The following is an unedited draft of chapter 10 of Mencken and the Lost Boys. Please excuse any typos or grammatical mistakes. Mencken and the Lost Boys, the third book in the Defense of Reality Series, will be published this Fall.
“Officer Jimenez,” Rosie said on the other end of the phone. Her voice made Mencken smile.
“Hey Babe,” Mencken said. “I got another tweet.”
“What’s it say?” All warmth disappeared from her voice at the mention of the anonymous killer who’d started sending Mencken the locations of murderers over Twitter.
“28th and Hillen. Come and see,” Mencken replied.
“And you’re sure it’s the same person tweeting you from before?”
“It’s the same account that sent the Cleveland message.” Mencken shivered at the memory of that terrible night when he found the Cleveland family murdered in their living room.
“Okay,” she said softly. Mencken took comfort in how well she knew him. “You did the right thing calling me this time.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Where are you?” she said with a hint of suspicion in her voice.
“I’m in the car with Don. We’re getting ready to head over there.”
Don snorted a laugh and shook his head in disbelief.
“You’re already there, aren’t you? You promised that if you got another text, you would call me first.” With each word Rosie spoke, her voice increased in speed and intensity. “You’re going to get yourself killed and I’m not even going to care because you’re a stupid ass who doesn’t listen. Are you the police? Do you carry a gun? No, of course not. You wouldn’t even know which way to point a gun. But you’re stupid ass is going to run into a crime scene, head first, no back up, no brains. What are you going to do if you walk up in the midst of a murder? Are you going to fight them off with you notepad? Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Mencken had learned in the first few days of their relationship that it was best just to let her run herself out of steam. “We’re not there yet. I called you. Relax. I’ll see you at the scene.”
“Yeah, you will. Because we’re on the way,” Rosie said. “And you better not touch the crime scene before we get there or I’ll arrest your stupid ass.”
“See you soon, Babe,” Mencken said as he hung up the phone. Then turning to Don he said, “Well, let’s go.”
The two men stepped out of the car. A small crowd of onlookers had gathered around a row home in the middle of the block on 28th. The street wasn’t much. Just another run down, half occupied street of two-story row homes. It blended in with the surrounding blocks that looked just like it. This particular brand had covered front porches that were once supported by decorative columns but had over time been replaced with two-by-fours, or metal posts, or whatever else was handy at the time.
“You shouldn’t lie to your lady like that,” Don said as he looked at the house.
“I didn’t lie. We’re not in there. Yet,” Mencken said.
Don gave a stifled laugh. “I use to give the same justifications to my second wife.”
“How’d that turn out?” Mencken asked.
“Don’t have to do it anymore because she won’t speak to me.”
Don and Mencken crossed the street slowly examining the house that was the focus of attention. The bystanders watched and whispered to one another as the two reporters approach the porch. Mencken studied each face, looking for some indication that someone might be willing to talk.
The reporters came to a halt at the steps of the front porch because their path was blocked by two large men dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. They stood at the entrance to the porch with their muscular arms crossed across their chest. Looking straight ahead, they showed no recognition of Mencken and Don.
“I got a tweet?” Mencken said to the men, holding up his phone. “Told me I should go inside and take a look.”
The two men didn’t respond.
“We’re with the Baltimore Star,” Don said, hoping a different approach would work. “You know, the newspaper? Any way you could tell us what’s going on inside?”
A horn honked behind them. Mencken turned to and saw a Mencken a white Cadillac with black tinted windows parked across the street. Expensive and recently cleaned, it stood out from the rest of the cars parked along the street. The car gave a quick honk and the large man dressed in black stepped aside.
As Mencken and Don walked up the stairs and onto the darkened porch one of the men in black said, “Don’t touch nothing. Cops are on the way.”
The lock on the front door was splintered and there was a boot print above it. Avoiding the print, Mencken pushed on the top of the front door with his knuckles and it swung open. Even though all the lamps in the living room were on, it was still dark with the heavy curtains drawn. Like most rowhomes, it opened into a living room that became a dining room that became a small kitchen.
The living room simple. A couch was against one wall. There was a large, old box TV set against another. A small coffee table sat between them. The only thing different about the room was the three bodies lying in the center.
“Oh shit,” Don said, stepping toward corpses.
Mencken guessed the three men were in their early twenties. Each was dressed in a gray suit with a red tie. They were laid shoulder to shoulder with their hands by their sides. Each man had quarters resting on his closed eyes, and each had a small bullet hole in their forehead. If there had been any blood splatter, it had been removed from the bodies. Excluding the holes in their foreheads, one might think they were simply asleep. The layer thick layer of dust on the furniture and the smell of mildew told Mencken the house had been abandoned from some time.
Don hovered over the bodies without touching them. “These were professional hits,” he said. “Look at how clean that shot is.”
“What’s with the quarters?” Mencken asked stepping around to the shoes to get a better look. He didn’t recognize any of the dead men.
“It’s like an artist signing his work,” Don said. “I’ve seen it before. Not sure who it is exactly, but he is definitely in Agamemnon’s crew.”
“So this is a revenge hit?” Mencken said. “Maybe for Anita Dickson and the Clevelands?”
Don took pictures with his cell phone. “Maybe,” he said. “How does it compare to the others?”
“It’s,” Mencken said, looking around the room. “The others were more violent and messy. This is clean.”
“Well,” Don said, looking around. “They weren’t killed here, that’s for sure. They’ve been staged here for some reason.”
“Maybe the address is significant?” Mencken said.
Don took another few pictures. “Yeah, maybe,” he said.
Both men jerked to attention at the roar of sirens in the distance. “That’s our cue,” Mencken said.
The two reporters exited the house quickly and hustled down the steps as the police cars rolled to a stop in front of the house. Officer Jimenez was the first officer out of her car.
“Hey, Babe,” Mencken said with a wave.
“Goddamn stupid ass,” she replied as she walked passed him.
Don laughed again.
Mencken took a look at the house and jotted down notes, including the address of the house.
“I’m meeting up with a contact tonight,” Don said. “I’ll see if he knows anything about this spot.”
“You think we should talk to the crowd?” Mencken said. A young officer in a black uniform was beginning to roll out caution tape and in response, the bystanders were stepping up to it. Two other officers had already begun to question those around.
“They aren’t going to say anything with the cops here,” Don said looking over his shoulder. “I do want to know who’s in that car though.”
“Well,” Mencken said, turning and stepping toward the white Cadillac, “let’s find out.”
“I’ll stay here, thank you very much,” Don said.
“Chicken,” Mencken called as he crossed the street.
“If you get shot, I’m not driving you back. I don’t want your blood all over my car,” Don yelled.
Before Mencken could decide which window to knock on, the back driver’s side window slowly descended. In the car, in a white track suit, sat the gangster named Hannibal. Mencken recognized him from his picture in the Cabal hierarchy chart back at the office. He wore black shades with gold bars on the rims and a shiny gold chain around his neck. He was in the backseat alone. A driver dressed in all black sat in the front.
Mencken squatted down next to the open window. “How are you, sir? I’m Mencken Cassie with the Baltimore Star,” he said.
“The boy in the middle is my nephew,” Hannibal said without looking at Mencken. “He’s only twenty-two.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss, sir,” Mencken said. “Could you tell me a little about what happened here?”
“When you write about this, I need you to print a message at the end of your story,” Hannibal said.
“First, I have some questions,” Mencken said.
Hannibal simply raised his hand in reply. “Here is what I would like you to say,” he said. “To whoever did this, you have made business personal and I will have my justice. You will regret this day and that you brought me into this.”
“Do you know who did this?” Mencken said. “Are you the one who sent me the message?”
Hannibal turned his head slowly to look in Mencken’s direction. Mencken felt as though the man were staring through him. “No,” Hannibal said.
“What do you mean, no?” Mencken asked, but the tinted window was already being raised. The engine of the car came to life, and Mencken took a step back. The Cadillac pulled out of its parking spot and drove away.
“What’d he say?” Don asked from behind Mencken.
“I think he just declared war,” Mencken said.