Cold Truth - Chapter One
Locked into his camera and headgear, Ted Phillips, the Channel 6 cameraman, didn’t hear the window shatter eight stories above or the woman scream as she jackknifed through the glass. Earl Luke Fisher and Sherri Thomas saw
Earl Luke, a homeless panhandler still prospecting for donations on a hot night in Kansas City’s deserted downtown, was sitting cross legged in front of the Cable Depot answering questions for Sherri Thomas, the Channel 6 reporter, filling her slot on the ten o’clock broadcast of a slow news Labor Day. Sherri dumped Earl Luke for the falling woman, motioning Phillips, who swung his camera in a quick skyward arc, not stopping until he caught the woman in his lens, pin wheeling in a fatal tumble and pancaking onto the pavement, one side of her head flattened like a splintered melon.
“Hold the shot,” Phillips said to himself, keeping the camera on the woman’s body. “Take it back,” he whispered to no one, satisfied that he’d preserved the moment of her death.
Phillips aimed his camera at the broken window, lighting the way with its built in lamp, zooming in until he had a tight shot of the ragged outline left by the remaining glass. His eye caught a shadow flickering in the window frame, or so he thought. He blinked; uncertain of what he’d seen, but confident that the camera had a steadier eye than he did.
“Son of a bitch! Tell me you got that, Ted! Son of a fucking bitch! If you got that, we’re golden!”
Phillips put his camera down, wiping away flecks of blood that had hung in the air like ruby raindrops before chasing the dead woman to the ground. Earl Luke was gone.
“And live on the air,” he reminded her.
Lou Mason rewound the tape of the dead woman’s plunge, replaying it for the tenth time, forcing himself to focus on the TV screen sitting next to the dry erase board in his law office. The tape ended with Sherri Thomas covering her mouth, realizing that her ecstatic outburst had been broadcast throughout Channel 6’s two state viewing area. He punched rewind on the remote control.
The tape whirred inside its metal cage as Mason pulled a bottle of water from the small refrigerator beneath the bay window that looked out on the street from his second story digs above Blues on Broadway, a jazz joint in midtown Kansas City.
The street hummed with people heading home, back in the groove after the long Labor Day weekend. Most people hadn’t worked yesterday, but Sherri Thomas and her cameraman had put in a full day. Earl Luke Fisher never worked or never stopped, depending on your view of panhandling. Gina Davenport was in her office at ten P.M., catching up on something. Her killer worked overtime. It had been some holiday, Mason thought to himself.
He’d seen the broadcast live the night before, coming out of his kitchen chair like he’d been launched, almost tripping over his sleeping dog, Tuffy. He was too young to have seen Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald, the
first live broadcast of a murder in television history. The immediacy of real time coverage of wars, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks might have turned death into the ultimate reality show, but that didn’t match the intimacy of a single murder captured by homicidal serendipity. And Mason had no doubt the woman had been murdered. Suicidesjumped out of open windows. Killers broke the glass.
The front page story the next morning in the Kansas City Star made up in detail what it lacked in televised drama. The victim was Gina Davenport, a shrink known by her first name, Dr. Gina, with a nationally syndicated radio gig on radio station KWIN. Her office and the radio station were both on the eighth floor of the Cable Depot. The broken window was hers. Rachel Firestone wrote the story, so Mason knew she got it right. Davenport’s show was the highest rated in town and one of the biggest in national syndication.
Arthur Hackett, who owned the building and the station, waited until Tuesday afternoon to call Mason, inviting him to his office at the Cable Depot, a renovated building put up in the early 1900s to house cable cars. It was on 6th
Street, where the grade from the Missouri River up to 6th was so steep that people used to fall off the cars. Today, the building was practically at the edge of the bluff hanging over the interstate on the west side of downtown.
When the cable cars went out of business, the building was boarded up. When he was a kid, Mason and his friends dared each other to pry the plywood off one of its first floor windows and crawl around its dark insides. Then, twenty years ago, Hackett bought the building, got it placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, and parlayed the tax breaks into a hot downtown address.
Mason had been to KWIN’s offices a number of times to talk with Max Coyle; the afternoon sports talk host and a client. Mason had recently settled Max’s case against a lawyer who played investment advisor, churning Max’s
five hundred thousand dollar nest egg into a goose egg. He’d caught glimpses of Hackett on those visits, but never met him.
“It’s about our daughter, Jordan,” Hackett began, gesturing to an empty chair next to the one occupied by his wife Carol.
She gave Mason a thin smile, though he suspected that her last plastic surgeon had tacked it into place. Carol’s hair was a harvest color sprayed tight, her spare body a tribute to watercress and yoga. She massaged her cuticles while Arthur, his midlife bulk spreading beneath his chin and between his arms, stood in front of a double wide window, the Missouri and Kansas Rivers shaking hands two miles away and hundreds of feet below.
Jordan was a patient of Dr. Gina’s until somebody killed the doctor. A twenty one year old head case, her father said. The cops interviewed Jordan, took her fingerprints, hair samples, and fiber samples from her clothes, her parents waiting to call Mason until the cops were through. The Hacketts told Mason they didn’t want to treat her like a criminal, asking him to represent her if she was charged with Dr. Gina’s murder.
Mason assured them that the cops were probably talking to all of Dr. Gina’s patients, gathering evidence to eliminate suspects as much as to incriminate them.
The Hacketts nodded their agreement, gaining greater confidence when Mason told them he knew the detective handling the case, Samantha Greer. He left out the fact that he and Samantha had been dancing between the
sheets up until a few months ago, when she told him that she wasn’t a car battery he could jump start whenever he felt too lonely for another night alone.
“Where’s Jordan now?” Mason asked her parents.
Arthur hesitated, clearing his throat, looking at his wife, who rose like her limbs were hydraulic and left the room. “She lives at a place called Sanctuary. It’s a residential facility for teenagers and young adults with emotional problems.”
“Centurion Johnson’s program,” Mason said.
Centurion had given up a promising career as a drug and thug entrepreneur for the not for profit world of social services. Harry Ryman had busted Centurion a few times, sending him to jail for a long stretch the last time. Soon as he got out, he was back in the game until Blues helped him find religion. Next stop, saving the young.
Harry was a cop until he retired less than a year ago. He and Mason’s Aunt Claire had been a couple since Mason was a kid breaking into the Cable Depot, Claire raising him after the death of his parents when he was three years old. Blues was Wilson Bluestone, Jr., another ex cop, occasional PI, and the only Shawnee Indian jazz pianist Mason had ever met. Blues was also Mason’s full time landlord and part time bodyguard. Mason was certain that Centurion didn’t list Harry or Blues as references.
Mason asked, “What’s wrong with your daughter?”
Hackett shook his head, turning to face the rivers that joined at the flood plain below — Kansas City, Kansas, to the west; Kansas City, Missouri, to the east.
“Dr. Gina said Jordan had problems with anger management. Shrink speak bullshit, if you ask me. Whatever you’re supposed to call it, Jordan was too violent to live at home.” Hackett asked, “Will you help us?” His back was still to Mason.
“Sure,” Mason replied. “I’d like a copy of the videotape.”
Hackett wrote him a check for a retainer, called the general manager at Channel 6 to arrange for Mason to pick up the tape that day, and gave Mason a copy of Dr. Gina’s book, The Way You Do the Things You Do.
New York Times best seller, the cover proclaimed.
Mason pressed the play button on his VCR again, fast forwarding the videotape to the moment when the cameraman retraced Dr. Gina’s flight back to the window. He used the freeze frame function to break down the segment fr
ame by frame so he could study each image. The cameraman had told him he thought he’d seen a shadow, like someone standing close enough to look out the window without being seen. The killer? Mason wondered. Or a witness?
More than a year earlier, Mason had taken an unplanned New Year’s Eve plunge into the Missouri River while defending Blues on a murder charge. Ever since, when Mason took a murder case, he felt like he was diving into that dark water again, worrying that he was taking the dive just to see if he could make it backto the surface, gulping for air, beating the odds, wishing he had a reason to play it safe.
Mason took a deep breath and opened the dry erase board on the wall, beginning, as he always began, by writing down what he knew and what he had to learn to keep Jordan Hackett off of death row. He wrote Gina Davenport’s name, circled it, and labeled her “victim.”
Moving from left to right, Mason drew a line and wrote Jordan Hackett’s name, giving her a casting list of roles: “patient, witness, killer.” In the upper right hand corner, he drew a circle around Centurion Johnson’s name and labeled it “trouble,” then added a capital T.
Returning to Gina Davenport, he drew a vertical line straight down, capping it with a horizontal bar, labeling it “winners and losers,” wondering who he would find when he dove into the dark