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An Obvious Slam Dunk

By William T. Goodman All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Mystery

ONE

Next to Christmas, Super Bowl Sunday was the quietest traffic day of the year. The white Ford Econoline delivery van meandered down Palm Drive well under the thirty mile an hour speed limit. The driver’s window was open and Chester Bentley smiled as he drove. WDET played Motown hits 24/7 and he mouthed the words to “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. If only they still made songs like this, he thought, chuckling to himself. He remembered using this exact song years ago in high school. While the other boys played hip-hop and rap, Chester found the old rhythm and blues soul music worked magic on teenage girls. In their innocent minds it placed Chester in a separate category, a somehow more mature, sophisticated class from the rest. And not just the black girls – Chester laughed again reminiscing better, less complicated times.

In bold block lettering, STEINBERG’S DELICATSSEN AND CATERING, MIAMI, FT. LAUDERDALE AND PALM BEACH decorated the sides of the Ford. Chester had never received a parking ticket while leaving the van for even extended periods in restricted or illegal parking areas – a small perk that came with the job. It was still a few hours before kick-off. Now was the slow period, but orders would pick up before the pre-game show and again near half-time. For the present Chester enjoyed the lack of traffic and the old songs on the radio.

Effortlessly Chester pulled the van to the curb behind the sign stating DELIVERY VEHICLES ONLY. Not a car was parked along the entire block. He shut off the motor, reached behind into the cooler and retrieved the white paper bag marked Saltzman’s Jewelry. Stepping down to the asphalt he realized how hot it was for a February afternoon. Gotta be near ninety, he thought walking to the store’s front door, reinforced discreetly with steel security bars behind the glass. Thirty-one, black, bulked, six feet four inches tall and two hundred forty pounds, Chester looked more like a middle linebacker in today’s Super Bowl game than as a delivery guy for a Jewish deli in South Florida. Entering through the door embossed with Saltzman’s Fine Jewelry and Watches, established 1973, he welcomed the air-conditioned sanctuary from the humid Fort Lauderdale heat.

“And a fine good afternoon to you, Chester.”

“Thanks, Mr. Saltzman, even if it is a hot one today!”

“Yes it is indeed.”

Befitting his profession and regardless of the weather, Mr. Saltzman wore a three-piece navy pinstriped suit. White, slicked hair and a thin mustache gave the frail seventy-nine year old jeweler an air of gentility.

“Got a new one for me today?”

“An old one, but maybe a new one to you.”

“Good! Let’s hear it.”

“Okay,” Chester began, “see, this horse walks into a bar. The bartender looks at him and says, ‘Why the long face?’”

Mr. Saltzman stared blankly at Chester a moment before his eyes squinted and the corners of his mouth upturned with glee. “I get it! Good one, Chester. I’ll have to remember that!”

Chester grinned, playing along good-naturedly. In the year he’d been delivering to Saltzman’s, he’d noticed a decline in the old proprietor. Not a serious one yet, but probably before long he’d need retirement.

“Are you going to watch the game today, Chester?”

“Not this time. Super Bowl’s always a busy delivery day.”

“Yes, I suppose it is. Too bad.”

Chester placed the bag on the glass counter in front of Mr. Saltzman. “I have pastrami on pumpernickel for you and a turkey breast on wheat for Miss Silva.”

“Excellent. I assume this was put on my tab?”

“Like it always is, Mr. Saltzman.” Chester thought a moment before speaking again. “I got a question for you, if that’s okay?”

“Sure, what it is it?”

“Why do you bother to stay open on Super Bowl Sunday when nobody’s out?”

Laurie Silva emerged from the back office and walked to the showroom. “Oh, hi Chester,” she said.

“Hi, Miss Silva.”

Mr. Saltzman turned to his niece, “Perhaps you’d like to answer Chester’s question?”

“Sure,” she said to her uncle and turned to face the towering man standing before her wearing the white Miami Dolphins cap with the aqua and orange logo. “You see Chester, this was the first lesson my wise uncle taught me about this business. Much of our sales are derived from masculine guilt. It can be as horrific as a wife finding out about a dalliance with a secretary or some other woman – that’s usually a big sale – diamonds, an expensive watch perhaps. Or it can be small guilt like a forgotten anniversary or maybe coming home a bit late or tipsy from an evening out with the boys – that might translate into simple gold earrings or a sterling key ring. Super Bowl alienates a lot of wives and girlfriends. So the guys get together and to ease their guilt, the women are sent out to shop… with the men’s credit cards or cash. The game hasn’t started yet, so things are quiet, but after the game begins, the wives and girlfriends drift in ready to buy.”

As if for approval, Laurie looked over to Mr. Saltzman. He winked at her and smiled.

Shifting to Chester he added, “She’s a smart cookie and a fast learner, too.”

Unseen by the three in Saltzman’s Fine Jewelry and Watches, a beige Toyota sedan eased to the curb behind the delivery van. Despite the heat, the man inside wore a black motorcycle jacket with the sleeves zipped past his wrists down to matching leather gloves. He was of medium height and build, short red hair and brown eyes. A hooked nose was his only remarkable attribute. He was not exactly handsome, but not unattractive either – just an average-looking thirty-something nobody. He turned off the motor leaving the keys in the ignition. Almost instantly the heat made sweat beads emerge on his forehead. The man opened the door, stepped into the hot street and quickly glanced up and down Palm Drive – empty as he’d expected. Good.

A few years ago, Mr. Saltzman would have been immediately suspicious of this leather jacketed and gloved customer on such an unusually muggy Florida afternoon, but the years had dulled his instincts. Nothing about the man registered an alarm. Laurie Silva was sorting the sandwiches from the bag in front of Chester and took no notice of the man. Chester’s back was to the door, and he never heard him enter.

“May I be of some assistance?” Mr. Saltzman asked as he’d done thousands of times before.

There was no response. The man walked the few feet to Chester and tapped him on the back with his left hand while reaching around under his jacket with his right. Startled, Chester turned around and stared down at him.

Later, Laurie Silva would testify she saw Chester’s jaw drop and a look of possible recognition appear on his face a moment before the man yelled, “SURPRISE, NIGGER!” shoved the barrel of a huge nickel plated revolver in Chester’s mouth and pulled the trigger.

Contained within the walls of the shop, the muzzle blast from the .41 magnum Smith & Wesson would have been deafening had it not been absorbed within the confines of Chester’s mouth and throat. Performing precisely as it was designed, the high velocity hollow-pointed slug expanded as it plowed through the cranial cavity and exploded out the top of Chester’s skull plastering his once white Miami Dolphins cap to the showroom ceiling of Saltzman’s Fine Jewelry and Watches by a gluey mixture of blood and brains.

At the shot, the expanding gunpowder gases that propel the bullet blew out his cheeks leaving equal gaping voids in both sides of Chester’s face, exposing his smoldering tongue and molars in a hideous grin. Simultaneously, the fierce recoil drove the revolver skyward, shattering Chester’s front teeth and imbedding the raised front sight blade on the end of the barrel solidly into the roof of his mouth. Thus anchored, the Smith & Wesson was jerked from the man’s hand as Chester fell backward. There it remained protruding from his ruined mouth.

Hesitating for only a moment, the man reached inside the front of his jacket and withdrew an olive-drab military surplus laundry bag. He turned to Laurie Silva and Mr. Saltzman, who were both too stunned and shocked to respond in any way at all, and spoke in a calm voice, “I have another gun in my pocket. If you do as I say, nobody else will get hurt.” Handing the cloth sack to Laurie, he said, “Now open these cases and dump everything in the bag.”

Still, Laurie could not react. A short, sharp slap to the left side of her face by a gloved hand got her attention. “Do it now. Fill the bag. Start with the watches and work down the cases. If they aren’t emptied into the bag in sixty seconds I pull the other gun.”

Fifty-eight seconds later the man turned from Laurie Silva and Mr. Saltzman – who had barely moved since the shot was fired – and confidently exited the shop, opened the door to the Toyota, tossed the heavy laundry bag to the passenger seat and slowly drove away.

The face slap had the effect of bringing Laurie Silva to total awareness and mental acuity. As the man entered the Toyota she ran around the counter, stepped over the prostrate Chester and managed to see the last four numbers of the Florida license plate as well as noticing the broken taillight on the curb side of the car.

With no traffic to contend with, the Fort Lauderdale police cars arrived within minutes of Laurie Silva’s frantic 911 call. She thought it strangely surreal that the officers cautiously entered the shop with guns drawn as if the man was still inside and posing a threat. They said nothing while walking the shop and back office with their black automatic pistols pointing and jerking during their short search. Mr. Saltzman slouched in a chair behind the now empty diamond engagement ring counter. Laurie was not certain when he’d taken the seat as her main concern had been writing the license plate number on a pad and calling the police. Obviously dead, Chester lay in a grotesque heap while Laurie avoided looking at the expanding pool encircling what remained of his head.

As guns were returned to their holsters, a welcome sense of calm settled over the shop. A short time later a tall man wearing a brown suit was asking Laurie if she was the 911 caller while another similarly dressed man tried to question Mr. Saltzman. Getting no coherent response, he told the just arriving paramedics to get the old gentleman to the hospital.

Laurie Silva nodded in affirmation that she was the 911 caller, and the brown suited man introduced himself as Detective Hanson. Before leading Laurie Silva to the back office for questioning he glanced at the group of uniformed officers gathered around Chester’s body, massive revolver still protruding from his mouth. “Jesus,” one said to the group in an almost reverent tone looking first at Chester and then up to the Miami Dolphins cap stuck to the ceiling. “Been on the force over twenty years and never seen anything like this…Jesus,” he softly repeated as Detective Hanson took Laurie Silva gently by the arm and walked her to the back office.

Three indoor security cameras ran full time in Saltzman’s Fine Jewelry and Watches. One angled in from the left, one focused straight over the main jewelry counters in the center of the showroom, and one aimed from the right. A fourth camera with a wide-angle lens mounted outside the entrance filmed the sidewalk directly in front of the store. All were working perfectly when the leather-jacketed gunman pulled up in the Toyota, walked in, shot Chester, had the laundry bag filled, walked out and drove away. Even the Toyota’s full license plate revealed Laurie Silva had correctly written down the last four numbers. Within an hour of the crime, the police had distinct front and side photographs of the killer and ID’d the Toyota as registered to a Roy Dillard whose Florida driver’s license photo matched the security camera images perfectly. A S.W.A.T. team was already closing in on the small home off Broward Boulevard owned by one Roy Dillard.

From a vacant lot situated diagonally across the street from Roy Dillard’s house, Detective Hanson watched through binoculars as the S.W.A.T. team surrounded the property. Amazingly, in plain sight the Toyota was parked in the driveway, broken tail light glinting in the afternoon sun. A body-armored officer called to the house through a megaphone, “You are surrounded by the Fort Lauderdale Police. Come out the front door with your hands above your head. Do not make any sudden moves.”

Within seconds the front door slowly opened and a man wearing shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops emerged with his arms raised high over his head. He nervously looked at the assault rifles pointed at him and weakly asked, “What’s this all about?”

The megaphone blared, “On your face, spread your arms and legs. Now!”

When the ginger haired man complied, two officers ran at him from behind, grabbed his wrists, and in one swift movement had them cuffed behind his back.

“Identify yourself!” one of the officers demanded.

“I’m Roy Dillard,” came the reply. “What did I do?”

Even from a distance, Detective Hanson could actually hear the laughter from some of the S.W.A.T. team members. Lowering his binoculars and walking to the house he passed two officers putting Roy Dillard into a patrol car. Stopping, he looked into the cuffed man’s face and recognized him as the man in the security camera photos. Detective Hanson shook his head from side to side and under his breath mumbled to the two cops, “What a fucking moron. This case is an obvious slam dunk.”

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