About the Author

Michael J. Clark

Books by this Author
Clean Sweep

Clean Sweep

A Crime Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : crime, hard-boiled
More Info
Excerpt

Chapter One

 

Happy. Paulie Noonan was wondering when he had last felt it. Of all nights, this run-of-the-mill Winnipeg Wednesday seemed far from it. He was parked in front of the bus station at Pembina and Stafford, which the locals knew better as the Salisbury House Restaurant. He watched the goings-on within, through the smeared windshield of his Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon. A group of high-school kids were busy being high-school kids, pooling their change for fries and gravy, maybe a few Cheese Nips. He immediately identified the Bad Boy, a bushy brown-haired Lothario wearing not enough jacket for January. He was busy loosening the tops on the salt and pepper shakers for the next set of unsuspecting customers, while his friends laughed at a YouTube video on one of their phones. The blue-eyed blonde across from the bad example stared at him but saw none of it. She wanted him more than air.

Noonan looked to the left of the teens’ booth. A father and daughter were winding down their evening out at a pre-teen concert that one of the local FM stations had been promoting all week. The girl was showing off her concert T-shirt to her dad, practically levitating off of the vinyl bench. Dad was still rubbing his left ear from one of two dins: the sound system at the MTS Centre or the screams of 10,000 prepubescent fans. The father smiled at his daughter with loving approval, the way that Noonan wished he could with his daughter. He hadn’t seen her in twelve years.

The man at the table next to Dad and Daughter could have been the girl’s grandfather, a bespectacled gent who had to be in his late seventies. His teeth didn’t look like they fit as well as the baseball cap on his white shock of hair. Noonan had seen the hat’s logo, a fist gripping what looked like lightning bolts, somewhere before, possibly the crest for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He was reading a crisp copy of the Winnipeg Sentinel’s Wednesday car dealer insert. Perhaps it was time for a new Buick.

Noonan’s Buick was way past warranty. The woodgrain panelling concealed most of the rust. The Buick had been hiding Noonan for the last six nights, thanks to a toasty in-car warmer, a $300 sleeping bag, and plenty of empty plug-in parking spots at local retirement homes, where half the cars were Buicks. His compact frame of five feet six inches was easy to curl beneath the station wagon’s retractable cargo cover. The Buick had been in storage, under a dead friend’s name, for the express purpose of bugging out. He had left his ivory Escalade in front of his duplex on Rothesay Street. The house and the Cadillac had surely been searched by now by representatives of the Heaven’s Rejects Motorcycle Club, a name that was usually shortened to the HRs in casual conversation, or newspaper headlines. Noonan had freelanced for most of the biker gangs in Winnipeg over the last thirty years, watching their power ebb and flow from one group to the next. Whether it was the Los Bravos, the Spartans, or the current HRs, they all had one thing in common: crossing them meant death. The HRs had a slogan in the local underworld: First, we kill you. Then we go to work on you.

The latest assignment for Noonan had gone more sideways than an Electra Glide on black ice. It had all started ten days earlier, when he took a basic gig from the HRs to guard a stash house on Mountain Avenue near the Safeway, with four kilos of cocaine, two kilos of hashish, and six Ziploc freezer bags full of ecstasy. Noonan had been dozing on and off, a rumbling space heater next to the duct-taped Barcalounger he occupied, in front of a vintage black-and-white portable TV. Either appliance could have been responsible for the fire, the one that Noonan woke up to in full force. He knew it would have been wiser to succumb to the smoke, instead of escaping with just his life. The stash went up in flames, with not even enough evidence left in the debris to present a press conference for the Winnipeg Police Service. The HRs weren’t happy. Even if he had received third-degree burns all over his face, Noonan knew he would still get some breaks, as in fingers, maybe a tibia or two. Without a scratch on him, it didn’t take long for the HRs to ask the question; did the stash actually burn?

Noonan’s phone started vibrating in his coat pocket. He reached in to check the message, already knowing the request. “Please come home, Paulie. I miss you.” It wasn’t a lover, and it certainly wasn’t his ex-wife. Home was the Heaven’s Rejects clubhouse, located in a former bakery on St. John’s Avenue. I miss you — translation: or we’ll find you, and make it really, really painful. Not that anyone would ever find him. Winnipeg was full of missing bikers; you just had to know where to dig.

Noonan pulled down his visor for a peek at his current state. One of the vanity-mirror bulbs was burnt out, though there was just enough illumination to reveal a most frightened man of forty-seven years. His stubble was bordering on unkempt beard. His cheeks were sunken, a combination of only 145 pounds on his frame and the slim thought of eating in his current predicament. In the back seat there was a case of oversized green apple Gatorade bottles that could double as road-going urinals. The entire car stank of nervous sweat.

Noonan was waiting for the bus, a magic bus, especially if it could be the ticket out of Winnipeg, out of Manitoba, out of The Life. He continued to scan his side and rear-view mirrors for its arrival. The tap on the passenger side glass prompted him to hit the horn long enough to annoy. The teens, Daughter and Dad, and the grandfather gave the expected look at the noise: What’s HIS problem? Noonan waited for a fat second until he turned his head to see Tommy Bosco looking through the glass. He breathed for what seemed like the first time in days as he hit the power lock.

Noonan had known Tommy Bosco for better than twenty years. The bulk of that time had involved a criss-cross of criminal activities, mostly in the field of cross-border smuggling, with Bosco at the wheel of an old half-ton pickup truck named Freddie the Ford. Noonan knew they would probably still be meeting over such matters at a neighborhood Sal’s like this, if it hadn’t been for January 17, 2009. That was the day Bosco was arrested at the Pembina, North Dakota, U.S. customs entry, the victim of a classic double-cross. It wasn’t Tommy Bosco who was sliding into Noonan’s Buick; this was Pastor Tommy Bosco. Noonan knew of many ex-cons who had made the Jesus leap while in the service of the province. Bosco’s bound was the stuff of Superman.

“Did you remember everything?” said Bosco. He had assumed a position that favoured the door panel as his backrest. Noonan nodded, pointing to a collection of personal items on the dashboard. Bosco checked the items with the help of the map light overhead. Noonan sat quietly as he watched Bosco make his mental inventory: wallet, watch, rings, receipts. Bosco was a skinny six-foot-three, with a bushy mess of salt and pepper hair under his toque that must have had a mullet extension in the late eighties. While the extension had long been removed, the same couldn’t be said for the jagged scar over his left eye, a mark that Noonan had long assumed to be from a fight that Bosco had won. He wore minimal stubble, hidden partially by the pulled-up collar of his second-hand tweed overcoat. His blue-grey eyes appeared to register satisfaction as he finished flipping through the pictures in Noonan’s wallet. He placed the wallet on the dashboard. He looked directly at Noonan without emotion. “Left or right,” said Bosco.

Noonan blinked.

“Left or right?”

Noonan looked to the left, then to the right. He saw nothing. “Huh?”

“Which hand?”

“Whaddya mean, which hand?”

“Which hand do you jerk off with?”

Noonan had to think about it. He lifted both hands up by the wheel, making cupping motions with first his left hand, then his right. He was about to answer when Bosco grabbed his right wrist and sliced open his palm with a folding pocket knife. Noonan cried out. “Son of a BITCH! What the fuck was that for?”

Bosco didn’t answer. He grabbed Noonan’s bleeding palm and squeezed. He directed Noonan’s palm over the light-grey velour upholstery. He rubbed the palm on the steering wheel, the dashboard, and the edge of the seat before releasing it. Noonan immediately applied pressure to the wound, a wound that his assailant was now trying to fix. Bosco had produced a well-worn flask from his coat. He doused the wound with a splash of pungent liquor, a mid-grade bourbon that he had acquired a taste for in the States. As Noonan winced, Bosco wrapped the hand in a hasty combo of cotton balls and adhesive gauze. “That’s the first thing we do at the bus station,” said Bosco. “We’ve got to make sure that the cops know you were at the bus station.”

“Yeah, well there’s only one problem.”

“What’s that?”

Noonan pointed at his wound. “This is the hand I jack off with!”

Bosco smirked. “Try lefty for a while. They say it feels like someone else.” He gave the front seat a once-over, making sure that none of the triage items had been left behind. Satisfied, Bosco motioned for Noonan to exit the wagon. “Don’t forget your shit,” he said, pointing to the personal effects on the dashboard. Bosco turned off the idling Buick as Noonan left the driver’s side, pocketing the keys. “Over by the Co-op,” Bosco said, pointing towards what had to be the Magic Bus.

Noonan looked at the bus as he approached, a well-used white Ford Econoline fifteen-passenger model, with lettering on the side for Bosco’s skid row mission. The script was anything but professionally applied. He wiped away at the dirt to read it:

 

THE GUIDING LIGHT MISSION

ALL DENOMINATIONS WELCOME

Noonan smirked at that. Back in the day, all denominations were certainly welcome, in the dummy fuel tank of Freddie the Ford.

 

Chapter Two

 

The Econoline headed south on Pembina Highway. The sound of the worn-out engine was being drowned out by whatever was stuck in the heater box. It might have been some dried leaves, the kind that fall into the cold-air duct in autumn, eventually finding their way to the blower motor. The shrieking from the fan was constant, with slight adjustments in tremolo when Bosco would bash the dashboard with his right hand, protectively wrapped in thick hide mittens, affectionately known as garbage mitts. The bashing would bring the AM radio on intermittently, with slices of a late-night conspiracy theory talk show on CJOB.

“Gimme your wallet,” said Bosco, as he gave the dashboard another haymaker. Noonan fished around, producing his weathered Buxton with the expected curvature of a back-pocket address. He was about to remove the wad of bills when Bosco stopped him. “Leave the money. It has to be a full wallet, otherwise it won’t look like a hit.”

Noonan wasn’t convinced. “I gotta throw away five hundred bucks? Fuck!” He counted the bills to be sure of the truth, finding himself a twenty light. Close enough, he thought, as he handed the wallet over.

“Put it all in the bag and tie it up,” said Bosco, pointing to a pile of empty 7-Eleven bags near the base of the engine doghouse. Noonan complied, tightly tying the bag that held his wallet, his watch, and his credit card receipts. “Bag it twice,” said Bosco, pointing at the floor of the van. “Otherwise, it tears too soon.” The doubled bag looked like the kind you would see in a waste bin at a public park, put there by conscientious pet owners. Shit in a bag, thought Noonan. That would be all that was left of him, as far as Robbery-Homicide was concerned.

Noonan found a smile then, thinking about all the wasted hours that would be spent at the Brady Road landfill in search of a finger or a leg. The new recruits from the academy, the crime scene techs with their hooded coveralls, probes, and sensors. The commercial garbage truck drivers would be complaining at the landfill supervisors, the supervisors shrugging, all for a low-level hood. Not a bad send-off, Noonan thought. All it needed was an open bar.

Bosco had to hold the turn signal in place for the right turn onto the Perimeter Highway. “Is there anything on this piece of shit that isn’t busted?” said Tommy as he negotiated the arc. In the distance, he could see the glow from the lights at the primary city garbage dump site. He made the left onto Brady Road, dousing the lights. “Grab that,” said Bosco, as he motioned to Noonan at the long tube behind the seats.

The item looked familiar, but Noonan couldn’t place its origins. Then it hit him, just like the T-shirt that had whacked him in the head and spilled his beer at the Winnipeg Goldeyes game last summer. Noonan handed the T-shirt cannon to Bosco, who had retrieved an air tank from the rear of the van. He stuffed the plastic bag into the tube, using a broken snowbrush to ensure it was at the back of the T-shirt cannon. Noonan said nothing, though every jab of the brush into the barrel felt like a steel toe to his gut. He wondered how long it would take for anyone to notice that he was gone. The first one to call would be the Manitoba Department of Corrections, wondering why he hadn’t shown up for his weekly parole compliance check-in. They would start calling next of kin, finding an ex-wife full of venom, a few disconnected phone numbers, and a sixty-six-year-old mother on the crack pipe. He’d had a daughter with his high-school sweetheart, just before he got thrown into Headingley the first time, for two years less a day. He had tried to connect with her a few times over the last twenty-five years. “I have no Father!” and “You’re dead to me!” were the usual responses.

Noonan could live with that. She had turned out alright, with a decent common-law husband, twin boys, and a nice trailer, in one of the nicer trailer parks. She had a job, a minivan, and no worries about knocks on the door from the local constabulary. Not a bad life, Noonan thought. It certainly wasn’t his life.

 “You wanna launch it?” said Bosco as he threw the brush into the back of the Econoline. Noonan shook his head, a shake Bosco had seen seventeen times over the past three years, from seventeen other Noonans. He whacked Noonan’s head with the tube, the way you’d tap someone who was nodding off. “It might help,” said Bosco, as he checked the pressure gauge on the launcher. “Out with the old, in with the new fake ID.”

Noonan straightened up. “Give me a minute,” he said, looking at the floorboard.

Bosco grabbed the launcher and the tank. “Don’t take too fucking long. All we need is one curious cop or an RC and its done.”

The RCs were the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Brady Road landfill site was literally on the border of the City of Winnipeg and the Rural Municipality of Macdonald. The site was still contained within city limits, though it just depended on who was more bored during their patrol. Noonan banged the busted passenger door open, slamming it hard enough to dislodge the last shard of broken mirror from the cracked side-view. He bent down to pick it up, turning it ever so slightly to catch his full mug. He hated the look of his own face. He knew what it had seen, the things it had said, and the rage it had registered against those who he professed to love. He wished he could slice it off with the shard, scab over, and start again, but there was no time. A fake ID and an electric shave would have to do.

Bosco was checking the connections of the fittings on the launcher as Noonan shuffled over. “It’s ready,” said Bosco, as he handed him the tube. Noonan examined the device, not quite sure of the triggering mechanism, or, for that matter, which end to aim at the landfill. “Wrong end,” said Bosco, as he reversed the direction of the tube. Noonan complied, still unsure of the nuances for the angle of trajectory. Bosco motioned towards the top of the garbage hill. “Aim towards the lights.”

Noonan looked up at the yellow glow from the sodium bulbs and aimed accordingly. He hit the trigger, jarred slightly by the recoil of the compressed air. They watched as the plastic bag tumbled through the night air, crossing into the canopy of light and blowing snow. They did not see it land; they didn’t have to. The wheels of the landfill Caterpillars would chew open the bag in short order, as well as the curved Buxton, the knock-off Rolex, and the $480 that Noonan had called five. Something would be found, something with a name, a bar code, and a magnetic stripe that would read Paul Edward Noonan. Only then would it be done, as far as the police were concerned.

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Mahoney's Camaro

Mahoney's Camaro

A Crime Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : crime, hard-boiled
More Info
Excerpt

“Base to 36, base to 36. What’s your twenty, over.”

Mahoney picked up the microphone and clicked. “McPhillips and Stardust, Dolores. Just grabbing the breakfast of champions, over.” The voice at the other end of the transmission laughed and coughed at the same time, a damp smoker’s cough. “That cat food is gonna stop your heart cold one of these days, over.”

“And four packs a day won’t? Over.”

“Fig you, Baloney, and your little dog too, over.” As raw as the off-air conversation could get at the Hook Me Up office, Mahoney knew that the on-air banter for the two-way had to be kept PG, thanks to a few complaints that had made their way to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. Someone was always listening, even if it was a fat kid in a basement with a Radio Shack scanner and virgin ears. Even he could complain — to his Mom anyway.

“Whaddya got, Dolores? It better not be some drunk rich kid’s Trans Am at Night Moves, cause I’m nowhere near it, over.” Mahoney waited for the dispatcher to chastise him for his insolence with a few figs, maybe an offer to go multiply himself repeatedly. Instead, there was a pause. Dolores always paused when it was a bad one. Mahoney knew that the timing was right for a bad one. High school graduation season was in full swing throughout the city. Many schools were still trying to push the designated driver concept, though the reality was that at least two teens would die that weekend in closed-casket crashes.

“It’s a cop call,” said Dolores. “North Main Street boat launch, got a car in the water. Did you get that fiddling cable fixed on the fiddling winch yet? Over.”

“It’s as strong as your breath. Ever heard of a fiddling Tic-Tac? Over.”

Dolores coughed. “Ever heard of a ritual killing? Over.”

“Got it Dolores. 36 over and out.” Mahoney hung up the mic. He steered with his knees while he ate.

It took Mahoney about fifteen minutes to get to the North Main Red River boat launch. It would have taken less than ten, if it wasn’t for the media blockade. They’d been monitoring the police band on their respective scanners. Mahoney had attended to numerous calls where the media was first on the scene. Listening in was illegal, though the police had never followed through on enforcing it. As much as the media could bring a world of hurt to an ongoing investigation, it could also assist in locating a missing person, or a person of interest. Mahoney knew, like most Winnipeggers, that the city’s police department was still feeling the sting of negative publicity from a few high-profile cases in the last few years.

The third trial for Thomas Sophonow was underway, with many citizens quietly convinced that he had been railroaded into the role of the Cowboy Killer, that had strangled Barbara Stoppel in the bathroom of the Ideal Donut Shop. Candace Derksen had been found in January, hog-tied and left to die in a shed within walking distance of her family home. Paul Clear had been murdered by two of Winnipeg’s not-so-finest in the summer of ’81. The pair was convinced that he had snitched on them for their on-duty burglary hobby. One of the cops was Clear’s brother-in-law.

At the entrance to the boat launch, a skinny rookie was keeping the reporters at bay. He signaled to Mahoney to head through as the respective news outlets snapped their pictures and filled their Betacams with the barricaded scene. The CKND van tried to follow Mahoney in, stopping quickly when the driver locked eyes with the rookie’s icy glare. The rookie motioned to another officer in an idling cruiser who quickly got the hint, blocking the gravel access road with two tons of black-and-white Ford LTD.

Mahoney looked ahead to the riverside activity. The road was thick with black-and-whites and unmarked detective units. An ambulance passed him on the left, looking to be in anything but a hurry, its emergency lights dark. Mahoney saw why as he started the decline to the Red River. The meat wagon. It was a non-descript, windowless black Ford Econoline, usually seen in the grainy crime-page pictures of the local papers. Mahoney could see the Harbor Master runabout in the water. The boat’s driver was talking to a police diver, who nodded his goggled head attentively before heading back down to the watery crime scene. The stage had plenty of backlighting, thanks to the side-mounted floodlights of the MS Paddlewheel Queen. The riverboat had practically been at its berth near the Northgate Copa dinner hall when one of the passengers noticed the red lights in the water. The previously-upbeat River East Collegiate Class of 1985 had quieted down considerably. The deck was lined with boys in rented tuxedos, and girls in what would most likely be the second-most expensive dress of their lives. They watched in stunned silence. Some of the girls were crying. Mahoney figured that going all the way tonight for any of these grads had about as much chance of happening as the waterlogged car below starting its engine and driving away.

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