I’m Detective Staff Sergeant Deviled Yeggs. I work homicide in the big city of Tracy. My partner is Jim Wednesday. Poached Yeggs, homicide detective and my nephew, is busy closing other cases.
Captain Hart had sent us to a low-rent housing project on the far side of town. We were told to take SCBA, indicating that there might just be a hazardous gas released in the area. There must have been something. The fire department evacuated a several block radius and more even blocks down wind of the incident site. This started a panic with traffic accidents on every major artery. This clogged all the back streets, and we had gridlock.
With us already on a back street that was not moving, flipping on the siren would just start a new panic. We decided to wait it out. Who knows? The medical examiner probably was stuck somewhere in this mess too, along with the crime scene techs. We would let the fire department babysit the victim until we could get there.
To follow-up on last week’s report, if you have not heard from Pink Lady, I called my wife, Glyce, back and finally had a chance to talk. Since I was stuck in traffic, I asked if she could drop by the pastor’s house. He was home due to the gridlock and the traffic was clear between the university and the pastor’s home. Glyce did so and called me back. The pastor apologized to her and Glyce told him that she resolved the mystery by doing a novel idea that the pastor should have tried. Glyce said that she called his daughter and listened to her. The pastor collapsed. He was the person relied upon to calm situations down and console people, but here he was escalating the problem, when there really was no problem.
Of course, now you know that Easter proposed to Jemima, the pastor’s daughter, at the wedding reception, and Easter is ready to marry her right away to avoid future incidents where he and Jemima share a hotel room. Both us and the pastor are arguing that giving them money to stay in separate rooms is a better plan until they have some college behind them. This will be a work in progress.
About that time, a police officer rode up to my driver’s side window on a bicycle. I rolled down the window and he said, “Sir, I am looking for a Detective Staff Sgt., whatever that is; he is late to a crime scene. Would you happen to know a police officer of that rank, if it is a rank?”
I replied, “Very funny, wise guy. A Detective Staff Sergeant is a guy working a Lieutenant’s workload at sergeant’s pay. If you want the job, I’ll trade you my snazzy platinum shield with a gold stripe for your bicycle and you can drive this car into the hazardous environment up ahead and I can ride your bike back to the precinct and get caught up on paperwork. May I ask whom I am granting a field promotion?”
“Since you called me ‘wise guy,’ I thought you knew. They transferred me to your precinct to take Robert Evident’s slot on patrol. I am patrolman Guy Weiss, but everyone calls me Wise Guy. Our captain, Captain Al Hart, thought of a better trade for the two of us. I am to sit in your car until I can find a way to the crime scene, and you are to take the bike there. I have saddlebags for two SCBA. And I suppose this is Jim Wednesday on the other side. Jim’s bike had a flat tire. He’ll be here in a few minutes.”
Jim said, “Oh, Joy!” I was thinking of other words, like total exhaustion just in time to grab a SCBA and walk into the hazardous unknown. I put one SCBA around my shoulders, just no mask yet and the air valve closed. The other tank was placed in the saddle bag and secured. It was one thing riding a bike for the first time in twenty years. It was a lot worse being loaded down with two SCBA.
When I got to the ropes, a fireman stopped me.
“Sir, you can’t go any further. This area is restricted to official personnel only.”
I climbed off the bike and flashed my badge. “I … am … official. And what’s … that … smell?”
“Hydrogen Sulfide. It smells like rotten eggs, but it’s the gas itself. We found the source, but the stuff is heavier than air, and it has found its way into basements all over this part of town.”
My breath had recovered. “I used to change Rotten Yegg’s diapers, and he never smelled this bad.”
“Was that supposed to be a joke, Detective?”
“Yeah, it won’t happen again. Now where is the crime scene?”
The fireman answered, “Three blocks down and then turn left. We have a couple of people standing at street level, but you have to put your mask on before you go any further.”
Before I donned the mask, I told the guy that my partner, Jim Wednesday, was behind me, but he had a flat tire on his bicycle.
The fireman asked, “Why are you coming here on bikes?”
I replied, “I don’t know. Maybe it was a city-wide panic created by a fireman that talked about a deadly gas that was spreading. … Don’t shoot the messenger! I’m just guessing.” The fireman said that was above his pay grade. I donned my mask and walked the bike with my spare tank to the scene of the crime. There were two firemen along with a patrolman from the local precinct. I flashed my badge.
The patrolman demanded to see my badge. “Hey, this ain’t a detective badge. Did you get this out of a Cracker Jack box?”
“Read the inscription on the badge!” I yelled. It’s hard to communicate when wearing SCBA, but then, I felt like yelling.
The patrolman read slowly, “City … of … Tracy … Police … Department … Detective … Staff … Sergeant.” He paused for a moment. “You’re the guy!!!”
“You’re the guy that got screwed out of a promotion to Lieutenant. Everybody’s talking about you in all the precincts. You are the hero of the downtrodden.”
I had never felt like punching a fellow officer in the nose before. “Patrolman, do you hear that beep? That means you have less than five minutes of air. Even less if you keep yammering your gums. Help me with my spare tank and then ride the bike back to the Chester Avenue roadblock. It’s Guy Weiss’ bike, so don’t steal it.”
“I know Wise Guy. We were at the academy together!”
“Zip the lip!! You are running out of air!” With that, he was gone.
“I turned to the firemen. Show me what you got! Did anyone touch anything?”
They swore they never touched a thing. We went down the stairs to the basement apartment entrance. The body of a stout man was crumpled against the front door. He was laying on his wallet, or so it seemed. We would have to wait for the Medical examiner (M.E.) to get an ID. I looked up and there was a pipe hanging down from somewhere above and it had a red ribbon on it.
“What’s the ribbon doing on the pipe?”
One of the firemen said, “That’s where the gas was pouring out. We traced it back to a few cylinders on the roof. We shut off the cylinders to stop the gas and we tied a ribbon down here to mark where it was coming out.”
“So, let me get this straight. You did not touch anything … except the murder weapon. Did I get that straight?!?!” At that moment, Jim rolled up. I said, “Jim, get pictures of everything. Especially the nice red bow here. I want to see the fire chief’s face turn redder than his hat when I show him, maybe with my nephew, the mayor in attendance. Then rip the tape off so we can see if the pipe is inconspicuous without the ribbon. But it seems strange that a guy smells rotten eggs and doesn’t back away.” Then I spotted something under the steel mesh steps I had taken to get to the basement level. It was a mixture of eggshells and ice cream bar sticks. It looked like something Easter had done at summer camp. He was asked to design a cage to prevent the egg from cracking when the egg was dropped. This was a failed experiment if that was his goal. The egg was shattered, but then it dawned on me. The murderer dropped the science experiment from the roof, where the valves were. The contraption was designed to fail. The deceased then ran to the front door of the basement apartment to get away from the rotten egg smell, enough smell to be unpleasant, but nothing that would kill him. But then he ran into a lethal amount of the gas at the apartment entrance.
At least that was my working theory. But we had barely started. The crime scene guys needed their vehicle to collect the evidence and carry all the various kits. Maybe our guy with the gas was careless. He might have left a few fingerprints behind.
We took all the initial photographs before the M.E. arrived. The M.E. did his in-situ investigation. Before he was finished, Gisele called.
“Deviled, we got a call from the Our Lady of Perpetual Fair Play Church. Have you heard of it?”
“Yes, they are a non-denominational church on the east side of town. I think that is where Poached and Callie go. They are being evasive when we ask, maybe thinking we will argue the theology is weak, but I have not heard anything strange about the church, only the name.”
Gisele offered, “The lady said that they work with the mission downtown and a Mr. Raul Gomez was supposed to visit an apartment in the housing project you are in. Could you confirm or deny the identity of your victim?”
Jim asked the doctor, and the M.E. passed the wallet over. It was Raul Gomez. After we told Gisele, she said he was delivering papers for the tenant in the apartment to sign. The tenant was going to move his family up from Texas as soon as he had a big enough place for everyone. He already had a job. We asked the firemen if there was another way into the basement apartment. We went in through the building, but no one was in the apartment.
When the M.E. was finished, we searched the body. There was no paperwork for anyone to sign, but his car keys, pocket change, and cellphone were still on his person. The M.E. said that he had vomited, but the vomit was behind and to the right of his head. He felt that the body was rolled before he got cold.
Our air in the second tank was running low. As the M.E. loaded the body in his van and the crime scene guys were still doing their thing, Wise Guy came up to say our vehicle was just outside the safety tape. The fire department was starting to go room by room to allow people upstream of the gas release point a chance to go back to their apartments. It may take three days to completely clear the gas, but they were figuring out what basement areas had a lethal dose. And the upstream apartments were only evacuated as a caution.
We were going to have to take what we had back to the precinct.
Killing the volunteer at a church’s charity in order to steal the papers that allowed the resident to upgrade his apartment made no sense. We put a “be on the lookout” (BOLO) on the tenant. We asked our counterparts in the Texas town where his wife was living to check out the wife. Maybe she knew where he was. They called back a few days later to tell us that the wife and run off with a family friend. The hubby had been gone too long, as they found out from neighbors. The wife’s new boyfriend happened to be an HVAC technician. We spotted his van in Tracy. The building superintendent where Mr. Gomez’ tenant was living had let the boyfriend do some HVAC work on the roof of the building. The guy had offered a low price, and the air conditioning had just failed a few hours earlier. It was an easy conclusion that the wife’s new boyfriend broke the air conditioning for the chance to get on the roof.
The tenant’s friend and wife’s lover had thought he would get the contract and move in with the wife at a drastically reduced rent. That was how the Fair Play Church helped people. Through contributions, they could make a couple of rent payments up front, but the big bargain was in negotiating the rent for a large block of apartments. Since Mr. Gomez was the only one who had met the tenant, they killed both Mr. Gomez and the tenant. They stuffed the tenant into a large hotel laundry hamper and rolled him into the back of the van during the evacuation panic. The new boyfriend already had a fake ID with the tenant’s name. I had guessed correctly in that the rotten egg drop drove Mr. Gomez to the entrance of the apartment and then when the apartment door opened, the gas was released, killing both of them. The HVAC guy had his own SCBA and a stolen firemen’s uniform. He looked like he belonged. Jim did all the interviews. I have to give Jim Wednesday all the credit. I had a couple of weddings to attend. Jim and Tuesday Wednesday made it to the weddings just in time. They even brought their children since there were a lot of children among the mission residents at the wedding, mostly part of the crowd who had moved to Lily the Pink.
Cracker Jacks stopped having prizes in April of 2016. If Deviled’s badge came from a box, it was an old box.
Chester Avenue: Chester Gould originally wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip, and Chester Tracy was the father of Dick Tracy.
In-situ means in place. An examination before the body is moved. Then the full autopsy is done once they get the body back to the morgue.
And the name of the church was inspired by an old George Carlin routine, but less provocative.