Pat Canella ( the dockland murders)
I stood there, the gun still warm in my hand, barrel smoking from the gun battle.
“Why did he do that, Sarge? I tried my best to talk him out of it.”
“Living with the guilt finally got to him, Patti.”
“Couldn’t he have talked it over?”
“No, the only thing worse than being a dirty cop, is being the son of a loose cannon, and none came looser than Bill Chart, Patti.”
I looked around. There lay the body of Bill's son, my ex-partner, Adrian Chart.
“I had no choice, he pulled first, Sarge," I said through my tears.
“I know, Patti, we all saw it. Nobody blames you. It was his way out.”
The last thing I remember was the Sarge saying in a soft tone, "Take a week off Patti, something like this will haunt you. I know. I have been there myself.” Dazed, I stood there, trying to remember how it had all started . . .
* * *
I'd wanted an office and had pestered the sergeant for months for a place to work. For my sins, I'd got this dark and dingy office with paperwork piled high of old, unsolved murders. The air was dank with the musty smell of old paper, a place where light had long gone missing. This was Middleton Detective Agency. Even hardened drunks avoided this run down area of town. Sitting at the back of the office, I looked in desolation at the pile of old cases, Sgt. Pug Phillips had recently dumped on me.
“Why don’t I get anything good?” I muttered, knowing nobody was listening, or if they were, they didn't care. Cold coffee was still on the table from last night, the ring marks showing how I had spent the long, hot and humid days at Middleton going over old and long-forgotten cases which had been given to me just so I'd have something to do
“A young girl, trying to do a man's job" is what the crew said on that first day months ago.”
Here I was, stuck at the back end of nowhere, in a dark office so lonely I had to get my own coffee and doughnuts. The guys never took any notice. I often wondered if they would notice if I just didn't turn up. “
I'd never been a girlie girl. I was always looking for a mystery to solve rather than play with dolls or admire film stars. And this was my reward! A deadbeat job, in a run-down office, in the worst part of town.
Sometimes, I wish I'd just got married like the others; had a nice cosy life and a good husband, I muttered to myself – then, ‘Hell, no! Patti, where did that come from, gal?” The drudgery and boredom were getting to me. All these cases! Some go back to the '20's. Most of the witnesses are dead now, I mumbled under my breath. Trust me to get cases that are not only cold, but deader than the dodo.
Sitting there alone, I was surprised to hear a knock on the door. I was more surprised that anyone knew where I was. Standing in the doorway was an old man, leaning on his cane.
“Please come in and sit down.”
“Thank you, young lady," he said. "I have information on an old case, you might like to re-open.”
“Why not ask at the desk?”
“They closed the book years ago, and don’t want old wounds re-opened, that is why.”
“Which case is this ?”
“It's one from the '20s. The Morrissey/Jeffries case.”
“What can you tell me about it and why should we re-open it now?”
“I am telling you about it because my spirit is crossing and I want to clear this case up. You get it re-opened, and I will let you know what I know.”
“How can I trust you?”
“Just tell Pug, that Dennis spoke to you.”
The man got up and walked back down the corridor. When I got up to see which way he went, all I saw was a whiff of smoke. Looking through the case files I was totally disheartened to see how many had just been left open, with no closure for the families. Back then, the force could not spare the manpower to chase up leads, what with all the gangsters and bootlegging.
With Mayor Johnson going for a second term, he needed to show power to the mobs, so all the force was put on alert, and other crimes became second rate.
“So sad," I thought. "These poor people never had closure.”
One thing about the Morrissey/Jeffries killing back in 1926 really caught my eye. Link Morrissey and his girl, Darlene Jeffries went for a drive, but never arrived at her parents' house, even though it was only twenty minutes across town.
Getting up from the desk, I walked back down the dark corridor to the elevator shaft. Pushing the button to call the aged machine into action, all I could hear was the grinding of gears, as the cable span on the wheel.
“Shit. Not again. When are they going to fix this damn thing?”
Setting off up the ten flights of stairs to the main office, I was already imagining the calls from the men, “Here comes Nancy Drew, lads.”
Leading the barrage, as always, would be Adrian Chart. The man was as roughneck as they came. If he did not draw blood, then it was a lousy fight. Seven years ago his old man, Bill Chart, had passed away, and Adrian was just like his dad. His wife had left him six years ago, and then he hit the bottle hard.
One theory as to why Chart kept his job was the bosses needed his street knowledge to track the mobs. As a cop, he was one of the worst on the force - but for cracking the heads of gangsters, he had no equal. They said he lost it all when Maggie left him. After that, he didn't care what happened. He'd go in first and take as many down as he could, before a proper enquiry began.
The only trouble was, Chart was as much a threat to his colleagues as he was to the mobs. He was often so out of control that a situation that could have possibly been resolved, often ended up almost as a gun battle.
Every day for the last month, when I've logged in, I've had to cope with Chart and his cronies jeering and cat calling. Chart, and about eight other old-school cops, call ladies ‘doll’, and they should stay at home and tend to the men folk.
As I walked in, Chart swung around in his chair, “Well look who…”
As he spoke, I realized I had had enough. I felt the need to be recognized for what I do – now!
Before he could finish his sentence, I swung a left and hit him on the jaw. The force rocked him in his chair so violently that he banged his head on the desk.
“Any one else fancy taking on Nancy Drew? You over there – you look tough!
Chart's friends gaped, taken aback to see how easily he had been taken.
“Let me just inform you all - I might be female and ladylike most of the time, but you rile this gal, and she'll turn wildcat on you - so feel free fellows.”The squad room remained quiet as I walked to the sergeant's desk, my hips swinging with the grace of a gazelle. I gave them a smile and a wink.
I approached the desk with grace and poise, not letting the pain of the blow show, as I gritted teeth.
“Finally got what he deserved there, Patti,” the Sarge said. "Saw it building last week. I was halfway to telling him to back off ya, but knew the only way he would, is if you slugged him. Remind me not to get on your bad side. That was one hell of a left you packed, gal,” he said with a wink.
“That's nothing Sarge, you oughta see my right.”
“Where did you get those moves?"
“Wrong side of the wrong town; living hand to mouth; when you're fighting for anything, you learn not to back down. I don't look for fights, but I never back down."
“I don’t think he'll bother you none now, Patti.”
“Well not for a week or two. I know his sort, Sarge. He just festers away, waiting for a chance to get even. Sarge, can I ask you something ?”
“Sure, Patti, what’s on your mind?”
“Sarge, do you remember the Morrissey/Jeffries case?"
“Of course. I was in my first year on the streets, and we never figured it out. It's bugged me ever since."
“I've been looking it over, and was wondering if you could you give me the background, as the notes are sketchy.”
“No problem. It was towards the end of Mayor Johnson's first term in office. The mobs were running us ragged. Everywhere we turned, they had us outgunned, out manned and seemed to know our every move.”
“Leak from this side?”
“Looked like it, but we couldn't find out who it was.”
“What was going on at the time?”
“Morrissey and the Jeffries families were two of the biggest families in Midtown. Duke Jeffries was the boss of the largest fleet of trucks in the area, and Mal Morrissey was the biggest maker of hooch. We got wind they were going to link up for a talk somewhere, but it never happened in the end.”
“When the shooting came, both families blamed each other, and never got to the table.”
“So who took over then?”
“That is the strange thing. Nobody stepped up to the plate. A power vacuum was created. Anyone could have taken charge and joined them as a neutral, but nobody did.”
“Any theories at the time?”
“Loads of them, Patti. Maybe a hit from either side that they didn't want to take the rap for – or some even thought about an out-of-town hit man - they all held water -apart from one thing…”
“Nobody took charge when the dust settled?”
“Right, Patti. We never figured it out. Not then and not to this day.”
“So, what was with the young couple Sarge?
“Everyone thought this would be the perfect way for both sides to merge. They always were keen on each other, even in school. Parents just nudged nature along I guess. They were going over to Links’ to tell his family about the wedding day plans, when suddenly the car swerved and went into the lake. Back then, Johnson Marrow was the only one who had a truck with a winch powerful enough to drag the car out of the lake. But he was way out of town and by the time he got back, the lake was frozen solid, and we couldn’t get at the car. When the ice melted in March the following year, nobody wanted to know.”
“Mayor Johnson's cleaning up was in full swing as he was back for a second term. He was purging the area of that type, and mobs were running scared of his men. Somehow we had stopped the leak and the power balance had swung back our way.”
“That is odd, the mayor plugging the leak, and coming back again.”
“What is the cause of your sudden interest in the case?”
“A man came into the office about twenty minutes ago, and told me he had some new information on the case.”
“Is he genuine?”
“I don’t know, Sarge. All he said was to tell you Dennis spoke to you.”
The room went quiet. Looking about in astonishment, I said sheepishly, ‘Did I say something wrong?’
Pug took me aside to tell the story. "No, you didn’t say anything wrong, Patti. It's just that Dennis was my first partner. We were out on a call to the dockland area. We suspected hooch was coming across the border. Dennis and I were on lookout. All was quiet at our end, then from out of nowhere there was a hail of bullets from behind us, and before I could turn around, there he was laying dead; my partner had been shot from behind. There was a search for the killer, but none ever turned up, and the case was forgotten in the rush to get the streets clean.”
“Sorry, Sarge, I didn’t know.”
“It’s OK, Patti. It was over twenty years ago, but it still haunts me. So what did Dennis tell you?”
“Only that if we re-open the case, he can give us new information on the hit.”
“Patti, tell him we will open it up. Leave the chief to me. We all want that case closed. Dennis was there for many of us, and we have all felt the loss.”
I went back to my dingy office to check the open case files. I tried to find any possible new roads of enquiry I could take. It should have been easy as so little had been done about the case. It had been a double mob killing, but no-one had taken the reins again after all had settled down.
The more I looked into it, the more holes I found. There were missing reports, evidence lost, leads not followed up – none of it made sense – or did it? I closed the file, and there it was for me to see. Officer investigating crime - Detective Sergeant Bill Chart.
Things were beginning to fall into place. Yet how did Dennis know about this, and did it have a link to the shooting at the dock?
I was thinking about how I was going to tell Dennis we were re-opening the case, when I caught a whiff of his cigar. “Just thought I'd check in to see if you were re-opening the case.”
“Sarge is up with the Lieutenant now, but he says he can talk him into opening it up again.”
“Good old Pug. I knew my name would spur him into action. If he says he can, then that is all we need. I know him of old, and he always had a way with words. Must be kinda hard on you, being as you are the only gal in a crowded guys' world.”
“Yes, some tolerate and with others it is open hostility.”
“Chart, I bet.”
“Just like his pa was then.”
“From what I have overheard, old man Chart was a real wild guy.”
“Young lady . . .”
“Please call me Patti.”
“All right, Patti. The term wild does not cover what old man Chart was into.
We never proved a thing, but we always had our suspicions. He was either dirty, or at best, a little too close to the mayor for comfort.”
“Looking at the case file, it did strike me as odd that back then, when the two families running the town split up, that nobody tried to act as a neutral to head them, which would have brought together the biggest firm in the area. It would have been a real powerhouse move," he said.
"Was there anyone that powerful, who might have done it?” I asked.
“No. When they folded, it was all over for them in Middleton. Then the mayor started the clean-up, and they had to go underground. Oh, we knew they were still doing it, but they were just not as powerful.”
“What can you tell us, Dennis, that can close the case?”
“I'll wait for Pug, as I know he'll want to hear it first.”
Pug walked back into the room with a smile that outshone the yellow rose of Texas. “Said I can do it for the old guy, and I did. The Lieutenant has just opened the case again. We all want to have this case put to rest. Dennis was a good old-school cop, and didn’t deserve to go that way.”
“Can’t you see him, Sarge?” I asked.
“Where is he, Patti?”
“Standing by the stool in the corner.”
Pug turned to look at the empty stool, standing lost and forlorn in the corner, the seat worn shiny by years of use. “No, I can't see him, Patti.”
“How do you know I'm not making it up then?”
“For a start, he was killed the year you were born. Nothing was in the paper about it being Dennis or how he was shot. They were told he died in action. So you couldn't have known his name. Also, I have only known you for a few months, but I know you would not make it up; the look on your face in the squad room, told me as much. Has Dennis told you anything yet, Patti?”
“Not yet. He just got here about five minutes ago. Said you should hear it first.”
Dennis started to speak.
“It was the night before the killings. I was just going off shift, when I heard voices outside the old blockhouse. At first they were mumbled, but as I closed in they were easier to hear. I wasn’t sure at the first hearing if I got the voices right, but soon enough they were plain enough to hear. Mayor Donal Johnson and Bill Chart.
"I was out of sight, so thought I was safe. I could not believe what I heard, but every day since I got shot, my mind has gone over it, and it makes total sense.”
Dennis stopped to let me tell the Sarge.
As I listened to what Dennis had to say, and relayed it back to the Sarge, I could see his mind running through the scene again, as he had done every day since the incident.
Dennis went on . . .
The mayor said to Chart, "The only reason you are still on the force is because I keep covering for you. And I am sick of doing it. You are too reckless, Bill, and one of these days I won’t be able to cover for you any more.”
Chart replied, “Johnson, remember I know things about you, things that could not only ruin you, but get you put inside for years, so you have to play ball my way.”
Johnson responded, “Yes, so you keep reminding me, every time you want your back covered for yet another mess you've created. I'm sick of you reminding me that you took the rap for the childish prank we pulled in our teens, Bill.”
“Any way, Mayor, we have a bigger problem than you think.”
“What do you mean?”
“I heard from my snitch the other day that Mal Morissey and Duke Jeffries are teaming up.”
“Look, the point here, Bill, is that we are struggling to keep tabs on them now. If they join forces, it could be curtains for the force. With every move we make, they counter us, and we are losing ground on every street corner. And with the election next month, I cannot afford any more bad news.”
“I have a plan,” Bill offered.
“Why, do I get the feeling I am not going to like this idea?”
“Shut up, Johnson, and just listen. Next week the kids are going across town to tell the families about their marriage plans. How about if I took them out by the lake, split the families up.”
“It would certainly save the force a lot of manpower in chasing them down.”
“And just think," Bill Chart continued, "with this happening in your election month, it would boost your standings. You could then start a "clean-up Middleton campaign", which would put you back for a second term."
“And I am still in your pocket, Bill.”
“Got that right.”
“Only thing there, you are gonna have to stop going off like a shotgun every chance. We have to keep a low profile now, Bill.”
Dennis paused in his recollections to add an insight. “This explains so much," he said. "How Chart kept his job. Why the mayor kept covering his mistakes. And why files kept getting lost en-route.”
“Didn’t anyone try to tackle Chart about this?” I asked Dennis.
“No, we were all afraid of his temper. Chart knew that as long as Johnson was in his pocket, he was safe. He pushed the limits too far all the time, with his drinking, beating up suspects, or rushing in on jobs. While Johnson was mayor, there was nothing we could do.”
“Did they ever suspect you knew their secret?”
“No. After hearing all that, I went home to think what we could do about it. It wasn’t until some time later, when I thought things had calmed down a bit, that I approached the Lieutenant about it. He agreed with me, saying he'd had doubts about Johnson's connections for months, but could never do a thing, and Chart was always nearby when the mayor was on duty. I think Chart must have heard some of the talk.”
“What made you think that?” I asked.
“For the next few weeks, he was looking at me kinda strange; the same way a fox does a chicken, as if he was just waiting for his chance to get me out of the way."
“I had a look at the area the other day and there is no clear shot, Dennis,” I said.
“Back then, there were not many houses down by the lake, and with the nearest small mound being only about 400 yards from the lakeside, it was an easy shot for a man with his skill to take.”
Dennis paused and turned to look at the Sarge. Noticing a familiar smirk on his face he continued. “It wasn’t long after I heard that, that we got the tip-off, and you know what happened next. I am sure Pug has told you how I got shot, as soon as you mentioned my name.”
“Yes," I replied, "and how the case was never officially closed.”
After I had relayed the story to the Sarge, he said, “It all fits, Patti. We always thought Chart was dirty, but we just didn’t know how bad, or high his connections were. The Mayor kept him for protection, but when he lost office at the next election, Chart knew time was running out. He had to try to find a way to hide, or get out with at least a little pride left. It explains the Market house raid.”
“What happened there, Sarge?”
“I will tell you when you get back from leave.”
“I didn’t put in for leave, though.”
“I know. After this, the Lieutenant has given you two weeks' of paid leave. We have all been there Patti, whether it is one-on-one, or in a shoot-out. Your first kill never leaves you.”
“I don’t want leave,” I protested.
“The Lieutenant can’t spare you for a week, but after that you will have it. It is not a request; he has made it an order. He knows you are a good cop. He doesn’t want to lose you, or have you go gun crazy like Chart did just then, so take it.”
All that week, I had the same nightmare of Chart coming at me with his gun out, and then that awful moment, just before I fired, when I saw him twitch and heard the click. All that week I wondered what had made him do it, and all that week, all I wanted to do was get the hell out of Middleton and back to the calm of my home in Ohandsworth.