THE CASE OF THE BACKSHOT CRONY


“It might.” Lance picked up the confession, read it over, nodding. Then he ripped it in half. “But it probably won’t.”

Swank Stu, they called this guy. He looked like a banker. He dressed nice, had that silver hair you trust when it’s your doc or your broker. Then he’d talk, and you’d see the cigarette-stained teeth, see the petty squint in the eyes, hear the dull thug in his voice.

Swank Stu stared at Lance. “But - but I confessed. Why’d ja -”

“Tell me more about this deal of Louie’s you messed up.”

“I don’t know nuthin’ about it.” Stu sat back in his chair; the legs squeaked on the linoleum floor. He looked away, sullen. “That was my pal’s job. I was strictly finance on this one, Lawson. I took the dirty bills and made ‘em clean. That’s my specialty.” Moron, Lance thought. Can’t even keep from puffing yourself up in this situation, even though you have no idea where we’re headed. Got to look like the big man. “Anyway, my pal drops half the money at the track, lays the rest with Sol - you know Sol, down in Wop Corners? Okay, well, he tells Sol to put the money on the street for a day, short-term loans, that sort of stuff. He figures, Louie isn't expecting the money 'til Tuesday, let's put it to work for a day. Now, Louie finds out about this, we're both fuckin' dead. Well . . . ”

Stu looked out the window. He bit his lower lip.

“Something came over me and I shot him. It’s right there, on the paper, if you want to tape it back together.”

“Mm hmm.” Lance nodded. “Heat of passion, you said. If I can quote from memory: ‘my pal turned around, laughing, and that’s why I shot him.’”

“That’s how it happened.”

“And what was your pal’s name?”

“What? His name? We called him Rootie. Everyone called him Rootie. I don’t know his real name. No one knows anyone in this line, you know.”

“Mm-hmm. Now. You called your lawyer when we got to the station house.”

“Why shouldn’t I? He told me not to confess. But I got a heavy heart.”

“I say you got a photographer outside this room, right now, waiting for you to come out with a bruise on your head, and that your mouthpiece sent the shooter according to your plan. Or Louie’s plan.”

Stu looked at Lawson as though he’d just seen the devil. As though horns had just unscrewed from Lawson’s head.

“Why - why would I have a photographer outside. I, ah, I don’t -”

“I, ah, do.” Lance picked up the phone. “Tiny? Grab one of the reporters hanging around the front desk, will you? Bring him to Tank Two. Knock on the door when you get here.”

Lance and Stu sat in silence for a few minutes. Stu looked at Lance and Lance looked at Stu.

Tiny rapped on the door. Lance scooped up the ripped halves of the confession, and rolled them into a tube. “Up,” he said. He pushed Stu out the room -

FLASH - a bulb hit the floor. Lance saw a thin brown rat of a man desperately attempting to jam a fresh bulb in his camera. Lance held up the rolled confession, looked around for the reporter - ah. Pete Connolley, from the Post. Fine. “Our suspect has not only confessed,” he said, “he’s implicated Lucky Louie in the murder. I believe a solution to Cosmopolis’ crime wave may well be at hand. Pete? You might want to talk to this fellow here about using these fine pictures for the evening edition. Now, if you’ll excuse us.”

Lance pushed Stu down the hall. Stu moaned a wordless song.

“Please,” Stu finally said. “You just killed me back there. Don’t kill me any more.”

"Big mistake,” Lance said. “I’m one of the few clean cops around here. I don’t beat guys red and blue for confessions. You set me up. Had the photog out there waiting to get the pic of me leading you from the tank with the split lip. Then we go to trial. Your lawyer produces an alibi, iron-clad. Our own lab guys testify they didn’t find gunpowder residue on you. Jury hears the big boo-hoo about how I beat an innocent man. So you walk and Louie walks. I hope Louie paid you nicely for this, Stu, because you’re going to need bus fare very soon. Now: when we get to my office, I want you to write out exactly what happened, and if Lucky Louie is the shooter here I’ll be very pleased.”

An hour later, Stu had finished his second confession. “I hope it’ll make things easier for me,” he said. “I never killed anyone. I just left the room. That’s all I did.”

“When good men leave the room,” Lance said, “evil locks the door behind them.” Stu looked at the table. His shoulders sagged. Lance stared at the confession, scowling. “And Stu, you know what? You’re not even a good man. Imagine what comes after you.”

SOLUTION: Lance suspected the victim had been killed by his pal for two reasons: the victim would not have opened the door for a stranger, Nor would he have turned his back on one.