THE WOLF IS AMONG US
The roar of Ken’s big Harley caused me to stop chewing on the tuna sandwich I just started. I expected him later in the afternoon. I slid back from the table and walked to the back door. Ken Avant was huge. In his college days he was an offensive tackle for Kansas State University. Now he was a probation officer. I noticed his face was ashy white. He sucked hard on a cigarette, pinching the filter between his thumb and forefinger. A ring of red turned the white paper into gray ash. He flipped the butt into the yard. I could tell something wasn’t right.
“Hey. Stone, you’ve got to come to my house right now.” Ken’s words seemed to float out on a stream of smoke.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Just get your bike and come with me. I’ll have to show you. Bring your pistol.”
It was then I noticed the 9mm Beretta stuffed in the waistband of his jeans. He turned and walked back to his Harley. Rushing inside, I grabbed my keys and my snub-nosed Smith & Wesson revolver. Lately I kept it loaded and close at hand. I shoved it under my belt at the small of my back, and ran to the garage to get my motorcycle. Ken’s Harley rumbled away in the distance. I sat there on my cycle waiting for the engine to warm up.
* * * *
“Nine Month Undercover Drug Operation Nets 120.” This April headline in the Roseview Telegraph changed our lives.
I spent twenty years as a criminal investigator with the feds before I finally quit. I loved the work, but I hated the bureaucracy. I took a job teaching Criminal Justice at the local Junior College, supplementing my income by working as a private investigator. I enjoyed owning my own business and being my own boss. Stone Turner Investigations was a one-man operation, and until recently, it involved helping insurance companies check out questionable claims. The pace was comfortable.
Now, my old black rotary phone seemed to ring again every time I cradled the handset. The office of Turner Investigations was small and opened into a hall near the back door of an older business property. It seemed that every attorney in town suddenly needed my services. They all had either been appointed or hired to represent defendants arrested in the sweep. They wanted me to do the preliminary interviews with their clients. I was an expert at sifting bullshit, and sorting out jumbled accounts of criminal activity.
My calls to the police department left me puzzled. First of all, it surprised me I hadn’t heard anything about the operation before I read it in the paper. None of the local police officers seemed to know anything about it either. I could tell they weren’t just holding back. Police officers are terrible liars, and they usually share information with others in the fraternity. My teaching status kept me connected.
Undercover officer Steve Coomer had become the man of the hour. His picture appeared daily in area newspapers as he made the rounds of local service clubs talking about the evil influx of drugs in our quiet little community. Soon, the drug bust became the topic of conversation from the Club D’Lisa to the Country Club. The one big question in everyone’s mind was – Who is this guy Coomer?
I made a call after hours to the residence of a police sergeant who was a personal friend of mine.
“Hey, Bob, it’s Stone.”
“Yeah, what’s up on your side of the fence?” he said.
“Same as you – This drug bust. What do you know about Coomer?”
“Nada, amigo. I don’t think anybody here knows much about him. The talk is that the chief hired him, and that he reports directly to him.”
“Doesn’t strike you as being a little unusual?” I asked.
“Yeah, several people around here think the air smells a little funny, but you didn’t hear any of this from me.”
“I never talked to you – You know that.”
“Well, I’ve done a little checking on my own and you might be interested in this. He was a lieutenant with the P. D. in Garland. I hear he left under a cloud. He’s got his former female partner living with him here. You might want to go there and look under a few rocks.”
“I think I will. Keep me posted. I’ll let you know what turns up in Garland.” I said.
“O.K., but call me at home. Things around the station are a little strange these days and I might be able to help you more if no one knows I’m talking to you.”
“I don’t even know you. Keep you head down. I’ll talk to you when I get back.” I said.
I headed for Garland. My inquiries at the police department there were met with a chilly response. I didn’t get the feeling they weren’t talking because I was a private investigator. We often got snubbed when we approached cops who didn’t know us. I had a sense most of them wanted to say something. I was sure they had read the newspaper accounts. Finally, I found a police dispatcher, Hazel Mize, who was willing to answer some questions. It was her day off and she was at home. Hazel was beyond middle age. Her hair was dyed jet black and she wore a loose fitting cotton print robe and house shoes. We sat at the kitchen table in her small home and drank coffee as we talked. She lit a Virginia Slim cigarette and took a long drag. As we talked she alternated between the coffee cup in her right hand, and the cigarette in her left hand.
“I’m not afraid of Steve Coomer like some of these people are. I’ve been around a long time, and I don’t plan to leave any time soon. He had some people around here real scared before he left.”
“Why were they scared?” I asked.
“Well, there were all sorts of rumors about people who crossed him. He was running with a bunch of other narcs who worked on task forces in this area. They had a way of taking care of people who didn’t go along with their program. They made up their own rules.”
“Well what do you know from your own experience with Coomer?” I asked.
“I was dispatching one night when another officer came in and gave me a serial number from a pistol. He told me to check it to see if it was stolen. I did and I got a hit. I asked him if he had recovered the gun, and he said that Coomer was carrying it. I asked Coomer about it and he told me that he had gotten it in a recent drug bust. He said he was using it for a while before he logged it in. I don’t think he ever did put it in the evidence vault.”
“Was that the only thing you knew about?”
“Directly, yes, but there was a lot more. The city let him resign rather than fire him. There were drugs missing from the evidence locker, informants turned up dead, several other people had mysterious fires, and a lot of other strange things happened to people who had dealings with him. He had a fire at his apartment and had to jump from an upstairs window to get out. The firemen found a stash of drugs in his closet after the fire. He told them he had checked the drugs out of the evidence vault to use in his undercover work. You should check with the guys at the fire department.”
“What do you know about his partner, Kay Holtzcraft?” I asked.
Hazel shook her head and lit another cigarette. “Kay came here as a rookie patrolman. Steve asked the chief if she could work with him after she finished the academy. He said she looked young, and no one in the area knew her. The chief agreed to let her try. Steve was a sergeant back then. He was married to his third wife, Judy, at the time, and his second wife, Diane, lived with them in the same house. Rumor had it that he was fooling around with Kay too. Pretty soon he divorced his third wife and moved into an apartment. Kay resigned from the department shortly after he did. I heard that they were still living together.”
I finished my coffee and thanked her for her information.
In route to the fire department, I stopped by the employment office for the City of Garland and asked if I could see the personnel files of Coomer and Holtzcraft. I was given the standard answer about the confidentiality of files. I left my card just in case someone changed his mind. I did confirm their previous employment at the Garland Police Department. My investigator’s intuition told me there was a stink here that everyone wished would just go away.
My visit to the fire department was more fruitful. Several of the firemen present told me that Coomer had been at home at the time of the fire, and had jumped from a second story window to escape the blaze. They also confirmed Hazel’s story about a stash of drugs in his closet. One of the firemen said no one bought Coomer’s story about the drugs, including the police chief. He said that Coomer was asked to leave or get fired after the fire.
I interviewed several other officers who worked with Steve Coomer in Dallas and Collin counties. They would only talk in generalities about Coomer. They knew if they gave me specifics, they might end up in court testifying for the defense. No cop likes to do that. I also interviewed a retired DEA agent who worked with Coomer in the past. He told me straight out Coomer was dirty. They all knew the stories of the stolen pistol, the drugs and the fire, missing drugs, and dead informants. None of them however could point me to the source of any hard evidence. I sensed that some of them might still be afraid of Coomer and his former partners.
To be continued.