By Percy Spurlark Parker



It seemed to Detective Sergeant Theo Zigganowski that he’d been called Ziggs all his life.  At least he couldn’t remember a time when it had been different.  It was Ziggs through grammar school and high school, his stint in the Army, even when he entered the police academy.  His family was the only ones who gave him a reprieve, with them he was simply Theo.

During his twenty-three years on the force he’d been partnered with eight different officers.  And it was their cross to bear, that each in turn had been saddled with the moniker, Zaggs.  It wasn’t a protocol posted along with the duty roster, or a directive that came down from the chief.  It was just the way things were, if you worked with Ziggs, you were Zaggs. 

Currently detective Joyce Malone wore the mantle, and had been for the past ten months.  She latched onto the dubious title with a certain amount of pride.  Ziggs was one of the best detectives in the city.  Being called Zaggs most of the day was worth it for the chance to work with him.  Besides, he always referred to her as Malone.

She was tall and athletic, with short cropped blonde hair and keen features.  He was an ox of a man, whose thick muscles never allowed his shoulders to slump.  Her rather thin lips with equal ease could offer a warm smile or bark a command for a suspect to freeze.  His rag of a mustache looked more like an accident than something planned.  Her three year marriage had produced a son and then a divorce.  He and his wife had had their ups and downs but they both were too stubborn to call it quits.  Four kids, six grand kids and counting, they were coming up on their twenty-fifth year together.

Zaggs took the call when it came in.  She’d become familiar with Woody Blake’s raspy voice during the time she’d been working with Ziggs.  He was always calling in with this tip or that, trying to get a few bucks.  Most of the time he was wrong.

“Hey, Zaggs, you guys still looking for Bengie Seaton?”

Seaton was a suspect in a rash of burglaries that’d occurred in the past two weeks.  A string of low risk break-ins, ma and pa stores, first floor offices, the type of unimaginative jobs Seaton was noted for.  They’d looked for him at his regular hang-outs, questioned family and friends, but they hadn’t been able to locate him. 

“Yeah, Woody, he’s still on our must do list.”

“Thought you’d like to know he’s at his girlfriend‘s.”

“Terri Hamusen’s place.  You sure?”

“Unless he’s paying someone else a visit in the building, I just saw him sneaking up her apartment’s fire escape.”

It was about time the hide-and-seek came to an end, Ziggs thought, as he slid behind the wheel of the unmarked car.  Zaggs strapped herself into the seat next to him.  Seat belts were the law, but with Ziggs behind the wheel and the way he drove they were a downright necessity.

Seaton wasn’t noted as the violent type, so they hadn’t called in back-up.  If the tip was correct, hauling him in should be a routine collar.  The first sign that Ziggs assessment was wrong was the partially opened door at the girlfriend’s apartment.  The apartment was on the third floor at the end of a narrow hallway right next to the back exit.  Zaggs cursed herself; she should’ve covered the fire escape.  Now it would probably take another two weeks to track Seaton down.  Ziggs was feeling much the same way until he caught a faint whiff of cordite and he instantly pulled his service revolver feeling the thump of his own heart beat quicken.

Zaggs, seeing the big Colt Mag in her partner’s hand flattened herself to the hallway wall and slid her .38 automatic out of its holster.  She took a deep breath and held it, letting it out slowly, getting control of her mind and body.  The last time they’d gone into a room with weapons drawn a bullet had whizzed past her right ear.  They’d gone by the book, taken the precautions; it was just one of the hazards of the job.  They’d both returned fire, her slug had caught the guy in his gut, Ziggs’ big mag had almost took his right arm off. 

They looked at each other across the open doorway, Zaggs waiting for Ziggs prompt.  He held up three thick fingers, counting silently as he folded the fingers into a fist.  A quick nod and he dashed into the apartment with her following, him to the right, her to the left.  Ziggs, for a big man moved fluidly when he had to.  She was ready but fortunately no one shot at them.

The room they were in housed a black imitation leather sofa, two overstuffed chairs of the same material, cocktail table, flat screen TV, and doors on each of the left and right walls.  Another nod from Ziggs and they hit the doors simultaneously.  Zaggs lead to the kitchen, Ziggs to the bedroom.  Zaggs found a pot of cold coffee on the stove.  Ziggs found Seaton and his girlfriend.

They were both on the bed, Seaton lying across his girlfriend’s naked body forming a morbid X.  Her hands and feet were bound by duct tape and she had a swatch across her mouth.  She’d been shot in the right temple, her eyes frozen open from the shock of the bullet entering her brain.  Seaton had been shot in the back of his head, brain matter and blood splattered the wall closest to the bed.  There was no need to check to see if either was still alive.  Ziggs stepped out of the room holstering his gun.  He got his cell and put the call in to the precinct.

* * *

“How’d you read it, Sarge?” Zaggs asked.

They were standing on the fire escape landing while the M.E. and lab boys finished up in the apartment.  Their third floor vantage point really didn’t offer them much of a view, the slab of bricks that was the next building, and the cluttered alley below.  It had rained earlier; pockets of water remained here and there, reflecting the sun whenever it peeked from behind the clouds.

“Somebody wanted Seaton worse than we did,” Ziggs said.  He was pissed.  He had been at numerous murder scenes and had never gotten used to the waste.  Some angered him more than others.  “She gave him up.”

Upon closer inspection the girlfriend had been worked over, there were bruises about her face and reddish-black burn marks on her breasts.  It was obvious she’d been made to coax Seaton out of hiding.

“When Seaton got here, our boy probably forced him into the bedroom to show off his handy work, shot him, then shot the girlfriend, or vice versa.  We haven’t found any shell casings, so either a revolver was used, or our killer cleaned up after himself.  Amateurs aren’t usually that thorough.”

“What could a punk like Seaton have done to warrant a pro hit?”

Ziggs shrugged his thick shoulders.  “Stepped on the wrong toes, told one too many lies.  Who knows?”

He watched her light a filtered cigarette with a disposable lighter and frowned.  She smoked too much and he told her so at least twice a day for all the good it did.  She would usually come back with some crack about reform smokers, of which he was one.  He hadn’t smoked for nearly fifteen years, since watching his kid brother die of lung cancer.

She blew smoke in the direction of the building across the alley, turned back to Ziggs.  “Seaton was the target.  The girlfriend was done to tie up loose ends.  Our killer’s not squeamish about body count.  Good thing he didn’t bump into anyone in the hallway. “

It was one of those times when a spark of an idea hit both of them.  They looked at each other nodding in unison, and in unison said, “Woody.”

They found him outside, in the crowd held back by yellow police tape.  It wasn’t that difficult a search; he was standing up front, right by the tape.  Ziggs motioned to him, and the three of them got off to themselves away from the building’s entrance, the crowd, and the squad cars.

“Got one of those for me, Zaggs?” Woody asked, his voice a fine mixture of sandpaper and gravel.

She shook a cigarette out of her pack, he had his own lighter. “Thanks,” he said, after taking a deep pull on the tobacco.  He was a skinny little guy, maybe about five-two, somewhere between fifty and a hundred years old.  A milk chocolate face full of wrinkles and baggy, yet clear brown eyes.  “Guess you found Seaton and his ol’ lady?”

“We did,” Ziggs confirmed.  “Sounds like you knew what we’d find.”

“Not really.  I was hoping I’d see you walk him out in cuffs.  Guess it was just wishful thinking.”  He paused long enough to take another long pull on the cigarette.  “Always liked ol’ Bengie.  He was good for a buck or two if he had it.”  

Ziggs got a twenty out of his wallet.

“That ain’t necessary,” Woody said, but he took the bill and put it in his pocket.  Another drag on the cigarette, then, “I saw Ruben Peel’s T-bird parked around the corner after I called you.   He collects for Dale Cutler, you know?”

Ziggs nodded, they’d been after something concrete on the two for years.

“Everybody knows Bengie has, I mean had a jones for the ponies.  Word on the street is he was into Cutler for a few thousand.  Easy to get behind.  Cutler’s compound interest is a bitch.  Thought if Ruben was there for Bengie, maybe he’d just rough him up a bit.”

“You sure it was Ruben Peel’s car?” Zaggs asked.

“Can’t miss it, custom diamond black finish, gold chrome.  You see the car, you know to get your piggy bank, Ruben’s coming for Dale’s money.  Besides, I saw Ruben come out of the building, throw a gym bag or something in the trunk of his car and drive off.  Kept my fingers crossed that Bengie was all right, a little bruised, but breathing.”

“Popping two people for a few thousand seems a mite excessive,” Zaggs said.

“Cutler shows what he’s willing to do for pocket change,” Ziggs said, “the others jump in line real quick.”

They put an A.P.B. out for Ruben and his T-bird, then took Woody back to the precinct to get his statement typed up.

Within the hour they got word that Peel had been picked up outside a restaurant in Chinatown and that his T-bird was being impounded.  When the arresting officers marched Peel into the precinct, Ziggs took his jacket and shirt, and had him put into one of the interrogation rooms.  He let him stew for about twenty minutes before going in to interview him. He would’ve preferred doing it with a nightstick, but the good old days were long gone.

The interrogation room wasn’t much on décor. Peel sat at a metal table that was bolted to the floor. His left hand cuffed to a ring of steel that was attached to the table.  Taking his shirt and jacket had left him wearing a black silk V-neck T-shirt, he didn‘t seem too disturbed by it as though he welcomed the chance to show off his muscles and tattoos. 

Ziggs sat across from him, a green folder on the table between them.  Zaggs leaned against the wall by the door.

“You know it’s cold in here?” Peel asked.

“No, I didn’t,” Ziggs lied.  “You cold, Ruben?”

He shrugged. “A mite, you got me sitting here half naked. At least you could do is offer me some coffee or something.”

“We got any coffee, Malone?”

“Not a drop,” Zaggs responded.

“Looks like you have to go without,” Ziggs said. 

Peel shrugged, “So, I’ll go without.” He had diamond studs in each ear, and a mustache that flowed into a perfectly shaped goatee. He probably thought he looked good, to Ziggs he was just another punk whose bad ass days were over.

“You have the right to remain silent,” Ziggs started.

“Yeah, yeah, bah, bah, bah.”

“Do you understand these rights?” Ziggs asked, finishing up the Mirandizing.

“I said I did. Now are you going to tell me why I’m here?”

“Let’s talk about Bengie Seaton and Terri Hamusen.”

“Never heard of them.”

“Forgotten already? They’re the couple you murdered this afternoon.”

“You got the wrong guy. I think it’s time I see a lawyer.”

Ziggs ignored him. “We still execute people in this state, don’t we, Malone?”

“Got one scheduled for the needle next month, Sarge,” Zaggs said. “Guy who says he doesn’t remember shooting his ex-wife’s boyfriend five times.”

“Oh, yeah him. Weak ass defense.”

“I want a lawyer,” Peel repeated.

Ziggs nodded. “If you insist. But I thought you ought to know we got you six ways from Sunday on this, Ruben. We found the murder weapon in a gym bag in the trunk of your car. The tape that was used to bind one of the victims. The gloves you wore.”  

“You guys just can’t search my car. You got to have probable cause or something like that. Anything you found my lawyer can get thrown out.”

“We have a witness, Ruben, who saw you exiting the building were the murders took place and put the gym bag in your car. That’s all the probable cause we need.”

“If there was anything there, you planted it.”

“That’s not going to fly either. Ever hear of blowback? Whenever you shoot someone, and you’re close enough, like the two hits you made this afternoon, a little of the blood always sprays back. Minute, little droplets. Most likely you wouldn’t even notice it. But the lab boys can spot it, match the blood type with the victims.”

There was a hard set to his expression now. “I know what you’re trying to do and it’s not going to work. You don’t get another word out of me until I see a lawyer.”

“That would be a lawyer on Cutler’s payroll, right? You’re not totally dumb, are you, Ruben? Just who do you think the lawyer’s going to be working for? And what’s a jury going to do when they take a look at your handy work?”

Ziggs opened the folder and laid the 8x10 photos of the murder victims on the table, close-ups of the damage the bullet did to the back of Seaton’s head, the burns on Hamusen’s naked body. 

   “Now what you’ve got to decide is, are you going to be the one on the gurney, or is it going to be the guy who ordered the hit?”

Ziggs leaned back in his chair keeping a steady eye on Peel. “Which is it going to be, Ruben? Do I get you a phone so you can call Cutler’s lawyer, or do I get the D.A. in here so you can hash out a deal?”

* * *

“They don’t make crooks like they used too,” Ziggs said. They’d wrapped up for the day and were in the precinct parking lot. “Times were a henchman would go down in flames before turning on his boss.”

The best the D.A. was offering was life with no possibility of parole. Considering the alternative, Peel took the offer and once he got started he kept the stenographer’s fingers working overtime. Ziggs and Zaggs last official act of the day was arresting Dale Cutler.

“Good day’s work, Sarge.”

“Yeah, I kind of think we did all right.”

Zaggs shook a cigarette out of her pack.

Ziggs’ harsh, disapproving glare made up his whole expression.

She stopped digging for her lighter. “All right already,” she said. “You win this one.”  She didn’t bother replacing the cigarette into the pack, flipping the unused tobacco onto the ground.

“I thank you and your lungs thank you,” Ziggs said.

“Sure,” Zaggs grimaced. “But if I start gaining weight, I’m billing you for a new wardrobe.”

Percy Spurlark Parker is a published mystery writer (since 1972), a former MWA V.P. and a current member of PWA. His stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Womans World, and several anthologies.

His short stories “Plus One” (November, 2012), “Clowning Around” (July, 2013), and “The St. Patrick’s Day Murder” (March, 2015) have appeared in omdb! Online.
Copyright © 2016 Percy Spurlark Parker. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

Return to Fiction.
Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.