Straight From the Heart
By Roda Werland
Detective Mike Logan mumbled a curse. Phil Ceretta looked at his new partner with an askance look.
"Sorry. It's just that we've been staring at that building for what? Almost 72 hours and we're not even sure the Valentine Vaporizer is going to strike."
"We can't take a chance. There are eleven likely victims living in there and he said he would strike in this building."
"Yeah. He is definitely a man who keeps his "till death do us part" vow."
Both stared at the brownstone building in front of them as they went over the facts in their own minds. Dubbed the Valentine Vaporizer by the tabloids, the murderer had struck six women since the New Year and he'd promised to raise his tally to fourteen by Valentines' Day. He left a heart shaped box of chocolates, a bunch of red roses at the bedside of every woman he had killed by a single shot to the heart, but although the blood alcohol level was high there was no sign of forced entry or sexual molestation. The public was going wild at what they professed was lax investigation of NYPD but their hands were tied. There was no forensic evidence to go on except that they had found wig hair at two crime scenes but of different colors, and there was no pattern in the selection of the victims except that they were single women who lived alone. After the sixth victim who was the sister-in-law of a TV news anchor, there had been uproar in the media when, based on a report by police psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Olivet that the killer was motivated by a sense of doing the right thing like an avenging angel, the News Program offered a challenge to the Vaporizer to show his face or be dubbed a coward. The Vaporizer had responded by sending the address of the next victim, an apartment building a block from the 27th station house.
"You think he'll show?" asked Mike.
The big Italian shrugged. He had replaced Mike's old partner Max Greevey when he had been brutally murdered in the street outside his own home to keep him from testifying in front of the grand jury. "Olivet seems to thinks so. Ego was one of the reasons he sent the address, ego will be the reason he shows up."
The name of Dr. Elizabeth Oliver, the department psychiatrist raised Mike's hackles. She was helping Mike deal with his feelings about Max's death but he was wary of her detached way of looking at him as if he was a bug under the microscope. "She could be wrong you know. It may be a cover-u for striking some place else."
"We'll find out soon enough. Why don't you get some sleep in the sound van? I'll call you if something happens."
"I'm okay," said Mike testily. He wondered if the man was being patronizing because of the way Mike had gone off the deep end after Max's killing.
Phil impassively looked at him but only said, "This is the part I hate most about this job. You know, the waiting."
Mike relaxed a bit. "Yeah. At such times I wish I had become a cowboy."
Phil yawned and said, "Mind if I mosey on to the sound van to get some coffee, pardner?"
"Get me some too."
After he had gone, Mike rested his head against the seat and briefly closed his eyes.
The brown mustang the big man rode blended perfectly with the stark desert landscape. His face was tanned and the hazel eyes narrowed as if they had faced thousands of blazing suns. A wide black gun belt wrapped around his waist holstered a Colt .45 within easy reach as he rode into Two Horse. The dust kicked up on the Main Street as he headed for the Saloon run by retired Ranger Lennie Briscoe. That was the place to start getting information about the shooting that had killed Deputy Sheriff Max Greevey, a man that had been like a father to him.
A thin craggy man was polishing glasses behind the bar. It was still early for customers but there was a portly old man slumped over the bar nursing a whiskey. They both looked up as Logan walked in, but gave no welcoming sign. Logan hadn't expected any. There was corruption in this town and Max Greevey had been killed to stop him from weeding out the rot.
Logan said, "Good day. I'd be mighty glad if you tell me the way to the Greevey ranch."
The man polishing the glasses looked at him sharply and said, "What's your business with the Greevey's, Mister?"
Mike resisted an urge to say it was none of his but answered instead, "I'm a friend of the family."
At that, the other person in the bar looked up and said slurring his words, "It's quite a ride, and most likely you won't find anyone from the family there. They all left after the... mishap. It would be best if you headed back East where you come from."
Logan's lips tightened. "Thanks for the advice, but I mean to stay. Leastways until I find out who was responsible for the ...mishap."
The man with the drink shrugged, "Your funeral. Don't say you weren't warned." He tossed off the whiskey before getting to his feet and stumbling out.
The man behind the bar said, "Don't mind the Doc. He didn't mean no threat by that, but it's good advice." He looked at Logan squarely in the eyes. "Marie's got enough trouble what with being on the ranch all by herself. Don't go stirring up more for her....or for yourself."
"Max Greevey was my friend. Back East that counts for something."
"Well, as Rob Olivet said, your funeral." He started to give directions but then there was a pinging sound. In a split second Mike ducked as the bullet missed him and shattered the mirror behind the bar, causing the flying glass to hit him. His vision became fuzzy and he felt stickiness when he raised his fingers to his eyes.
The old man moved to inspect the slash on Mike's forehead. "Seems you be needing the services of the Doc sooner than we thought." He sighed. "All I wanted was a little peace and quiet when I retired from the Rangers. I should've listened to my last wife and opened a stable."
He handed Mike a dirty dishcloth to hold over his gash and led him to a house a few doors down. The door was opened by a woman whom Lennie greeted as Elizabeth and who was according to what Mike gathered from the turn of conversation, the Doctor's daughter. With his eyes squinting shut because of the blood, the first thing Mike noticed about her was her scent, a fresh lavender perfume that reminded him of clean sheets and cool water. Her voice was calm and slightly husky as she led them into a room that clearly was her father's clinic. Lennie excused himself and went off back to the saloon leaving Mike waiting impatiently and he was scared to admit with a lightheaded feeling that came from not having had a square meal in twelve hours.
He must have passed out because he was next waking up to a painful headache and Elizabeth Olivet sitting across the couch on which he was laid out. She looked up from her sewing as he groaned when he sat up and she said, "The cut needed cauterizing so it's going to hurt a while." She moved to bring him a mug of a steaming beverage. "Try this. It's an herbal remedy, which I make myself. It will make you feel better."
While sipping the foul tasting brew, Mike covertly studied the woman in front of him. She had clear gray eyes and soft brown hair swept up in a neat chignon. Her pale blouse was buttoned to her throat and her long tailored skirt skimmed modestly over her womanly curves. She looked what she was --- a demure, soft-spoken lady, and from her style and accent it was clear that she had been educated in Boston, and with all the properness of a Boston lady. Yet there was a set to her mouth that belied her ladylike demurity. It needled Logan that Doctor Olivet had sent his daughter away for refinement and education, and then brought her back to one of the roughest, most uncivilized places in the country.
He rose to his feet, which he was thankful to notice, were steady. "Much obliged, Ma'am," he said. "If you will ask your father how much I owe him, I'll settle the fee and be on my way."
"There is no fee for a friend of Max Greevey."
Mike swallowed at the sudden tightness in his throat at the mention of Max. He nodded, too choked to say anything.
She gazed at him gravely. "It's no business of mine, Mister..." she paused.
"Logan, Mike Logan."
"As I said, Mister Logan, it's none of my business, but I wouldn't gamble on always being as lucky as you were this afternoon."
Mike returned her gaze steadily, but his mouth became hard in a stubborn line. "Max was a good man...and a good friend. I can't let his death go by without doing something."
"Anger is one of the stages of grief, Mister Logan. You will not serve his memory well by letting revenge blind you." Her eyes went to the bandage over his eye.
Their eyes caught for a long moment and Mike turned away, releasing a shuddering breath that came from deep within his soul. He picked up his battered Stetson. "I'll best be on my way. Please thank your father."
She inclined her head, and led the way to the front door.
"Good night, Miss Olivet."
"Good night, Mister Logan, and good luck."
Although his head was throbbing, Mike's steps were light as he walked down the street to find his horse. There was at least one person in this town who would be his ally in finding out the truth about Max's killing.
When he finally reached the ranch after following the long-winded directions Lennie had given, he realized with a pang that Marie looked much older than Mike remembered. But then he hadn't seen her in five years when Max had given up the freelance work of a bounty hunter and settled down to be Deputy Sheriff in Two Horse. She hugged him closely and wept in his shoulder and for the second time that day, tough Mike Logan felt his throat choke with grief. Marie insisted he have supper before she told him the details of Max's death two weeks ago and took him to the barn where he had been shot in the back.
"Still got some horse prints in the dirt there," said Logan, as he pointed at the ground. And there's some scuff marks there where he stepped in the manure. The man must have stepped out of the saddle and slipped right through that window. One thing's certain. He's a small light man. Max most likely never heard him."
Marie looked at him with gloomy eyes. "Mike I think you should leave it alone. Sheriff Cragen is looking into it...and I don't want anything to happen to you too. You don't know these people, Mike. Morgan Stern and his bunch are dangerous and only God knows how many other powerful men are involved."
Mike looked at her solemnly. "Marie, I gotta do this. Max woulda done the same for me."
He asked her gently, "Tell me again, about this Stern guy?"
"He's got our neighboring ranch The Lazy Y and he also owns the bank. There's been some rumbling in the town that Stern's bank is foreclosing on some of the smaller ranches with his foreman Daniel Magaden doing his dirty work. Max had some proof and was going to the Circuit Judge about what he knew."
"Did he tell you what proof he had?"
"No, but I knew he hid it."
"Chances are they're still searching for it. No reason to shoot me otherwise."
"Be careful won't you, Mike? They'll be looking for you."
"Don't worry Marie, I'll be looking for them."
He remembered Max's words on many of their forays, which had sunk deep into his memory -- "Mikey let danger come looking for you and then surprise it."
He knew where to go.
He made a camp close to the outskirts of the ranch and placed rocks under a blanket to give it a rough shape of a sleeping man. He then hauled himself up carefully onto a large limb of a nearby tree and within a few more seconds, he could see for miles. Logan settled back, waiting.
The night was a long, cold one and Logan passed it without moving once. As dawn was creeping over the horizon, he saw the enemy move stealthily and disappear behind an outcrop of boulders. Logan felt a tension in his stomach as he unconsciously felt an iota of recognition run through him. He could not place where the recognition came from but in his gut he knew that his subconscious had recognized the figure he had seen as dangerous to him. He shivered. Already the man had managed to change Logan's life when he had killed Max. He knew at some core level that the shadowy figure he had seen could change it again. Logan waited tensely for some time for the person to show, but it seemed that he had vanished into thin air. As the sun's scorching heat began to blaze, Mike decided that he had missed his chance. He came down and was moving towards the outcrop when suddenly a voice came from behind him. "If it isn't the intrepid Mister Logan. The wound keeping you awake or were you enjoying the sunrise?"
He whirled around, and his face flushed as he took in the clear mocking glance of the doctor's daughter. "Ma'am," he acknowledged with a tip of his hat. He noticed she was carrying a large brown valise on her arm and some prickly plants in her hand.
"I wondered who the mustang belonged to. He's a beauty."
Logan cursed silently wondering if the enemy had seen his horse as well. It was a damn stupid beginner's folly that had given him away. He closed his eyes as tiredness swept over him and he nearly swayed on his feet.
"Are you all right, Mister Logan?"
Mike's heart lightened at her concern and he almost forgot why he was so tired. "I better say yes or else you'll have me drinking your herbal remedy again."
She threw him a wry smile. "It's an acquired taste I confess, but it's the closest the town will let me come to practice medicine."
Logan looked at her with astonishment. "You mean you're a doctor too?"
"Trained at the same hospital in Boston that Dr. Quinn did."
Mike tried to recall where he had heard that name. "Isn't she the medicine woman in Colorado Springs?"
"You've heard of her?"
"She patched me up a few years ago." He looked down at Elizabeth curiously. "Yesterday, it was you who cleaned me up, wasn't it?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "My father was...unwell, and you were not in any state to complain."
Mike smiled. "I saw your father at the Saloon. I guess I should be grateful you held the needle."
Hazel eyes met gray ones and suddenly every sound, every scent, every color faded into the background. She was the first to move away. "I had better be heading home. My father will be needing his breakfast soon." She turned abruptly went without saying goodbye. Mike watched her departure, wondering what it would be like to live in a house with a picket fence and have someone fix him breakfast.
Mike walked to where he had left the mustang who was trained not to move till he heard Mike's command. He bent down to look at the marks on the sand nearby. His brow furrowed into a fierce frown as he looked at the single set of small, light footsteps.
Mike walked into the Saloon and was struck by déjà vu as he saw Lennie wiping the glasses and Rob Olivet sitting with a drink. Without preamble, he said, "Where can I find Daniel Magaden?"
This time they did not bother to advise him against it. Dr. Olivet said, "Try Ed's Feed Store. I heard he was coming in this morning to collect an order."
Logan tipped his hat and went out looking for Ed's. As he neared the store, he saw Elizabeth Olivet talking to a young man standing next to a wagon loaded with boxes. His steps faltered as he took in the man's slight build of a man. Ever since he had seen the footsteps near the mustang he had been trying to deny his suspicions which now seemed confirmed. Elizabeth turned her head and Mike saw her stiffen. He walked over to where they were standing and said pleasantly, "Mornin', Elizabeth. Did you reach home before your father missed you?"
He saw with satisfaction the man's clenched fists at Mike's familiar use of her name and his choice of words. Only a faint blush in her cheeks attested to her discomfort. Her eyes were like daggers as she looked at him but he returned her gaze squarely. "Aren't you going to introduce me?" he continued.
He could see she was reluctant but said grudgingly. "Daniel, this is Mike Logan. He's a friend of Max Greevey's. Mister Logan, this is Daniel Magaden, foreman at Lazy Y. Max and Daniel were working to catch some cattle rustlers before Max was killed."
"Heard about the incident at Lennie's," said Magaden. "Not much of a welcome there for you but a good warning. Those cattle thieves can be mighty dangerous."
"No more than some people you thought you could trust." He looked pointedly at Elizabeth. She lowered her gaze and said, "I must go. Father will be waiting."
They both watched her go down the sidewalk. Magaden picked up the reins. "I best be going too. You be careful Mister Logan. We don't want any more folks dying sudden of bullet holes."
Logan looked at him steadily and said, "When I shoot you, Magaden, it won't be from the back like you did Max Greevey. It'll be from the front and you'll have a gun in your hand." He paused for a long moment, then with a smile, added "You get yourself ready for it, hear? It may take a day or two, or maybe a week but I'll find the evidence Max hid in the barn. And when I do I'll drag you out into the street if I have to."
He tipped his hat nonchalantly and walked away satisfied that he had baited the trap. And he was not disappointed. That night as Logan started another long watch, this time on Max's doorstep, he saw a vague figure move into the shadows.
As quiet as a cat after a mouse, Logan made his way to the barn.
"Kind of a warm day for a fire, Magaden." The sound of Logan's voice, soft and low, was followed by the distinct click of the hammer of a revolver being eared back.
Magaden jerked his head up at the sound, frozen, staring at Logan as though he were seeing a ghost. Suddenly, he yelped and dropped the match that would have destroyed all the evidence once and for all as it burned down to his finger.
Logan stood the man against the wall. He laid the barrel of his gun gently against Magden's ear and said softly, "You know I'm a man of my word, Magaden."
"Don't do nothin', Logan. I'll do anything you want."
"You come with me to see Cragen and you spill your sorry gut. You tell him who sent you tonight and you tell him what Max knew."
Magaden almost sobbed as he bobbed his head.
It was almost dawn when he made his way back to the ranch. Mike slumped in the saddle letting his mustang carry him. The rhythm was lulling and Mike felt his eyes droop. He had been without sleep for close to 72 hours and exhaustion that went way into his soul was finally catching up on him. But he was instantly awake as his horse grunted softly, signaling danger ahead. The horse's instincts had saved Mike's life many a times before and he pulled in all his reserves of alertness. Magaden had named names and until they were locked up, Mike was still in danger or maybe Magaden had been telling the truth about cattle thieves. They were now in the same area where he had spent the previous watch. Logan once again saw a shadowy figure go behind the outcrop of boulders. Silently, Mike swung off the horse leaving it behind and made his way up a large boulder where he could see sight unseen. Some pebbles slipped under his feet sounding as loud as gunshot in the silence. Mike immediately went still but the man was obviously suspicious of the sound because Mike saw him touch his hip for a gun. Without waiting, Mike lunged at the man, knocking him over. They struggled for a forceful minute in which the assailant tried to hit Mike in the groin before Mike managed to pin down the assailant.
The first thing that struck Mike as he took heaving breaths after he pinned the man to the ground was the scent of lavender water. The second was the feel of a soft body writhing under his own. In a state of almost disbelief as he confronted the suspicion of the assailant's identity, he moved his hand over the manly shirt and felt the unmistakable feel of a woman's nipple against his palm. "Be still," he commanded huskily, and when she responded to the command immediately even letting go the fight he wondered whether it was because she recognized his voice. Continuing to pin her down with his weight, Mike cautiously moved his hand and removed a boy's knit cap that was partly covering her face, letting brown silky hair spill over his fingers. He groaned low in his throat and knew that lying as they were she must have felt the unmistakable sign that he had been without a woman for a very long time.
"What in God's name are you doing here, Elizabeth?"
She shrugged and the response thrust her breasts against him and he almost groaned out aloud again. "Did you come here to warn Magaden as you did last night? In that case you're too late. He's already confessed to Cragen."
"Daniel? Cragen?" she sounded bewildered. "What are you talking about?"
He paused because her incredulity sounded genuine. He said slowly, "If you did not come here to warn Magaden, what are you doing here? And why are you dressed like a man?"
She let out a sigh and once more Mike was keenly aware of the movement of her body against his. "Dawn is the best time to collect some of my herbs so I come here most days before the sun rises. I dress like a man because I don't want to attract undue attention."
There was silence as he took in her confession. "But you were wearing a dress when you met me yesterday."
"I carry a change in my bag in case I get late getting back to town. I quickly changed when I saw your horse because I ...I didn't want to be caught."
"You're lucky it was me and not some cattle thief that caught you. Do you have any idea what could happen to a woman out alone by herself dressed up like some...." He stopped midway as he realized they were so close he could feel her breath on his face. "God, Elizabeth," he groaned before dropping his mouth to hers. She responded with immediate passion, and Mike felt as if he was being pulled into a dreamlike place where he had never been before.
She freed her hands to caress his shoulders. "Mike," she whispered huskily.
"Mike?" Phil's voice broke into Mike's consciousness. "Black, no sugar okay with you?"
"Wh..what?" Mike replied dazed and disoriented, as if surfacing from a deep trance.
"The guys only have this left." He thrust a cup with steaming black liquid through the window of the car. "Anything interesting happen while I was away?"
Mike rubbed his eyes. "No...er...how long were you gone?"
"Five minutes. Why? Did you see anything?"
Mike let out a shuddering breath. Five minutes? It had seemed like a lifetime and so real, but obviously it was just his tired imagination and unsettled anger over Max's death. Olivet would have a field day with his subconscious at their next session. He groaned as he recalled the part she had played in his dream. Was he going crazy? She wasn't even his type especially not in those awful breeches ...and yet he could still almost taste her in his mouth.
Mike swallowed. Then he practically shot up in his seat. "Phil, " he said urgently. "We've been on the wrong fucking track all along. The Valentine Vaporizer is not a man, it's a woman and she's probably one of our probable eleven victims." He got out of the car. "Isn't Profaci inside? Get him on the line and ask if any of them have been visiting each other."
Phil stared at him stupefied. "What?"
Mike sprinted to the sound van and spoke to Profaci who after years of working with Mike acted first and asked questions later. Fifteen minutes later it was all over as Amanda Cunningham was arrested even as she was lining up the gun to shoot her seventh victim.
Phil shook his head as Profaci took the woman away. "Am I reading this correctly? This woman killed all these women because they were hiding the fact that they were lesbians?"
"That's right. This was her way of making them see straight," grinned Mike.
Phil shook his head again. "Holy Mother of God, modern life is rubbish and so is modern love."
"Each to his own, Phil," replied Mike.
He looked at his partner. "Good job Mike but how did you figure it out?"
Mike grinned. "Let's just say it came to me in a dream."