A few minutes after ignoring a phone call from the detective twins, Bruno pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant. He turned off the car but didn’t get out, instead he handed me the keys to the vehicle.
“Take the car. It’s clean and can’t easily be traced back to me. It’s not stolen but the less you know the better. Just try your best not to run into any parked cars when chasing someone.”
“Funny man,” I responded. “There is open mic night tonight at the comedy club if you don’t have anything else going on. How are you going to get back?”
“I am meeting a colleague here for a quick bite and some advice. It’s the story I am telling anyone who asks. We go way back, so there is nothing to worry about. I almost forgot. Stop off somewhere and get a cell phone. You are going to need one. Be careful.”
With nothing more to say, Bruno got out of the car without any salutation and headed into the restaurant. When this was all over, I was going to give him a detailed lesson on how to say goodbye when you are ending a conversation and leaving someone.
I made my way around the car, got in the driver’s seat and headed towards my place. It was a relatively quick drive with the drizzle slowing my speed some. I pulled into the neighborhood and drove around the block a few times, looking for anyone watching either property. There wasn’t anyone which was somewhat of a surprise. Bruno most likely pulled any resources who were working the case away so I would have time to get what I needed.
I parked up the block quite a distance in case I was wrong and then slowly walked through the backyards of neighbors to get to my house. All was quiet. They had taken my keys at the station. As a result, I was forced to use the key I kept underneath the deck in a hidden location.
After opening the door, I stood perfectly still, listening and looking for anything out of place. The house was quiet but it was an unbelievable mess. The twins had not been gentle or kind in their search. Drawers were overturned, couch cushions were haphazardly strewn about, and virtually every belonging I owned was in a different position than when I last left. The mess was something to be dealt with at a later time.
I quickly made my way up to my bedroom for a really fast shower. The upstairs was the same, messy after being searched. I didn’t necessarily have the time to waste on such an indulgence but I felt human again after a quick rinse. A new set of clothes, standard blue jeans with a dark grey henley, also did wonders.
Next, I ran down into the unfinished basement to my dad’s old safe. The group of officers who had rummaged the house had obviously searched the basement as well, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the rest of the house. Nobody has the energy to look through box after box of holiday decorations, old family photos, and various household items collected throughout a lifetime then relegated to the basement to gather dust.
The officers had found the safe but had not been able to crack it open yet. It had crime scene tape over the edge printed with a warning not to open with dates and initials of the person who put it there. Not being able to open safes in these situations was typical for investigations. Police departments usually don’t have their own safecracker on staff to immediately open safes and other securely locked strongboxes. It’s outsourced like most specialty jobs these days. The main problem is it can take time based on availability and prioritization. The twins obviously felt they had enough damning evidence to not bother with a rush job to open the safe.
Using my pocketknife, I carefully sliced through the tape, figuring it was the least of my primal offenses for the day. Once the safe was opened, I then grabbed all of the cash I had stashed away for emergencies and crammed it in my pocket. Little did I know when I had stockpiled this away, it would be used for running from the police after escaping from murder charges. I let out a heavy sigh at the absurd situation I had been thrust into.
Finally, I grabbed my dad’s old personal weapon. It had been the one he was carrying when he and Hannah were fatally shot. I loaded it with ammunition and put it in my jacket pocket where it wouldn’t move around much when walking.
On my way out of the house, I grabbed a backpack full of camera equipment as well as one of my bigger lenses. This equipment was still in the house out of sheer laziness, not having brought it down to the office from an outing early last week. For once procrastination paid off, allowing me to skip another stop.
Heading to the car, I kept a lookout for anyone watching or following me. Thankfully, the street was empty with the continued light rain falling. A quick stop at a convenience store and a little over one hundred dollars netted a new cell phone. I texted Kelsey from the new number letting her know it was me and I needed to talk to her immediately. She called back right away from work as I headed to the address Bruno had given me.
“Alex, what’s going on?” she asked with a great deal of concern.
“I don’t have much time to tell you everything, but here goes.” I spent a quick five minutes giving her a summary of the events over the past twelve hours, leaving nothing important out and telling the truth.
“I am sure this is the last thing you expected to hear today, but I wanted to tell you everything. No secrets. I trust you implicitly.”
Kelsey was quiet for a moment, before she let out a sigh that turned into a bit a laugh. “Didn’t you just tell me a couple of weeks ago you live a boring life and nothing interesting ever happened?”
I could tell she was worried but was attempting to keep my mood positive. “Thanks. One last thing, then I have to go. Be careful. Stay with your parents or a friend when you get off of work. I don’t mean to scare you, but I wouldn’t be able to live if something happened to you.”
“I will,” she answered. “Go get Jane and don’t ever forget I love you, too.”
We both hung up and I continued to drive to the address Bruno gave me. The car I was driving had no navigation system. As a result, I was getting to the intended destination the old fashion way of using a map from the glove compartment. Fifteen minutes later, I pulled in and parked in front of an older one-story home that most likely looked the same as it did when it was built decades ago. Well kept up but no changes or improvements since World War II.
A curving brick path led me up to the front porch and door where I knocked. A minute later the door opened to a frowning elderly man who had a good six inches of height and fifty pounds of muscle on me. Even though he must have been well into retirement, there was little uncertainty he could bench press me without breaking a sweat. His imposing sight left me speechless for a few heartbeats.
“Unless you are selling cookies, I don’t want any,” he said in a booming voice as he started to close the door.
“Stop playing around and let him in,” Bruno called from somewhere in the house.
The old man smiled and opened the door again fully, allowing me to enter. The inside of the house was much like the outside, well maintained but severely dated. Much of the decor was something out of a period movie. Bruno was waiting at an orange Formica table in the small kitchen area. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head how long ago one could actually purchase an orange Formica table.
“It’s about time. Did you stop for a movie or something?” Regardless of what was happening, Bruno couldn’t let an opportunity to give me grief pass him by. “By the way, this is Gus, an old colleague of mine from back on the force. He and I worked with your dad when we were both getting started.”
I wasn’t in the mood for playful banter but nodded to Gus in appreciation for allowing us to meet in his home. “Any news on Jane?” I asked hoping for some good news for once.
“No news at all,” Bruno said shaking his head. “Did you do what I asked?”
“All of it. What did you find out?”
“I went back through one of my case files and found what I was looking for.”
“What is it?” I interrupted. My concern for Jane’s safety was getting the better of me. “Who took Jane?”
“Give me a minute to finish,” Bruno chided me. “I am not going to lie to you, this is going to be difficult to hear but you need to keep your emotions in check if we are going to get Jane back.”
A chill ran quickly up my spine. This was about my dad and fiancée. Bruno was quiet, allowing what I had figured sink in. I looked up and gave him a quick look letting him know I was ready.
“As you well know, your dad made a case against the Russian cartel which was using Cincinnati as a hub for heroin and cocaine distribution throughout the midwest. It was a massive operation that was upended when your father put their local leader away for a murder he was investigating. The drug task force couldn’t touch him, but your dad was so vigilant he was able to get enough evidence to arrest the drug leader. When the SWAT team went in for the arrest, it was a bloodbath. One officer was killed, but ten members of the gang were killed with another twenty-two arrested and convicted. It was major news for months and effectively put a stop to their distribution network.”
“Bruno, I know all of this. How does any of this relate to Jane being taken?”
“The cartel was in disarray after the takedown,” Bruno continued. He was going to tell the story the way he wanted regardless of my preference for him to get to the main point. “They were into other illegal activities, like prostitution and human trafficking, which also suffered due to the entire leadership of the gang either being killed or convicted. One of the lower level members tried to make a name for himself by calling in the hit on your father. It was nothing other than revenge, pure and simple.
“This person persuaded another member to go along on the hit. Daniel Kirchoff. A younger thug with nothing going for him but a huge chip on his shoulder. He was the wingman on the night when they came for your father. Based on ballistics, we believe he was the one who killed Hannah. We have never told you any of the specifics on that night because it never really mattered since your dad ended up killing both of them.”
“Once again, I know this. The name is new but can you get to the point?”
“What you don’t know is Daniel Kirchoff had a younger brother he raised on his own. Anthony Kirchoff, who goes by Tony. He was a smart little kid growing up. Loved to read anything he could get his hands on. His brother Daniel wanted to keep him out of a life of crime, encouraging him to keep studying and to go to college. Since it was just the two of them, Tony was the one who got the notification on his death. He was in college at the time at the University of Cincinnati, going for a degree in economics.
“After the notification of his brother’s death, Tony had trouble continuing on with life in general. He ended up dropping out of school and was arrested quite a few times for petty theft and some petty possession offenses. What was interesting is every time he was picked up, he used an alias with the hope of being released without them finding out who he really was. Typical behavior.”
“How do you know all of this?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me. “This doesn’t seem to be related to the murder of my dad and Hannah.”
“The officers copied me on everything related even tangentially to that night, just on the offhand chance it was important somehow. For years, I was copied on every arrest related to the cartel group. Read every single report in the years since your dad and Hannah were killed. Kept them all filed away at my house. I lost my best friend and will never let it go.”
“Bruno, I had no idea.”
“It was the least that I could do. After all these years, I can’t believe it actually paid off and in a completely unexpected way.”
“I still don’t see how this relates to Jane being taken and the three murders being pinned on me.”
“It’s revenge pure and simple. Tony Kirchoff wants revenge for your dad killing his brother. He’s trying to ruin your life.”
“How do you know this?” I asked, believing him fully but wanting more answers.
“When he was arrested, he kept using different famous detectives as aliases, likely as an inside joke to himself, thinking he was smarter than those that arrested him. Allan Pinkerton, John Yates, Edward Conlon, and Tom Horn to name a few.”
“And William J. Burns,” I added, finally putting it together.
“Yes. I figured your client had given you an alias but I never made the connection to Tony Kirchoff until I saw the business card with W. John Burns on it. What a precocious little prick. It all fell into place when I saw the name, but I needed to confirm it and get a picture of Tony for you to look at.”
Bruno opened a folder which had been sitting on the table the whole time and pulled out a copy of the driver’s license for Tony and slid it in front of me. I looked at the picture and instantly recognized the face.
“He’s the client who hired me to find Sarah Jacobs.”