PROLOGUE: SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY
In the forty-plus years I had worked for the Chicago Police Department, twenty-two of which were spent in homicide, I’d been called to many crime scenes. I had lost count of the number of times I’d received an early morning phone call before the sun had come up. None of them had been to deliver good news. And the call I’d received some twenty minutes ago had been no exception.
Like many times before, I walked into a room that was in a state of complete disarray. My eyes took in the scene with its telltale signs of violence: blood spatter on the doorjamb, along the living room walls and overturned furniture. A dead body lying face down on the floor in the corner completed the picture.
In each of those past cases, it was my job to determine what made person X stab, shoot, or poison person Y. What were the reasons that the prone bodies laid out before me had their existence extinguished that day? At the start of any such investigation it was important not to miss any clues, and to sift through everything, because in the absence of a live witness to the events that had taken place, I had to put the story together from scratch.
Even with all of that experience, I wasn’t prepared for what lay before me this Sunday morning. The neighbors had called police roughly two plus hours ago reporting gunshots and sounds of a violent struggle. That my former commanding officer, Lt. Andrews, called and urged me to get here quickly was stunning. I recognized the address immediately when he recited it to me.
“Robert, come on in,” Andrews said, and led me past the other officers and the forensics team that were already on the scene. “Look, this is just a courtesy call. It’s not even my case, but with his former ties to the department, the investigating officer called me, and I called you. I know what he meant to you.”
“Means. I know what he means to you,” Andrews said.
I glimpsed the body lying prone on the floor. “Who’s that?”
“We don’t know. No ID. The only thing he had in his pockets were three, crisp, hundred-dollar bills and some change.”
“Well, where is he? Where’s Ashe?”
“We don’t know that either,” Andrews said. “He’s missing.”
Ashe, one of my closest friends and one of my partners in RDC Investigations, is missing. How the hell is that possible? As I struggled with the concept, my eyes continued scanning the room to see what else it would tell me. I picked up on the bullet holes in the doorway immediately. There were no shell casings, so I wasn’t sure how many rounds had been fired, but at least one shot had left a canoe like groove in the head of the mystery man on the floor. There were two more entry wounds in his back. A blood trail started at the door and tracked into the living room. I’d only taken a cursory glance around, but the shooting seemed to had begun from the hallway and then the struggle continued inside. Who’d be crazy enough to show up at Ashe’s door?
I walked through the apartment, and the sign Ashe had on his wall, “There’s no easy day, but yesterday,” caught my eye. That was one of the marine sayings he was most fond of. His Navy SEAL trident was also on prominent display on his bookshelf. I had always marveled at his dedication to our country, and to service, that after he finished his tour with the marines, he enlisted with the navy, and became a SEAL. It was actually on a dare, he’d told me once. But one that he was more than willing to take on. He was proud of serving in both branches of our military.
I eyeballed the body on the floor again. He was a decent sized man, but Ashe goes six-three, two-forty. No way this guy could’ve taken Ashe one on one.
Two assailants, then?
Maybe that explained why there was so much blood. But if they somehow got the drop on him, that just as well could be Ashe’s blood smeared around the apartment.
“It just doesn’t seem possible,” I said.
“His car is outside, but there’s no sign of him in the area. Early forensics indicates the blood could be from the deceased over there, and a second subject. But that won’t be known for sure until all the tests are run.”
“So, he could be hurt,” I said.
“We’ll know when we find him and ask him.” A face I didn’t recognize interjected.
Andrews made the introduction. “Robert Raines, this is Detective Mark Royce.”
Royce was the detective in charge of the investigation. He worked out of the sixth precinct and looked to be in his early to mid-thirties, and wore a sour expression on his face as he limply shook my extended hand. Royce twirled a toothpick around in his mouth as he eyed me up and down. His tone and body language seemed to suggest that my presence upset him.
“I know who he is,” Royce said.
Apparently, my reputation preceded me.
That scowl never left his face as he continued, “Ex-cop. I watch the news so I know about the thing in Louisiana, and that you were involved with Senator Dietrich. Guess that makes you hot shit, huh?”
It appeared that reputation of mine would not do me any good this time around. “That’s one way to put it,” I said. “Look, I’m not here to step on any toes. I’m just concerned about my friend. Can you tell me what you know so far?”
Royce pointed toward the corpse. “One dead guy over there, and your friend in the wind. That’s what I know. Unless you have anything of substance to offer, we’re gonna put out an APB on Ashe. He’s got some questions to answer.”
“What? Like he’s a suspect?” I asked.
“Well, he has a dead body in his apartment. And with his, uh, history, until we know more, yes, I guess he is.”
“That’s a mistake.”
Royce laughed and pulled the toothpick from his mouth.
“Did I say something funny?”
“You old guys, man. You really do love the smell of your own farts, don’t you? Always think you know everything. The great private investigator is going to figure this all out for me. Let me guess, you know exactly how I should run this investigation.”
“Yeah, punk. Because I was doing this job and doing it well, while you were still popping pimples and hanging out in your momma’s basement, jerking off to lingerie models in the Macy’s catalogue.”
Andrews stepped in between us.
“Easy guys, easy. We’re all on the same team here.”
Royce popped his toothpick back into his mouth, and said, “You and I are sir, but he’s not. Not anymore. I want him out of my crime scene. You were here as a courtesy only, courtesy is over.”
He may have been a prick about it, but Royce was right. I’m retired. It’s his crime scene, his case, and he was handling it as he saw fit. As he should. And that was just fine, because I’d be handling my own investigation just as I saw fit.
Questions swirled around in my head in rapid fire fashion. It had been only three months since my team’s encounter with Walter Rand, and he and Ashe had quite the face to face.
Could Rand have had a hand in this?
I don’t think he’d have been crazy enough to confront Ashe personally, but he could’ve hired someone, or brainwashed someone, wound them up and sent them after Ashe.
I also wondered if whatever had taken place here had anything to do with the investigation Ashe and I had recently taken on. A case that has sent me tumbling down memory lane. Reminiscent of one of the most heated, charged, and gut-wrenching cases I’d worked in all my years on the force.
The corpse in Ashe’s living room wouldn’t be providing any answers on either front, and the hothead detective in charge had dismissed me, so I made my way out as getting into a pissing contest wasn’t going to do me any good. Either way, my hands were full.
As I headed out, I could only hope that my friend was still alive.
Part One: TWO DAYS AGO …