On The Rocks: A Coven Cafe Mystery

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 6

“Out of the car! Now!” Ian reached for the door handle and yanked it open.

“Don’t shoot! I’m unarmed!” The driver, curled into a fetal ball, was crawling across the bench seat toward the passenger’s side door.

Ian holstered his weapon and placed both palms on the roof of the car, forcing a few deep breaths into his lungs. Adrenaline sped through his veins, blending with the Vicodin in his bloodstream. He was lucky no one had witnessed this episode. He could lose his badge for this kind of loose cannon shit.

“Why the hell have you been tailing me?”

“It’s my job.” The guy uncurled himself into a seated position and raised his hands so Ian could see he had no weapon.

His job? Had Chief White put some undercover dick on him? Or was this asshole working for Detective Frank Longuria?

“Out of the vehicle.” Ian frisked the man, noting his potbelly, his less-than-average height, his balding head, and his camel-colored coat. The man was clean. No drugs, no weapons. “Who do you work for?”

“I was hired by your wife. Janice. I think her father’s footing the bill, though.” The guy ran a hand over his thinning hair, smoothing the few remaining strands of his comb-over back into place.

“Janice? My wife hired you?” Ian tried to wrap his head around this information. “How long have you been following me?”

“I’ve clocked a few hours since you got out of the hospital. But I started maybe a week before that.” The guy shivered, his yellowish teeth chattering. “Can we do this in the car? I’m freezing to death out here.”

“Give me your keys.” Ian held out a palm.

“They’re still in the ignition.”

“Okay. I’ll sit in the driver’s seat.” Ian slid behind the wheel and started the car up. The heat immediately blasted him in the face. “Hand over your driver’s license and any other ID you have on you.”

Ralph Kaminski was fifty-three years old, apparently a private investigator, with an address in Blauvelt. Ian didn’t bother pointing out that he sucked at his job. But what was this dick doing in his apartment that day with Janice? Why were they arm-in-arm on the street?

“How long have you known my wife?”

“Most of her life. I worked for Charles, on and off, for about twenty-five years.”

“Twenty-five years?” This was sad. In all those years the guy had never learned how to tail a car? “Are you a friend of the family or something?”

“You might say that. Charles hired me way back, to do some digging around for his law firm, before he became a judge. Anytime he needed dirt on somebody, I was his man.”

“Why’d he want you to follow me?” Ian thought he knew the answer to this question already, but he had to confirm it.

“Like I said, Janice hired me. She had a feeling you were stepping out on her. She wanted to find out for sure.” Kaminski shrugged. “I took some photos of you and your new lady friend.”

Maybe the dick wasn’t as terrible as he’d first thought. Ian had no clue when Kaminski had snapped photos of him and Angelica. He must have hidden a block away and used one of those telephoto lenses. “When was this?”

“Right around the end of October, first week of November.”

“Janice disappeared that week.”

Kaminski’s pig-like eyes darted toward him and then away. Ian thought he caught a flash of fear in those tiny eyes.

“Where is my wife now?”

The private dick shook his head. “I don’t know nothing about that.”

“Bullshit, Ralph. I think you know everything about that.” The lying dick continued to shake his head, his beady little eyes shifting all over the place.

Ian drew his weapon again, his heart thudding in his ears. He’d give this asshole a real reason to shit his pants. “Tell me exactly what’s going on with Janice. Either that or the state police will get a call that I’ve found a recent suicide sitting on this ramp in his maroon Olds.”

“Go ahead. Shoot me.” Ralph’s eyes went flat and dull. He was past the point of fear and seemed resigned to his fate. "I don't give a shit."

Ian looked down at the weapon in his trembling hand.

He was not this kind of cop. He had never abused his power, never pushed around a prisoner, never hit anyone during an interrogation. He was not a bully.

But someone was fucking with his personal, private life. Someone had taken his wife. And this dick was the last person to be seen with her. He was sure Kaminsky knew more than he was saying. He raised the revolver to the dick’s nose.

“Is she alive? Just tell me that! Is she still living?” Ian hurled the words like punches, jabbing his revolver straight into Ralph's face. If he didn’t get a hold of himself, he was going to shoot this dick by accident. And then he’d have some serious explaining to do.

“Do it! Kill me!” Kaminski wailed. Then the dick began to sob, fists pounding the dashboard, his chest heaving in spasms.

“Shit.” Ian couldn't sit next to this for another second. He jumped out of the Olds and slammed the door hard, his whole body shaking. He jammed his gun into its holster, returned to his cruiser, and got on the radio with Darlene. If there was anything outstanding on the guy, even a single parking ticket, Ian could and would haul him in.

While Darlene looked Kaminski up, Ian remembered there was a breathalyzer in the trunk of his Crown Vic. Maybe he should test the dick. The guy wasn’t acting totally sober. And Ian would gladly arrest him on any charge.

Ian opened the trunk and began rummaging around through its contents. It had been years since he’d administered an alcohol evaluation, but he thought the equipment should still be in there.

The screech of rubber on asphalt made Ian’s head pop up like a jack-in-the-box. He watched in disbelief as the maroon Olds took off through the stop sign, gravel spraying from the tires. The dick was headed toward the bridge.

Darlene’s tinny voice squawked through the radio. “Nothing whatsoever on Ralph Kaminski. You can set him free. Over.”

The view from the Bear Mountain Bridge was truly stunning. Rocky cliffs tumbled down to the churning gray water on both banks of the Hudson. Bear Mountain’s rounded hump, reminiscent of a black bear’s curved spine, guarded the west side.

As a kid, Ian had played in the parks up here during summer vacations. There was a large public pool, as well as several lakes with lifeguards. He recalled the pungent stink of the raccoon cage at the Bear Mountain Zoo as a particular highlight. He used to drag his youngest sister right up to the bars to make sure she got a good whiff.

A state police cruiser arrived and parked next to the tollbooth. Ian had already pulled over onto the shoulder and talked to the attendant. Since the tollbooth was manned twenty-four hours per day seven days per week, Ian doubted the killer had dropped the body from this side of the bridge. But the attendant agreed that someone could dump a body late at night from the east side, do a quick U-turn, and never be spotted. Tolls were only taken from cars headed east. There was no camera, so the perp could have even paid his toll, crossed the bridge, dumped her, and returned.

“It’d still be mighty risky,” the state cop told him. “The traffic would probably be just about nonexistent after midnight, but even so…”

“Yeah. It would take balls.” The bridge was open, exposed. But no homes or residences overlooked either end. “Maybe our guy’s got balls. Let’s take a look at the shoulder on the other side. He could have left some tracks.”

The state cop followed Ian’s Crown Vic across the span. They parked on the right-hand side at the edge of the bridge and checked the shoulder. Nothing. After waiting for a few cars to pass, the two men jogged across to the opposite side of the road. Starting back in the tree line, on solid ground, they followed the shoulder out onto the bridge, examining the gravel for any signs of a parked vehicle.

They soon found exactly what they sought: two parallel lines scraped through the gravel indicated something, or someone, had been dragged along the shoulder. The lines traveled from the edge of the bridge toward the center of the span for about ten yards. There, they abruptly ended.

Ian examined the railing. He couldn’t spot anything on the steel cables. No drops of blood, no pieces of material, no clumps of hair. But the forensics team might have better luck with their swabs. Perhaps the killer even left some fingerprints up here.

“Can you wait here for the forensics crew to show up? And maybe get this area roped off?”

“Sure,” the state cop agreed. “Where’re you headed?”

“I need to check in with the ME again.”

Figuring that he was already so close to Pomona, Ian drove over to the morgue rather than calling. He was cutting it close. Dr. Yeager might not hang around until five if he didn’t have anything left to do. It was Friday, after all.

“Hi, Ian. Back so soon?” Paul was at his desk. “You’re lucky you caught me. I was just thinking about dinner.”

Ian noticed the hollow sensation in his stomach, but the smell of the morgue precluded any thoughts of dinner. “If you don’t mind, I’d like you to check something for me. I have a hunch I know where our body was dumped. But I need you to examine our victim’s heels. If she wasn’t wearing any shoes at the time, we should find some evidence that she was dragged.”

“I already know what you’re talking about. You’ll find all the details in my report. I didn’t mention the abrasions on her heels when we spoke earlier because the damage was so slight. Especially when compared with all her other injuries.”

“Can you tell me exactly what you found?” Ian’s heart beat faster.

“Of course. The edges of her heels were abraded, consistent with being dragged across a rough surface like asphalt. I found microscopic shards of glass, pieces of sand, and bits of dirt embedded in the skin.”

“If we take a sample of the debris by the side of the road, do you think we could match it to what you found under her skin?” Ian heard himself talking fast. He felt the excitement building. One step closer to nailing the bastard that did this.

“Certainly. I’m not sure if we could prove beyond any reasonable doubt that she was dumped in that particular spot, though. I’m not sure the road debris will be unique enough.”

“Maybe it will help us get a confession.”

“We can only hope.” Paul stood and shrugged on his overcoat. “How about joining me and Phyllis for dinner? You’d be very welcome.”

“Sorry, Paul. Another time. I feel like I’m on a roll now and I don’t want to lose any momentum.”

“Do you have plans for Thanksgiving? Phyllis will pull out all the stops. You don’t want to miss her sweet potato soufflé.”

Ian eyed Dr. Yeager’s belly. He appeared to be in his second trimester. The wife’s cooking was probably to blame, unless the doctor wasn’t telling him something. “My sisters might kill me if I ditched them. And then there’s…” He felt so comfortable with the ME, he had almost mentioned Angelica.

“I understand.” Paul winked as he slipped on his leather gloves. “I’ll walk you out.”

Ian got the feeling the doctor knew more than he let on. Not that it mattered. Paul Yeager was one of the few people in this world Ian would trust with his life.

“McDaniel here.” Ian spoke into the phone.

A Philly cheesesteak sandwich, still wrapped, sat beside his yellow legal pad. A large black coffee, uncapped, was steaming on the opposite side of the desk. Ian took a sip. The sun had set more than an hour earlier, but his day was far from over.

“You want the good news first, or the bad?” It was Bill Griffin, one of the forensic officers called to the bridge. He must have returned to the lab with the results of the search.

“Gimme whatever you got. I don’t care about the order.” Ian unwrapped his sandwich, his stomach growling.

“We followed those tracks in the gravel and swabbed the railings where they ended. We were able to gather minute traces of blood and some skin cells.”

“I’m guessing that’s the good news?” Ian unwrapped one end and took a big bite of his sub. Then he reached for the pile of napkins.

“That’s correct. But in terms of fingerprints, we got nothing. A big goose egg. The guy was either careful or lucky.”

“It’s never that easy, is it?” He hung up the phone after Bill agreed with him.

Ian continued to chew his dinner as he picked up a pen. He was wired from the adrenaline, from the excitement of the chase, and now from the coffee. He had neglected to pop a Vicodin for more than eight hours straight, but he didn’t feel the need right now. His progress on the case filled every square inch of his brain, with no room left over for anything superfluous. Even the pain in his ribs had been nosed out.

What had he learned so far today? He began to scribble:

Body on beach identified as Jenna Danvers.

Should have been wearing a gold cross. Cross missing.

Hair cut shortly before death. By the killer?

Body dragged over asphalt onto bridge.

Body almost certainly dumped from Bear Mountain Bridge.

Connection between Janice and Jenna? Facial features, hair color, and haircuts close to identical. Both attended Rockland Day School.

Ralph Kaminski hired by Janice? Or by Charles Vanderwald? Does Kaminsky know where Janice is?

Ian tapped his pen against his chin. Something was bothering him. He read over his list of facts again. There was something in this list that was problematic. Something setting off his alarms. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.

Evelyn, his research intern, entered the office without knocking. People around here were so rude. Certain people in particular.

“I’ve got the addresses and phone numbers for everyone on the list you gave me, except for two classmates from elementary school whose families must have moved away.” She held out a typed sheet of paper.

“Great. Thanks for getting that done so fast.”

“You’re welcome. I’m leaving now, but if you need anything, you have my home number.”

Wow. This was a massive improvement over Evelyn’s typical begrudging attitude. Perhaps Ian’s lectures about moving up through the ranks of the police department had gotten through to her. “Okay. I appreciate that.”

Evelyn almost smiled before she took off. Something was going on with her.

Ian glanced up at the clock. Seven-thirty. Not too late to begin calling some of Jenna’s old classmates. Maybe he could split the list with someone. He paused and listened to the absolute silence within the building. It sounded like he was the only one working late this Friday night.

Come to think of it, how many fifteen-year-olds would be at home on a Friday night? Well, at that age he might have been home. Or possibly out riding his bike around the neighborhood, trying to find out what everyone was up to. He had been a nosy little spy from early on, peeking in windows, eavesdropping on conversations, and hanging around hedges. He knew the dirt on all his neighbors back then.

But he guessed he’d be wasting his time with phone calls. And he had no clue where teenagers hung out. The Nanuet Mall? Some pizza parlor? He hated to admit it, but the best use of his time might be getting some sleep and starting fresh the next day.

Saturday morning, when all the teenagers were safely home, tucked in their beds fast asleep, he would mount a sneak attack.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.