and handling this potential emergency in as expeditious a manner as possible, I got a chewed out for not first stopping at the FPS District Office a few block south of the Dirksen and changing into my uniform. “You can’t operate in plainclothes without the express approval of the FPS Commissioner in DC,” I was told. That turned out to be bullshit, of course, but, just the same, I wanted to avoid that argument this time.

“All right,” said Shep. “So, it’s a professional hit. So what?”

“Okay, now we start playing the odds. According to the desk clerk, nobody’s checked out. A few people were upset about being snowbound, but no one wanted to take a chance on driving in the blizzard except me, and I gave it up after a mile or so. Everybody on the Inn staff who was here last night is still here. So everybody that was here when Coogan got killed is still here. Conclusion: The killer’s still here.”

“Couldn’t it have been somebody from the outside?” asked Carpenter.

“Possible, but not likely. The doors are all locked at midnight. The only way in is with a key or by buzzing the front desk clerk. That would mean he’d be seen. Of course, he could have picked the lock to one of the side entrances of the room wings. I doubt they’re exactly state-of-the-art, but why bother when all he has to do is check in, wait ‘til the few guests staying here are asleep, and take care of business at his leisure. Besides, if it was somebody from the outside, we’re screwed before we start. He’s long gone by now. ‘Til we can prove different, let’s just play the percentages, and assume it’s somebody at hand.

“How do we eliminate suspects?” asked Carpenter. He and Shep were starting to get into this. Me too. I hadn’t exactly been passionate about being dragooned into a murder case, but I had to admit it was stimulating. I mean, really this was a transcendent law enforcement experience! Here I was snowbound in a remote rural area with a small group of people, one of whom was (probably) a professional killer, and I didn’t know which one. I was living an Agatha Christie situation! How many cops’d that ever happened to?

“Again, we play the odds. If we’re right about its being a professional job, it wasn’t any of the Inn staff. They’ve all been working here for years. Yesterday’s Problem-Solving Day was scheduled just a few months ago, and Coogan didn’t make reservations to stay here ‘til last week. Too much of a coincidence for a contract killer to already be employed by the place his victim’s staying.”

“Okay,” said Shep. “Who else?”

“Well, I know I didn’t do it, so I immediately eliminate myself. And as I said, I’m reasonably sure you guys didn’t do it, because I happen to know that you,” I pointed at Shep, “really are a computer consultant and free-lance photographer, and you,” indicating Carpenter, “really are an eminent psychiatrist and broadcast personality. Of course, these could be really well-developed covers for your activities as hit men, but the odds are against it. Getting a genuine degree in medicine or computer science is a lot of trouble to go to just to conceal your criminal career. Coming up here was whose idea?”

“Mine,” said Carpenter.

“Well, Doc, of the two of you, you’re the least likely to be an undercover hit man, just on account of your being way too high-profile. And if coming up here was your idea, that helps eliminate Shep, because that means his being here at the same time as Coogan is just a coincidence, not part of a carefully worked-out plan.”

“You’ve convinced me,” said Shep. “We’re both innocent. Who else?”

“I think Nelson and Fleischer, the two IRS guys staying up here, are out of it,” I said, “for the same reason as both of you. We know they’re bona fide IRS employees. Of course, infiltrating a government agency would be very advantageous for a professional criminal, but, once more, the percentages are against it. I haven’t eliminated them as completely as you two, but, for the moment, I’m not seriously considering them. The killer’s far more likely to be someone whose background we know nothing about. That narrows it down to three possibilities.”

“Who’re they?” asked Carpenter.

“Father Hannigan, the priest, and Mr. and Mrs. Scalisi, the young couple. The desk clerk says that the Scalisis made their reservation a few days after Coogan and his staff, and Hannigan’s a walk-in. They’re unknown to anybody else in the Inn.”

“It’s not Father Hannigan,” said Carpenter, firmly.

“How can you be so sure?”

“He’s got advanced cancer. He’s dying.”

“How do you know that? A little while ago you were insisting you weren’t qualified to pronounce death over a cold stiff with plainly visible lividity. Now you can diagnose terminal cancer from a distance?”

“I worked with cancer patients when I interned,” said Carpenter. “And, when I was still in clinical practice, I used to lead a group of terminal patients, help them come to terms with their passing. Most of them had cancer. Of course, I can’t be absolutely sure without doing a full check-up, and even then I’d recommend getting a second opinion from an oncologist, but, if we’re playing the percentages, as you say, I’d bet the man is very close to death. All the symptoms are there. He’s got to be innocent. Who’d send a dying man out to do murder?”

“Who indeed?” I said.

I knocked loudly on the door.

“Hannigan,” I said in a loud voice, “it’s the police! I need to talk to you!” Carpenter’s diagnosis had clinched it, as far as I was concerned. I still didn’t have evidence that would convict in court, but that evidence would be in his room. It might be fibers from the carpet in Coogan’s room on the soles of Hannigan’s shoes. It might be bloodstains that he’d missed when he cleaned up after himself. It might even be the gun, if it was a sentimental favorite and he didn’t expect to get caught. It was in there, and I meant to get him out of there so he couldn’t destroy it before Cody could get inside with a warrant and a forensics team.

Masquerading as a priest was inspired. Nobody looks at a priest. Not as person. They just see the collar. Like a cop that people regard as simply a badge and a gun. The symbol overrides the personality.

But he’d made a few glitches. For one thing, Greenspring has a Catholic church. I knew because Katie and I’d attended Mass there during that weekend of antiquing. If there was a church, there was a rectory. Why was he spending money at the Inn, walking in at the last minute, when he could have stayed at the rectory for free?

Then there was business of that over-sized ring. Carpenter saw it as a sign of emaciation, a symptom of his illness. What he missed was that it was on his left ring finger. His wedding finger. What was a priest doing with a wedding ring?

Then there was the fact that his clerical garb fit so well. If he d gone through a recent period of rapid weight loss, his clothes should have hung on him the way his ring did. Unless they were brand new, bought for a specific purpose. Like a costume, bought to fit a specific role.

The fatal illness was the clincher. A cop-killing, or any other high-profile killing, is something most organized crime types try to avoid. Whichever wise guy said, “We only kill each other,” may not have been completely accurate, but for the most part he was right. Killing other gangsters doesn’t really stir up a lot of public or official anger. Killing cops, or outsiders, or political figures does.

Coogan, ex-cop, ex-spy, current high-level tax official, was just the kind of guy whose murder would generate a lot of heat. Most contract killers won’t take a job like that. Occasionally, however, when such a murder’s been deemed absolutely necessary, the contract’s been given to a dying man, someone who won’t have anything to lose if he’s caught. Someone who’s maybe supposed to get caught so he’ll take all the heat, leaving the higher-ups safe.

I pounded the door again. “Hannigan! Open up!”

The door opened. Hannigan’s jacket was on. He was buttoning the top button of his black, clerical shirt, and sliding the starched, white insert into the ends of his clerical collar. He smiled, and said pleasantly, “Yes, Officer.”

His eyes traveled up from my uniform to my face, and tightened threateningly. I shouldn’t have been looking at his eyes. I should have been looking at his hands.

He was sweeping the right side of his jacket aside, reaching into the small of his back. His hand came out holding a small automatic pistol. Looking at his face, like some dumb rookie, I’d missed the beginning of the movement, so, even though I’d unsnapped my holster, he was able to get a shot off before I could draw and return fire.

My Kevlar vest took the full impact of his .22 slug. I barely felt it. Surprisingly effective for just-plain killing, the .22 is pretty anemic in combat situations. Not enough knockdown force. The seven .40 caliber hollowpoints I answered him with found his clerical shirt no obstacle at all. Not quite four feet away from me, he took every one dead center. Carpenter later said he was probably dead before the last four rounds hit him.

A fingerprint check identified him as Milton “Meat” Cleaver, a “suspected” button man whom the FBI had linked to over a dozen hits east of the Mississippi. An autopsy confirmed Carpenter’s diagnosis of cancer. He was riddled with it.

We never found out who’d hired Cleaver, or why. The general consensus was that something arising out of Coogan s shadowy “Company” days was the reason for the hit, but this has never been confirmed.

I never could understand why he’d tried to shoot it out. It had seemed as though he was going to try to play out his bluff but suddenly changed his mind. Maybe he just saw me as a convenient suicide weapon to save himself all those months of slow, agonizing death.

The Inspector General’s Office of GSA clean-billed me on the shooting. Totally justified, they’d said. My own superiors at FPS were less enthusiastic. There’d been some mumbling about having “no legal grounds” to knock on Riley’s door, or some such nonsense. My explanation of exigent circumstances (an armed man, most likely still in the Inn; the necessity to protect the other guests, to preserve evidence, etc.) didn’t convince them.

Some pressure from the IRS, a particularly important GSA tenant, did. In the end, I was awarded a two hundred and fifty dollar “Fast Track” cash bonus for my part in the investigation.

I once got a five hundred dollar “Fast Track” for making a suggestion that simplified paperwork procedures. Ease the bureaucracy s production of stuff nobody reads; get rewarded with five hundred dollars. Survive a gunfight with a notorious professional killer; get half of that.

Gives you an idea of just what GSA’s priorities are.


A law enforcement professional for more than ten years, JIM DOHERTY, like his protagonist Dan Sullivan, has worked at a number of different police agencies, most recently as a uniformed officer in the Chicago District of the US Federal Protective Service (though Government ethics rules require him to note that neither FPS, its parent organization the General Services Administration, nor any other federal agency, had anything to do with “Death and Taxes”). Dan Sullivan stories have also appeared in MYSTERY BUFF MAGAZINE, BLUE MURDER, and the small-press anthology TALES FROM THE RED LION. Jim’s a member of the Mystery Writers of America and is currently serving a term on the Board of MWA's Midwest Chapter.


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