For the Love of a Friend
The dusting of hard, cold sleet found its way down his collar, but he barely noticed. The pressure of Timmy’s arm against his own was meant to be reassuring, and he appreciated the gesture, but the stark reality was overwhelming.
He glanced up the hill, and saw Detective Dave Grissom solemnly looking back at him. He nodded slightly, and turned his attention back to the scene in front of him. The pallbearers placed the casket on the framework over the hole cut in the frozen December earth and the minister was speaking, but his words held no meaning. Just to the left was the stone he had ordered for Mary, so long ago. She died birthing Annie, thirteen years ago, and now Annie was joining her in the cold ground.
Timmy was two years out of law school, and with a promising career with a good firm in St. Louis. Now he stood by his father, weeping unashamedly. He had been thirteen when his mother had died, and for a time he had resented his baby sister. Then one day she suddenly lurched of her high chair and Timmy caught her. She burst into baby tears, and her big brother put her to his shoulder and patted her back, swaying back and forth in the mysterious rhythm all men use when consoling babies. She calmed down, and then put her small arms around his neck. With that small gesture, he suddenly loved her deeply and became her protector against all things, but now she lay dead. He had failed her.
George Stannis put his arm around his weeping son, and stoically watched the proceedings. At last, the minister was finished, and he shook George’s hand. George nodded and murmured his thanks as the crowd drifted away.
The funeral home attendees looked at him questioningly, and he nodded. They slowly tuned the cranks and the soft, warm glow of the mahogany casket descended into the depths. At last, they stepped away, and George bent down to lift the edge of the canvas covering the mound of dirt. Taking a small handful, he walked to the edge of the grave and tossed the frozen grains of earth on the coffin holding the remains of his beloved daughter. His eyes were dry and cold.
“Start the car and warm it, Timmy, will you? I want to see what Dave Grissom has found out.”
Timmy nodded and George waited as the detective made his way down the slope. For a moment, Dave Grissom regarded him silently, and then gripped his shoulder with a big hand. His eyes were moist and red.
Dave Grissom and George Stannis were old friends, although they were vastly different. Dave had always been big, even as a boy, but George never made it past five foot six. Dave was a rough and tumble fighter, while George was a shy and quiet thinker. Their first meeting was a shoving match, with Dave cheerfully pushing the smaller boy around, until George suddenly erupted and punched Dave square in the nose. An astonished Dave stood back and wiped away the blood on his face, staring in disbelief at George. Then he grinned and extended his hand, and George took it. Many a masculine friendship begins with a fight, and they began theirs that day. Now, forty five years later, they stood together as the sleet turned into a light snow.
“What have you found out, Dave?”
The big detective rubbed his chin, looking over George’s shoulder. Then he looked his friend in the eye.
“We’re sure we know where he got it, George, but he’s scared as hell and not talking.”
Annie’s boyfriend had been fourteen year old Carl Wentworth, a decent enough kid, but the one who had ultimately supplied her with the fatal dose. What no one knew was that Annie had a congenital defect; a natural hole in her heart that failed to close after birth. An hour after she ingested the illicit Percocet, her little heart simply ceased beating, and a frantic Carl called 9-11, the only thing he did correctly that night. But she was long dead.
The autopsy revealed why she had died, but not who killed her. A fourteen year old kid was not the responsible party, to George Stannis‘ mind. Somewhere, there was a guilty adult, but Carl Wentworth was terrified, and would not provide the name of the dealer, fearing for his own life. Now his father had hired a lawyer.
“Are you going to tell me who, Dave?”
After high school, they had gone their separate ways for several years. Dave Grissom served in the Army as an MP, while George got a degree in chemistry. Now Dave was a Minneapolis police detective, and George was a chemist for a research lab.
“Let me handle this George. We’ll get the sonofabitch. That I can guarantee you.”
George nodded and smiled up at his big friend.
‘OK, Dave, I’ll let you do your job.”
White steam curled from the tailpipe as George’s car slowly left the parking lot and turned right on Hennipen. The snow was increasing as Dave made his way back up the slope to his own car. It was going to be a long, cold night.
Deke Adams was well aware of the surveillance cops in the foreclosed mobile home across the street. He’d spotted them weeks ago, peering through a slit in the Venetian blinds. A man in his business had to be aware, so he kept a watch through his own closed blinds with a good pair of binoculars. Hell, did they really think he was so stupid that he’d sell out of his own home?
He was also well aware that a teenage girl had died, and that he was suspected of supplying the street drug that killed her. So what? He wasn’t responsible for a damned overdose! That was the customer’s doing, not his! Stupid kid. He was a businessman, not a nursemaid.
He had several stashes around the city, known only to himself and one trusted agent. All his communications were coded and transmitted on his I-Phone, so let them watch in the dark and cold confines of that old mobile home. He had also found the hidden mikes and the tiny surveillance camera. He chuckled at the thought of how he had played that one, and prepared to go out for the night. The light snowfall was no deterrent to his new Jeep.
Dave Grissom warmed his hands over a space heater in the dark room. They had decided not to risk using the mobile home’s furnace, lest the soft sound of the fans alert their target, so they closed off the small room and plugged in two space heaters. They kept the room above freezing, but not comfortably warm. In any case, Dave was sure they’d already been spotted.
Across the road, Deke Adams’ mobile home was clearly visible through the soft veil of snowflakes. There was a light on in the living room, but all the shades and blinds were down. There were two mike bugs and one camera placed there by the techs, but Dave had the uneasy feeling that Adams knew they were there. He often walked around in the nude, and sometimes bent over in front of the camera, mooning the observers. Dave was increasingly suspicious that it was deliberate. Dave was certain that Deke Adams was the source of the street Percocet that had killed Annie Stannis, and he meant to get him, legally or otherwise.
Jim Baker had gone for coffee and sandwiches, so Dave was alone when he spotted Deke Adams opening his front door. For a long moment, he stood on the front porch, carefully looking all around, like a man whose life was under constant threat, and it was. Rival dealers might take a notion to eliminate the competition at any moment. But that was unlikely on a cold, snowy night. Even hard-core dealers liked their comforts.
Satisfied, Adams stepped off the porch, and Dave was getting ready to thumb his radio button when a solitary figure materialized out of the darkness of a hedge., walking quickly up to a startled Deke Adams. There appeared to be a brief exchange of words, and then Deke began to back away, his hands defensively out in front of him.
“Pop! Pop! Pop!”
The snow-dulled reports of a small caliber handgun reached Dave, and he saw Deke Adams slump to the ground. The figure walked up to the body and bent over.
Three to the chest and one to the head. A textbook execution. The figure straightened up and walked down the driveway as Dave grabbed his service weapon and ran out the door. He rounded the front of the mobile home at a dead run, just as the figure came under the glowing umbrella of the street light. As he suspected, it was George Stannis. He should have realized his friend George would figure it all out. He always did.
Dave holstered his weapon and walked up to George, who was waiting for him, his arm extended and the small revolver in his hand, butt first. Dave took it and dropped it in his coat pocket. For a long moment, the two men looked at each other silently. Then George turned and walked slowly down the street, and then Dave spotted his car, parked off the road under some trees. He watched as George turned it around and drove away.
The snow was suddenly coming down much harder, and the dim outline of the drug dealer’s body was rapidly becoming snow covered and indistinct through the curtain of falling flakes. Dave regarded it silently for several minutes, and then shrugged and trudged back to the relative warmth of the mobile home. He sat in his chair and peered out of the blinds. The body was now all but invisible, and he made up his mind.
The door opened, and Jim Baker appeared, carrying a small sack and a cardboard tray. He stomped the snow from his shoes, and handed Dave a container of coffee, placing the rest on the small table.
“No,” Dave lied, “can’t see a damn thing for all the snow.”
Jim Baker leaned over and put his hand in Dave’s coat pocket, pulling out the small revolver. He held it up in front of Dave’s face.
“What the hell’s wrong with you? You never, ever lie to your partner!”
Dave nodded. “So you saw it?”
“Yeah. It was George Stannis. Your friend.”
Dave was about to reply when they heard a noise outside. Jim Baker pocketed the little revolver, and the door opened again. It was Detective Sergeant Rose.
“Colder than a well digger’s butt out there, gentlemen! I can’t stay, because I have a meeting in an hour. Anything new on this bastard?”
Dave started to speak, but Jim Baker interrupted.
“Quiet as death out there Sarge. Haven’t seen or heard a thing. This snow makes surveillance damn near impossible.”
The sergeant nodded. “Well, do your best. Maybe it’ll lighten up later. Doubtful though. Forecast is for it to get even heavier.”
After the sergeant left, neither man spoke for several minutes. Then Jim Baker looked at George and smiled.
“They’ll find him in the morning, and assume it was a gang killing. With all the snow, there won’t be many questions about how we missed it.”
Dave stared at him. “Why the hell are you sticking your neck out on this, Jimmy? George Stannis is not your friend!”
“That’s true Dave, George Stannis is not my friend.“
Jim Baker put his hand on Dave’s big shoulder and smiled.
“But you are.”