Private investigators John Travers and Wally Karpinski are best friends and business partners. For years, they have eked out an existence in Washington, DC, running down cheating spouses, installing security systems, and dragging deadbeat fathers into court. Known as crude, unconventional, and quirky, Travers and Karpinski exasperate local law enforcement officials with their competence. But everything is about to change when a shy, nervous young man shows up in their office.
When client Terrence McCoy discovers that there are two different birth certificates with his name on them, he asks the detectives to help him uncover his true identity. Because business is slow, the investigators reluctantly agree. They soon soon realize that a resolution will be neither easy nor quick when the case takes a startling turn. They consult their friend, Detective Oscar Demotta, for assistance, and he refers them to several unsolved cases involving dead young women and missing babies. As a favor to Demotta, Travers and Karpinski delve into the missing children cases and suddenly find themselves embroiled in a grim set of dangerous circumstances.
In this complex mystery tale, two private investigators must rely on the help of an eclectic group of characters as they investigate a bewildering scheme powered by money and twisted morality. ccarlroberts.com
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IDENTITYA John Travers and Wally Karpinski Novel
By C. CARL ROBERTS
abbott pressCopyright © 2012 C. Carl Roberts
All right reserved.
Edith Whimsler was fifty-seven years old, but she looked and felt much older. Her battleship gray hair hung limply to her shoulders and there were two angry looking patches of psoriasis at her hairline. Those and the various sized age spots that dotted her forehead required considerable attention in terms of cover-up, but even the young Asian women at the make-up counter at Nordstrom could not hide the manifestations of a terrible complexion and six decades of age. While the shape and angles of her face suggested she had once been pretty, years of perpetual frowning or grimacing had taken their toll. She dressed nicely enough, but her body had long ago succumbed to the forces of gravity, and no matter how much money she spent on designer clothing, she still looked matronly and plain. She opened he drawer of her desk and stared at the soft pack of Marlboro Lights that rested there. She fought the visceral urge to grab one and rush outside to the 'Smoking Module.'
Smoking module indeed, she thought to herself as she closed the drawer again, scowling. More like the punishment area. It's a wonder there's not razor wire and an electric fence around it to keep the horrible smokers at bay. A nice cigarette would certainly help me before I have to meet with that little tramp.
Edith sat primly at her desk for a few more minutes, staring at the wall, while her fingers rapped out a cadence. Finally she rose and walked over to the small bathroom that adjoined her office. She entered and surveyed her face in the mirror, angry that time had dealt her such a terrible blow. With no more estrogen in her system, her skin was thin—almost transparent—and it sagged around her mouth and eyes. The once fine blond hair that sprouted from the tiny mole on her chin was now coarse and dark, and Edith thought it made her look hideous. The lines at the corners of her eyes, which she vehemently refused to call crows feet, appeared to get longer and deeper with each passing day, and there were deep lines running from her once plump lips. The lipstick she used liberally seemed to fill the cracks, giving her mouth a clownish look. Or the look of a woman who was closer to ninety rather than fifty, she thought. She grunted and ran a brush through her fine hair before coating her lips again. As she was studying the results she heard a soft knock at the door. She forced herself to smile and went back into the office, offering a cheery, "Come in, dear," as she went to her desk.
The door opened and an attractive seventeen-year old girl entered. She was dressed in a pastel colored T-shirt and a pair of jeans with holes over the knees. She had two cheap, colorful bracelets on her left wrist, and she wore old sandals. Her long auburn hair was shiny and luxurious and cascaded over her impressive breasts. She had the general appearance of a normal and beautiful teenage girl, but her eyes told another story. One of despair and pain; of betrayal and abuse. Edith knew her only as Nora, and she really didn't care about her life story; all she cared about was keeping her in line. Like the others, Edith suspected, Nora was probably a runaway who got by day-to-day by servicing lustful and disgusting men in cars or cheap hotel rooms. But unlike some, Nora had never been a drug user or a drunk. She had been a model tenant for the past seven months, and for that Edith took great pride and credit. But today there was a crisis.
"So, Nora dear, I've been told there is an issue. Some sort of problem?"
"I want my baby." The girl's voice was soft and timid. "I've changed my mind."
"Ah," Edith murmured. It was not an uncommon problem, but it still rankled the older woman when it occurred. She was tired of the fragile and irrational emotions of young women, and wished just once, she could deal with them like the adults they thought they were.
"But you know, Nora, that's not possible."
"Why not? He's my baby. I carried him, I got the morning sickness, I pushed him out and I have the sore boobs all the time. I want him."
"We had an agreement, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. But I've changed my mind." The young woman looked serious, but in the eye and body movements, Edith could see vulnerability.
"That's not how it works." Edith sighed and studied the young woman carefully. "And you know that. We went over it many times."
"Yeah, well screw that! He's my baby! I don't want to give him to some yuppies just because they can't conceive! I conceived and I want him! Period!"
Edith folded her hands and placed them on the desk. She had considerable experience with such foolish behavior, but it still aggravated her. Generally she could smooth over the hormonally induced swings of emotion, but somehow she felt that time it really was a problem. Or could be. She pierced Nora with her eyes and spoke forcefully.
"Nora, your baby is going to a nice couple. It was set up long ago, as you know, and they have been paying for you and your care all these months. The baby is theirs."
"No he's not! He belongs to me!"
"And also to some man you don't even know!" Edith's response was sharp, and she felt on the edge of losing her composure. She paused for a few moments and took a deep breath.
"No, Nora. This baby is not going to be raised like you were. He will have a stable home life and be raised by people who have enough money to care for him properly."
"I'll make enough money for us." Tears filled her eyes as she pleaded with the older woman.
"How? By performing oral sex on strangers while the baby is napping?" Edith regretted the remark as soon as it left her mouth.
"Fuck you, you mean old bitch! At least men want me! You probably couldn't find someone to give a blow job to during Fleet Week!"
Edith recoiled from the caustic comment, but managed to stifle her reaction. Instead she took a breath and tried to smile. "Nora, I'm sorry I was crude. That was unfair. Please forgive me."
"Yeah, sure." Nora began to chew her already shredded fingernails.
"But the bottom line, dear, is that the baby goes to his new home tomorrow. And then you'll get that nice little check and can start all over. Think of that. You can start over. You won't have to sell your body and do terrible things. You can go to school, or get a job. You can find a nice young man. You are still very young and can have another child. With someone you love."
"I want this baby. My baby. I'm not giving him up. I'm leaving this place tomorrow. I'll go home. My mother will help me. Daddy finally left home. He beat mom up one too many times and the police are looking for him. He'll not come back. So we'll be safe. You see? It'll be good. I can raise my baby."
Edith sat deathly still and stared at the hopeful expression on Nora's face. "So you've been in touch with your mother, have you? You know that is against the rules."
"OK, so I broke the rules. Big deal. I told her about the baby—Jason. She was excited for me."
"Did you tell her where you were?" Edith asked, a sick feeling developing in her abdomen.
"No, of course not. Don't worry."
Edith didn't know if she could believe Nora or not, but that was beside the point. Something had to be done right away. "Nora, you cannot take the child. He goes home with the other people tomorrow. That's the end of it."
"Bullshit!" Nora roared as she jumped up and raced for the door. "He's mine! And you tell those goons you have watching us that I'm leaving and to let me go. Tell them that if they try to stop me I'll call the cops! And you also tell them they'll have to find somebody else to feel up all the time!" Then with an anguished cry, she threw open the door and ran down the hall toward her room.
"Hmm," Edith murmured as she stared through the open door. Then she took her cell phone out of her jacket pocked and punched in a number.
"Claude? Edith here. We have a problem with Nora. She's threatening to take the baby and leave. Take care of this, will you? Oh, and Claude. She mentioned something about you or one of the other fellows being inappropriate with her. Nobody has been touching her have they? Good, good. Thank you Claude." Edith put the phone away and let out a big breath. Then she shook her head sadly.
"Oh Nora, Nora."
Oscar Demotta was nodding off when the call came in. He bolted upright, blinking rapidly, and wiped his face with his hands. "This is Detective Demotta," he said, picking up a pen and positioning it over a blank piece of paper. He had been a policeman for almost three decades, and he knew when his phone rang there was a good possibility that the next few minutes, and the words he would be writing, would be the last entries on the life of some poor soul in the nation's capitol.
Demotta was fifty-eight years old and was about four years from retirement. Born in Staten Island, New York, he was the fourth of six children born to a third generation Italian dockworker and his Czech wife. After a relatively unremarkable adolescence, he moved to Philadelphia, then to Washington D.C., where he applied for and was accepted into a police academy that trained young men and women for service in a number of state and municipal police departments. He was a good student, always prepared, and after successfully completing the training near the top of his class, he was offered a job in the District of Columbia. Like most cops, he started out walking a beat in the eastern part of the city, and over the years he moved up the ladder, working stints in routine patrol, vice, burglary and robbery-homicide where we was now a senior detective. Demotta never had aspirations to achieve officer status, so he still toiled in the trenches, finding it interesting, and hopefully meaningful, to spend his days and nights looking at corpses and shattered lives. He was one of the best, and was widely respected by people from all levels in the police hierarchy.
"Hey Oscar, this is Riggins." Jake Riggins was a twenty-year veteran of the Metro Police Department, and that day he was the sergeant on the front desk. In Demotta's opinion, Jake Riggins was exceptional and well grounded and was about the only man around who Oscar had absolute trust in. But the sound of Riggins' deep resonant voice somehow felt unwelcome.
"Got a cold one for you," Riggins continued. "Over in Rock Creek Park."
"Damn, it's almost quitting time, Jake. I'm older now and need to get home and sit in the recliner. Anyone else available?"
"You're the man. The Big Kahuna. The guy everyone respects. The big crime solver."
"Eat shit and die, Riggins." Oscar shared a laugh with the other man.
"You need to roll on this one Oscar. It's a teenage girl. Franklin is the only other detective available right now and he'd flip out."
"Yeah, yeah, I guess so." Art Franklin was a few years younger than Demotta and was an outstanding detective, probably Oscar's equal. But six months previously he lost his fifteen-year old daughter when she was struck down in a crosswalk by a drunk driver on his way home from a Fantasy Football party. The man left the scene, but was picked up an hour later at home, watching a sit-com on television. But that didn't make Franklin's situation any better, because his girl was dead. Since then, he had been walking around in a daze, talking in monosyllables and just barely being hospitable. For some reason he refused to take an extended leave, and somehow he was managing to function—at least on the job. But everyone was waiting for the collapse. There was no way on God's earth that Oscar Demotta or any other policeman from the department was going to allow Art Franklin to roll on a dead teenage girl. So it was Demotta's case now, and once he got the pertinent information, he and his partner grabbed a car and drove out onto Indiana Avenue toward a relatively secluded area only five miles from the White House.
The moonless night was unseasonably warm, with no humidity, and there was a gentle breeze stirring up the trees. Off to the left a few bugs were lifting off the ground plants, and lightning was flashing in the distance. It was beautiful, but the calm ambience was shattered by the generators needed to power the bright portable lights set up to illuminate something on the ground. Plus, the area was alive with police and paramedics. As he walked toward the commotion, Demotta saw the coroner's van sitting beside the ambulance that would not be needed. He noticed that the uniforms were doing a good job securing and systematically searching the scene.
"Hey Oscar," shouted a small wiry man in coveralls, kneeling by a yellow tarp. The man was about Demotta's age, maybe a couple years younger, and had a feral face, capped by an unkempt mat of dark stringy hair. His eyeglasses were half lenses and he was peering over the top of them as Oscar strode up.
"Hey Mark, how goes it?"
The wiry man rocked his hand back and forth and shrugged his shoulders. Mark Simmons was one of the Medical Examiners for the District of Columbia and had held that position for over fifteen years. He was arguably one of the top forensic specialists on the east coast, and he was revered for his competence and sensitivity.
"It's always depressing when it's a young one," Simmons said, standing up.
"OK, let's see her." Oscar was frowning as one of Simmons' assistants pulled the tarp away from the young woman's body.
"Ah shit," he said, as his shoulders sagged. "Bad enough when it's a lowlife. But when they're so pretty it makes it even worse. How'd she buy it?"
"Strangled. Multiple ligature marks around her neck, petechial hemorrhages in the sclera of the eyes. Probably a rope, cord, or something. I'll know more when we can study the wounds better, but there's no question somebody choked the life out of her." Simmons leaned over and lifted the girl's right hand.
"She put up a hell of a fight, I'd say. Her nails are all busted and bloody. Bruises all over her arms and shoulders. Whether she got a piece of the perp I don't know. It was a bad scene, Oscar. More than one mark on her neck. I figure the rope—or whatever it was—got placed and pulled tight, she fought it off, it got repositioned. On an on. It took a while for her to die. She made a mess in her pants. Dying like this is not very pretty." He paused for a few moments, his lips pursed.
"God, I do hate this sometimes," he continued. "Not very inspiring, what people do to one another. I must use the word 'why,' a hundred times a day."
"So with the mess and all you can't say if she was raped?"
"No. Once I clean her up I'll be able to tell you. I don't doubt it, but I just can't say right now."
"What's with the wet spots on her boobs," asked Stan Ordner, Demotta's partner. Oscar cast him a caustic glance.
"Her breasts, I mean," Ordner stammered.
"Yeah, I noticed that right off," Simmons said. "Looks like milk."
"Milk?" Order said, eyes wide. "She spilled milk on herself?"
Demotta looked at his partner for a long moment and then ran his hand threw what few strands of hair he had left. "Stan," he said, softly. "For Christ's sake. Do you ever—ever—think before you open your mouth? What, you figure she just spilled milk on herself while she was being assaulted? And if she did you think it would look like that?"
"Well, Mark said—"
"The girl's lactating, Stan. Look at the pattern on her shirt. Look at the victim, for God's sake. She's a slender young woman. She has big breasts."
"They could be phonies, Oscar. Come on, big breasts aren't all lactating. Go down to the clubs sometime. Big breasted girls dancing. They aren't lactating."
Demotta blew out a big breath and held his hands up like he was surrendering. "No, Stan. You go to the clubs. I'll pass. Listen, I'm not trying to bust your balls here. I just want to mentor you a bit. They tell me it's part of my job description. You need to look at the whole scene to get a handle on things. We need a break to find the person who did this. The victim is our best clue. Take a look at her. Very young gal, slender, big breasts that Mark says are lactating. So what would you conclude from that?"
"Maybe she just had a baby?"
"Do you see a baby here? No. Lactating moms don't stray far from baby. So where's baby?"
Excerpted from IDENTITY by C. CARL ROBERTS Copyright © 2012 by C. Carl Roberts. Excerpted by permission of abbott press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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