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A Death In Chambers

A Death In Chambers

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A Death In Chambers

357 Seiten
5 Stunden
Jun 17, 2010


A 9mm slug ends a turbulent marriage. It could also end an entire community's system of justice if the prosecuting attorney and the defense lawyers expose the victim's deadly secret.

Jun 17, 2010

Über den Autor

A retired broadcaster, Dan Summerfield lives quietly in West Michigan with a friend. The friend is a cat named Dollar whose greatest wish is to use the symbol $ in place of his name. That way it will become the symbol of a feline formerly named Dollar.

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A Death In Chambers - Dan Summerfield



This would be a memorable day, thought the old man, shivering slightly in the cool morning air. Already a buck and two does, forms without substance against the still black earth and trees, had eased through the pines on the other side of the river.

The old man watched quietly as the deer drank their fill and slipped away. When they were gone, he raised the still steaming cup, savoring the smell of the coffee, so different from the bitter brew that passed for coffee at the F.C.I. He took a sip and the steam hit the back of his throat, bringing on a racking cough that shook his body.

Carefully placing the cup on the ground, he reached for a tissue to wipe his mouth. When through, he wadded the tissue and tossed it on the ground behind him, not bothering to check for the bright specks of blood he knew would be there.

The purple half light became tinged with red, outlining the cabin. Content in his camp chair, he didn't bother turning to look. It was enough to sit quietly and listen to the small sounds of the river.

A lone robin chirped sleepily in the ancient oak tree by the cabin. There had been a dozen on the property that early September morning the old man arrived. The next day they were gone, all but one. The others might have been fleeing the neighborhood to show their disapproval of the newest resident.

Now the birds were raising new broods in the Carolinas or Florida though, the old man knew, a few always stayed behind, living in cedar swamps and eating God knows what until spring. With luck, they would somehow survive the harsh Midwest winter. He decided to start putting out a little raw hamburger each morning for the solitary bird.

The red tinge turned to daylight as the wine sap sun cast a sudden promissory glow. As it climbed, the sun's rosy light would turn soft gold, hover for a moment in the crisp air, then quickly descend to touch the white-tinged grass and cold-brittle leaves with a glowing day long kiss.

The golden kiss would dissolve the tenuous grip of the frost, turning it into a slight mist that would rise a few inches and vanish in a swirl, itself becoming a part of the light.

The blades and leaves would embrace the light and themselves begin to glow; the grass with the deep jade of autumn; maples, sumac and oaks turning to masses of yellow, orange and hard brown brilliance. Warm, light breezes would stir the leaves, making them pulsate with color.

The sky, which in September had been a sharp, eye-stinging blue with hard edged silver-bright clouds, was now an azure pastel, the gold-tinged clouds fluffy and pleasing to the eye.

These were Indian summer days when sun, sky, air and water have a mystic quality seen at no other time. These are the days to remember when one remembers autumn.

The days to forget, or at least one tries to forget have no sunrise. Instead, a gray half-light slinks in from the east, imperceptibly replacing the cold blackness of night. The dim light, made dank by an accompanying freezing drizzle, will last into evening. The westerly wind holds no warmth, only the cold promise that winter is near.

Frosted grass that today sparkles and winks in the warming autumnal sun will tomorrow, or at least very soon, be covered by the depressing reality of knee-deep snow coldly glaring back at a gray, sullen sky. Trees, though still cloaked in majesty, become dim and drab in the half-light and will shortly hold out bare shivering arms, pleading for mercy from winds that have none to give.

The dark dampness of those October days is both warning and reminder to those who bask and dream in the golden light of  today. Harsh reality, it is telling them, is very near.

Watching the misty river, the old man wrapped both hands around the warm cup and tried to forget what was behind and ahead.


The Hall of Justice, a modern version of a medieval fortress, squats on the east bank of the river. Known simply as The Hall to its occupants, it is a multi-level, multipurpose facility serving as downtown headquarters for the county justice system, including city law enforcement.

The four floors contain the police department, District and Circuit courts, chambers for each of the Judges, offices for the County Prosecutor, and of course offices and work space for the hundreds of support personnel necessary to make all of this function properly.

For those suing or being sued in civil matters, for criminal defendants, and for the attorneys who represent both, the Hall is a legal mini-mall: one-stop shopping applied to the criminal and civil justice system.

The Police Department main offices occupy the northern half of the main floor and most of the basement, where the personnel locker room, report room, squad room, and motor pool are. Police Dispatch also operates out of the deep security of the basement. Only authorized personnel could gain access through the locked stairway door.

Eight years earlier a bloody shootout had taken place in one of the public corridors. When the shooting was over two vice officers and the fugitive they were trying to arrest on an outstanding warrant were all still alive, but badly wounded.

All recovered. One of the cops was pensioned off, the other returned to duty. The fugitive was now serving a life sentence. As a result of that shootout the entire building had been wired with an elaborate security system.

One system feature included each interior office being wired directly to Police Dispatch. At the press of a button any threat, real or perceived, could be brought to the immediate attention of dispatchers, who would then call in whatever force necessary to contain it.

Though the security system was expensive, elaborate and sophisticated, those who designed and installed it could not have anticipated the test it was about to undergo.


7:00 A.M.

Life is a shit sandwich, reflected veteran police officer Frank Salter, and every day you take another bite. Most days the sandwich tasted terrible, others not quite as bad, but it never really tasted like anything but what it was.

Frank rubbed the stubble on his cheeks, decided a shave and shower could wait and reached for the locker door handle. He'd rather shave at home where he could let the hot water run until the mirror steamed over before he placed the blade to his creased cheeks.

Frank didn't look in mirrors much anymore. He usually looked away whenever he passed one. Not that he had ever been a vain man, but the reflected image that now stared back at him was not the Frank Salter he wanted to remember.

Too many bites of the sandwich, he thought. Two bad marriages and four decades of hard drinking had wiped away that younger man. Now the steam, like the liquor he drank, blurred the inevitabilities of age and a life style that had finally caught up with him.

A long shift finally over, Frank stood in the basement police locker room of the Hall. He appeared to be a big man, but that was deceptive. It took a few seconds for his true height to snap into focus and then one could see that despite the muscular build he was only average in height.

Frank also gave an impression of great strength, and when he shook hands it was obvious that, unlike the height, it was not just impression. The strength was there, and it was very real.

The cool, gray-green eyes were mostly thoughtful, often laughing, seldom angry. Men trusted those eyes.  Women loved the promise in them. Only a few of either sex had ever seen them angry, but those who had backed off quickly.

Frank Salter had presence. It would be called command presence except he had never wanted to command anything or anybody. That was one of the reasons he was back working the streets after more than twenty years in the department.

Last night's shift had been quiet, even for a week-night. A cold, sullen mid-October rain had kept potential perpetrators inside, huddled near a heat source.

Eighteen minutes after rolling from the station, he'd been dispatched to a domestic dispute in the four thousand block of Ellis Avenue, only two blocks from the house he'd lived in for four years. His soon to be ex-wife's lights were still on as he drove by, and her blue Blazer was in the driveway. A green Blazer was parked under the street light at the curb.

Frank had calmed the disputing parties, cleared the scene at 9:54 p.m., and again drove by his wife's now darkened home. When he eased to a stop across the street he noted the green Blazer had been moved and was now parked in the driveway, next to his wife's car.

Probably the car salesman she'd been dating, Frank thought. He searched his memory for a name, couldn't find one and reached in his shirt pocket for a notepad, jotting down the date, time and license plate number. He stuffed the notepad back into the shirt pocket, gunned the engine for a noisy farewell. The pavement was too wet to lay down rubber, but the tires spun and left a rooster tail behind as he raced away.

Between that call and the end of the shift Salter had responded to only four others, the last at three a.m. to check out a report of a prowler at a home in the middle of the ghetto. There he found a drunken male harassing a female, made an arrest, and transported the offender to the city jail.

When he resumed his patrol, Frank Salter hadn't known this would be the last arrest of his career. In light of what was to follow, it would also be the most ironic.

Now as he stood at his locker, the night's paperwork completed, Frank remembered the license plate number he had jotted down. He reached for the pocket of the uniform shirt, then changed his mind. Screw it, he thought, I'll have Howard run it through the computer tonight.

Frank hung his gun belt and holstered service revolver on a hook inside the vented locker, stripped off the uniform and began donning his street clothes: Levi=s, sneakers, T-shirt, a gray sweatshirt with Kentucky printed across the front, and a baseball type cap with a Harley-Davidson logo.

He grabbed his light jacket from a hook, picked up his off-duty pistol from the locker shelf and stuffed it in his belt. He zipped up the jacket, slammed the locker door, spun the combination lock dial and headed for the stairway.

7:05 A.M.

As Officer Frank Salter went off duty, the front door of the house belonging to his soon to be ex-wife opened. The visitor stepped out, looked around casually while opening an umbrella and then hurried to the green Blazer. As the car backed out of the driveway, the driver flashed the high beams in a silent goodbye.

Susan Beckwith, watching at the living room window, waved, dropped the curtain back into place and walked to the bathroom. She flicked the radio on, peered into the mirror and, as the announcer gave the latest weather and traffic reports, grabbed a tube of lipstick, pursed her lips, and began judiciously applying just the right amount of lipstick.

Judicious, she thought, was exactly the word to describe the actions of a female judge: too much and she might be mistaken by an outsider for one of the South side prostitutes who regularly appeared in her courtroom; too little and she would lose that unique touch of femininity she brought to court as the first female ever elected to the bench in this district.

She paused to perform that curious lip twisting, lip compressing routine women do as a tactile test for thickness and to spread the stuff around. Satisfied, Susan placed the tube on the counter and studied her features in the mirror as the radio traffic reporter announced that roads were slick in spots, but generally safe. Traffic, he continued, was moderately heavy; there had been several car-deer collisions, known locally as deer slams. He reminded listeners the Quincy Street Bridge across the river would be closed that day for repairs.

Susan eyed her image critically. Since the separation she'd lost weight; though not enough, she thought. A new, shorter hairdo made her look younger, and since she stopped drinking the usual morning eye puffiness was gone. Susan nodded with satisfaction, smiled as her image returned a wink. Not bad for forty. She left the bathroom to dress for the day.

7:10 A.M.

Frank, pulling the collar of his jacket up as protection against the continuing cold drizzle, emerged from the Hall and walked to his car in the west parking lot.

The car, an ancient Buick, loomed like some prehistoric beast among the newer economy cars scattered throughout the parking lot. Any pride of possession the Buick had ever given had evaporated along with the rocker panels, which had rusted away several owners ago.

The Buick did run amazingly well, a miracle Frank attributed to either GM engineers or the St. Christopher medal a former owner had forgotten to retrieve from the mirror in his haste to sell the car. Frank wasn't a praying man but the medal stayed where it was, just in case.

If the car wasn't one of Frank's proudest possessions, his jacket was. The back sported the logo of the Blue Devils Motorcycle Club, most of whose members were cops, though a few were wealthy attorneys or businessmen. Frank was a charter member, though no longer a bike owner. His had been sold months ago to pay off bills.

Salter eased the groaning Buick out of its space in the police department parking lot and headed north, toward the expressway. With a full tank, the Buick normally got four round trips to his riverside cabin in the woods almost fifty miles away and this was his day to fill up.

The cold drizzle continued in the predawn darkness.

Looking up at the expressway, Frank could tell by the headlights that traffic was heavy. He suddenly thought to hell with it. He hadn't had a drink in a month and had just pulled a long shift with nothing to eat but an apple and a sandwich. A couple of Jim Beam shooters followed by breakfast sounded good.

Frank whipped the Buick around, heading for Bean's Tavern, a neighborhood bar just a couple of miles away.

Traffic on the city roads was still relatively light as he drove, giving him time to ponder his pending divorce and the events leading up to it.

It had seemed a good match. Both were mature adults, and both were convinced they could put a previous bad marriage behind them. Helping Frank clinch the decision to remarry was the eighty-two thousand a year Susan made. A twenty-year street cop made only thirty-six thousand. His golden years, he figured, would now be truly golden.

That Susan was fantastic in bed had also played a part in his decision. Why was it, he now wondered ruefully that the really great lays made lousy wives while the lousy lays made great wives?

The wedding ceremony had been conducted on the back lawn of the Hall. With the river flowing peacefully in the background, it had been promisingly elegant and well attended by both law enforcement personnel and members of the legal profession.

Some of those attending, Frank knew, had wondered just how long a marriage between these two seeming opposites could last but, what the hell, most marriages didn't these days. He was willing to take a chance if she was, and it really wasn't anyone else's business, anyway.

Yes, that had been a perfect summer day, thought Frank, now squinting through the windshield as the worn wipers swiped off the drizzle on the down sweep and brought it back on the up sweep. Too bad it had all gone wrong.

7:15 A.M.

Susan Beckwith watched Good Morning, America as she sipped coffee in the living room, but her thoughts were on the upcoming election and the divorce which would become final soon after.

Thank God she'd refused to give up her maiden name when she married Frank Salter. Susan had given her name up once in a failed first marriage and after working so hard to establish a professional reputation, first as an Assistant County Prosecutor then as a District Court Judge, had no intention of doing so again. 

It was Frank's work as a cop and Susan's as an Assistant Prosecutor that had brought them together. They'd met in a bar frequented by law enforcement personnel and made a date for the annual Marine Corps Ball in November.

It wasn't love at first sight, though the sex had happened almost immediately. Both had a lot of experience in the sack and each knew how to satisfy the other.

It had been satisfying sex, thought Susan. Satisfying but not particularly special, at least for her. They had coupled a few times, and then moved on to other partners.

Two years later Frank, seeking a warrant, entered her courtroom shortly after the election. The two struck up a conversation which ended with a mutual agreement to start dating.

Six months later the relationship was well enough established for talk of marriage. There were serious discussions about whether each was ready to marry again. The decision by both parties was that they were.

It had been, thought Susan, as she wandered into the kitchen for another cup of coffee, a terrible decision for both.

7:20 A.M.

Bean's Tavern, a popular morning gathering spot for law enforcement types, postal employees, and other third shift workers, was open for business at 7:00 a.m. seven days a week. If the law allowed, it would never have closed.

Warm, pungent air and loud Merle Haggard surged toward the door in a dash for freedom as Frank stepped inside. The mix washed over him in its haste to escape, then slowed, swirled, and settled around him as he pulled the heavy door closed.

Merle's wailing came from the jukebox near the back of the tavern, the pungency from a blue haze that had hung in the air of the tavern for years.

The decor was upscale redneck. Several mounted deer heads lined the wall. One of them, a handsome twelve pointer, now had a dark mold eating away at the trophy's nose.

The blades of an overhead ceiling fan revolved slowly in a vain attempt to cut their way through the haze, a funky combination of spilled beer, stale tobacco smoke, cheap perfumes and cheaper aftershave lotions. Vinegar soaked towels used to wipe down the bar added another not so subtle ingredient to the blend.

The decor, the loud country music and the haze were at first disorienting, then quickly became a normal part of one's environment. It was exactly what one would expect of a bar in this neighborhood and Bean's Tavern wouldn't have been the same without it.

Morning bartender Happy Tyler, toweling off the bar near the jukebox, sensed motion in the funky mix, looked toward the door and waved the towel at Frank in a friendly hello. He pointed to the near end of the bar where Sheriff's Deputy Rich Reynolds sat nursing a beer. A couple of people Salter had seen before but didn't know sat at a table.

As Salter joined Reynolds at the bar, Happy walked over and smiled a greeting. Morning, Frank.

Mornin', Frank said. Beamer me up, Happy. Straight up. Tyler grabbed a fifth of Jim Beam and a water glass. The measuring spout gurgled merrily as he  poured.

Happy was known for pouring generous drinks. If a customer commented on his generosity he would grin, wink, and say Sometimes it sticks.  The spout appeared to be stuck wide open this morning: the drink he poured for Frank Salter was, according to witnesses, more than generous. None were sure whether the water glass he poured it into contained one, two, or three shots, but even Frank later admitted that he had surely gotten his money's worth.

Minutes later city police officer Dick West walked through the door, spotted the two fellow officers, and ordered a round: beers for himself and Reynolds, another Jim Beam for Salter. Tyler was as generous with Salter's second drink as he had been with the first.

Happy later remembered the cops talking, joking and laughing, but could not remember a word that was said.

7:25 A.M.

As Good Morning, America segued into news from the local ABC affiliate, Susan checked her outfit in the living room mirror before slipping into the kitchen for one last coffee refill. The black, gray and white checked sweater went well with the black skirt. Silver earrings and necklace provided a nice contrast. Shiny black pumps completed the ensemble.

She unplugged the coffee pot timer, a habit she'd retained even after the old wiring had been replaced, and stood glancing around the kitchen while sipping the steaming coffee. There were a lot of memories here, most good, and some bad. Her nephew Charles had loved this kitchen, even before the remodeling.

Charles Snyder, her older sister Judy's son, was only five years younger than Susan. Unable to hold a job and still searching for an identity, he had come to her for advice. She had taken Charles under her wing, installing him in an upstairs bedroom. Shortly after the marriage Frank threw him out, angrily instructing Susan that her nephew was never to visit while he, Frank, was at home.

Susan was not pleased by the banishment of Charles, whom she also considered her best friend but, hoping time might change Frank's attitude, she had let it slide.

Both had kept busy with their respective careers: Susan with the always demanding duties of District Court; Frank, now a detective, had his own busy schedule. But as the marriage wore on Susan became increasingly resentful of Frank's attitudes toward Charles and the many liberal issues that were dear to her heart.

Susan Beckwith was intelligent, strong willed, and committed to her ideas and ideals, traits that had succeeded in winning her, a liberal feminist in an ultraconservative community, elective office. She was damned if some redneck cop, husband or not, was going to tell her who she could see and what she could think.

Susan grabbed her purse, fished inside for the car keys, and walked to the door. She took a last look around the living room, closed the door softly behind her and headed for the car.

7:45 A.M.

Police Sergeant Howard Metcalfe had, like Frank Salter, worked days for a number of years but recently decided to go back to nights, allowing younger officers to have a chance at the day shift.

Metcalfe's body, however, still hadn't gotten used to the hours. Though he got off work an hour earlier than the patrolmen, he had been unable to sleep. Hoping he could find someone to shoot pool with until he got sleepy, Metcalfe headed for Bean's Tavern, where his early morning visits were usually limited to twice a month on paydays while he waited for his check to be processed.

When he walked through the door and spotted Reynolds and West sitting with his longtime friend, Frank Salter, Metcalfe immediately did what any good cop would do. He bought a beer for himself and a round for his friends.

Reynolds and West stuck with beer, Salter with straight Jim Beam. Metcalfe noticed with concern the water glass and the large amount of liquor it contained. Frank sometimes got nasty when he was drinking Beamer doubles.

However, this morning Salter was in a good mood. My man, he said, addressing Howard, I've lost a lot of weight but I'm still too goddamn fat to be a cop. It's sitting in that friggin' cruiser and not walking a beat. It'll lead to a coronary every time.

Frank, you've never walked a beat in your life. Hell, no cop has walked a beat in this town in thirty years.

And that's why they're all so goddamn fat, retorted Salter. But you know how I'm gonna lose more weight? Frank leaned forward. Cabbage soup, that's my secret.

Metcalfe rolled his eyes at West and Reynolds. Reynolds stuck a forefinger in his mouth and pretended to gag.

"Hey, I'm not kidding. You can eat all you want and it gives you all the nourishment you need. Lots of protein and no calories.

Metcalfe snorted. "I didn't even know you could cook.

Howard did know, however, that, thanks to the United States Marine Corps Reserve, Frank Salter had been eating a lot of cabbage soup lately.

The peacetime Corps thought all Marines should be as slim as the ones shown on recruiting posters, even tough old gunnies in their mid-fifties like Salter.

Frank, who worked out a couple of times a week in the police gymnasium, was in general excellent health, but did have a tendency to put on weight. Age, sedentary duty behind the wheel of a cruiser, good eating and heavy drinking didn't help.

A month earlier Salter had taken the Marine Reserve re-enlistment physical. He passed but was found to be approximately fifteen pounds overweight. The Corps gave him one month to lose the extra pounds or he would not be allowed to reenlist. If he couldn't reenlist, his pension was out the window.

Frank had gone on a crash program, trying to get down to a maximum weight of one hundred and ninety-seven pounds. He ran between four and five miles a day, worked out on an exercise bike for another half hour, ate nothing but salads, soups, sandwiches and fruit. It was a regimen that might have killed men ten years

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