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By Michael Norman
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2008 Michael Norman
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Chapter OneAccountant Arnold Ginsberg glanced at his planner, reviewing his schedule for the remainder of the week. His eyes froze on the nine o'clock entry two days hence. "Shit," he muttered to himself. How had he managed to get himself mixed up in something like this? Talk about being in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time—somehow he'd managed to do it. Now he found himself a reluctant witness against the leader of an ultra conservative band of renegade polygamists with a penchant for robbing armored cars.
He reached in and removed the subpoena from the middle drawer of his desk. It required his appearance as a witness in the courtroom of Judge Homer Wilkinson for a preliminary hearing in the case of Utah versus Walter Anthony Bradshaw. According to the subpoena and what he'd read in the newspapers, Bradshaw and his cohorts had been charged with enough serious felonies to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives, assuming they managed to avoid death sentences, something the local prosecutor seemed intent on securing.
Ginsberg distinctly recalled that autumn morning in September. It had been like watching a violent scene from a Hollywood movie. He had left home early to reach the Super Target store well ahead of the Saturday morning rush of weekend shoppers. As he parked his Passat, he noticed the Wells Fargo armored car parked in front of the store with its engine idling, and he assumed, with a driver inside. Moments later, two uniformed rent-a-cops came out of the store carrying satchels filled with what news accounts would later claim was $85,000 in cash.
The gunmen seemingly materialized out of nowhere. They wore flesh-colored masks made of panty hose, and each carried an automatic weapon. The guards were at the rear of the armored car waiting for the driver to unlock the door when one of the would-be robbers barked a command.
"Everybody freeze. Do not touch your weapon and do not move."
For an instant, everybody froze. Then all hell broke loose. Both guards simultaneously reached for their side-arms—a serious error in judgment. What followed sounded like a fourth of July celebration minus the visual effects of fireworks in the sky. Ginsberg heard the pop, pop, pop sound of gunfire. He dove for cover between two parked cars.
When it was over, both guards were down as well as one of the robbers. He heard the squeal of tires and looked up just in time to see a non-descript-looking white Ford van race across the parking lot with its side door opened. The remaining three gunmen jumped into the moving van, one of them carrying several bags of cash, and sped away. No attempt had been made to pick up their downed comrade. The wounded gunman was later pronounced dead at the scene. One of the guards died later at the hospital. The other survived brain surgery only to lapse into a coma from which he had never regained consciousness.
The police captured the alleged leader of the gang, Walter Bradshaw, in a separate vehicle minutes after the robbery. The rest were still at large. None of the cash had ever been recovered.
In the immediate aftermath, Ginsberg had become an instant media celebrity—something he now regretted. He was interviewed live at the scene, and again later, by both print and television sources. There had been another witness too, a Robin something-or-other. She had managed to maintain a much lower profile, avoiding interviews with the media. They'd met briefly at police headquarters when they were giving statements to the detectives handling the case.
* * *
Ginsberg was tired—tired of the seemingly endless grind of his tax business, tired of the affluent lifestyle to which he, and his young partner, had become accustomed. As the autumn days grew shorter, there wasn't enough Prozac in the world to brighten the otherwise dank mood that hung over him like a constant dark cloud.
He reached into his desk and pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey and a glass. He poured a shot and sipped the alcohol. He felt its glowing warmth in his throat and stomach as he turned his attention back to the computer screen. "Christ," he muttered. "If I have to look at one more tax form, I think I'll puke." He could hardly wait for the booze to begin taking the edge off.
Ginsberg completed the third quarter tax forms for yet another of his corporate clients, shut down the computer, and leaned back in his leather chair. He gazed out his thirteenth story office window overlooking the Salt Lake City skyline as the last light of day faded below the western horizon, leaving just a touch of orange in a darkening sky. It was so clear that he could see the landing lights and the ghostly shapes of the commercial planes as they descended in orderly fashion into nearby Salt Lake International Airport.
Ginsberg finished the Wild Turkey and reached for his black leather briefcase resting atop the credenza across from his desk. He should have been home an hour ago. He would be late for dinner again, and Rodney would be seriously pissed. But screw Rodney. Much of the reason for putting in such long hours was directly proportional to the amount of Rodney's spending. Rodney was spending it nearly as fast as he could earn it. Lately, Ginsberg was having second thoughts about making a kept man out of the young travel agent. While it was pleasing to his ego and definitely good for his libido, it was killing him financially.
Ginsberg left his State Street office and walked the half-block east on 200 South to the parking garage. He nodded at the attendant and ascended the steel stairs to the third floor. He walked past the elevator door moving silently between rows of parked cars and past several large concrete pillars. As he stepped between a large SUV and a Dodge van, his new Volkswagen Passat came into view. Leaning against the driver's door was a tall, young man wearing a long sleeved flannel shirt, blue jeans, and brown work boots. To Ginsberg, the man looked like a blue collar worker, a construction type maybe.
Ginsberg felt fearful but spoke with as much bravado as he could muster. "Excuse me, but what are you doing next to my car?"
The man pushed away from the Passat, rose to his full height, and smiled at Ginsberg, revealing a large, silver capped front tooth. For a moment, the stranger said nothing but then the grin disappeared, and the man said, "Just waitin' on you. Had to work late tonight, huh?"
Ginsberg looked puzzled. "I don't think I know you. What is it that you want?"
He never saw the second individual who stepped from behind a concrete pillar carrying a three-foot steel tire iron. The man swung the tire iron like a baseball bat, struck the back of Ginsberg's head, and crushed his skull. The force of the blow propelled him forward into the arms of the first man who plunged a double-edged serrated knife deep into his sternum then yanked it upward toward the heart. They left him on the cold concrete floor, his life's blood pooling under his head and torso.
* * *
Rodney Plow waited. The carefully prepared dinner of garlic mashed potatoes, fresh halibut, asparagus spears, and Caesar salad had long since grown cold. It was now after seven. Arnold was supposed to have been home by five. During the intervening hours, Rodney had managed to finish the bottle of Napa Valley chardonnay.
By eight, he contemplated calling the police. Ginsberg hadn't responded to his phone calls placed to Arnold's office and cell phone. Instead, he opened a second bottle of wine. Another hour passed. Just before nine, Rodney called the Salt Lake City police and reported Arnold missing. Within half-an-hour, patrol officers Wendy Ring and Jeremy Steel discovered Ginsberg's lifeless body in the parking garage next to his office. He was rushed by ambulance to the LDS hospital where he was pronounced DOA.
* * *
On the same evening, twenty-four year old University of Utah graduate student Robin Joiner had just finished a meeting with members of her social work study group at the Marriott Library. She loaded her book bag for the long trek across campus to her car. After perfunctory goodbyes, Joiner left the library. She normally tried to get away from the university before dark, but today the study group worked longer than anticipated.
Joiner moved quickly despite the heavy book bag hanging from one shoulder. She felt slightly uneasy walking on the narrow sidewalks between monolithic buildings as dusk dissolved into shadowy darkness. Soon she emerged into a sparsely lit parking lot just south of the social work building. On this night, there were few cars and not a single person in sight.
Joiner heard the sound before she saw it—an engine idling, a noisy engine with a bad muffler. She glanced to her left and saw the dark colored van and the vague shape of someone sitting behind the wheel. She was now on full alert.
Joiner hadn't taken more than a few steps when she sensed movement behind her. Someone grabbed her from behind and a hand covered her mouth. She reacted instantly, biting into the assailant's index finger until she tasted blood, and stomped on the top of his foot. He howled and cursed. She spun around and swung the twenty pound pack like a sledge hammer, striking a glancing blow off her attacker's shoulder and then into the side of his face. He staggered to one side and released his grip long enough for her to drop the book bag and begin running—running as fast and as far as the legs of the former high school sprinter would carry her. She didn't look back and she didn't stop—not until she reached Kingsbury Hall on the northwest side of the campus where she got lost in a crowd shuffling into the building for a concert.
Joiner left the campus, circled west a block, and then turned south until she reached 400 South. There she boarded the westbound Trax train and rode it into downtown Salt Lake City. She wasted no time transferring to the southbound Trax, which took her several miles, finally dumping her within eye shot of a twenty-four hour IHOP.
She sat at the counter. It wasn't until the server placed the coffee in front of her that her nerves began to relax and she stopped shaking. For the first time since leaving the library, she had a calm moment where she could think. What the hell had just happened? Was this a random attack or could it have something to do with her impending appearance in court as a witness in the aborted armored car robbery and murder?
Joiner decided the only prudent course of action was to assume that the attack had been planned and was not a random event. So what should she do? The book bag contained her wallet, driver's license, credit cards, car keys, and most of her cash. Fortunately, she had her Visa debit card and a small amount of cash in her pocket. Her Honda Civic sat in the university parking lot, but did she dare go get it? Probably not. And what about her apartment? Should she go home and try to retrieve some of her things? She didn't think so.
For the first time in a very long while, Robin Joiner felt vulnerable, afraid, and isolated. Once again in her troubled life, she was on her own and she would have to make do.
Chapter TwoDetective Lieutenant Kate McConnell of the Salt Lake City Police Department Homicide unit was attending a retirement party for one of her colleagues in a Park City restaurant when the call came. She had planned to spend the rest of the evening at the home of her boyfriend, Sam Kincaid. So much for the best laid plans.
She and Sam had become involved after having been thrown together in a high visibility murder investigation six months earlier. Like her, he was a cop and a damned good one. Kincaid managed a unit within the Utah Department of Corrections called the Special Investigations Branch (SIB).
The SIB was a small, covert organization that operated out of offices at the state prison. They were responsible for gathering intelligence information about the activities of inmates inside the prison as well as parolees in the community. The unit also investigated allegations of employee misconduct and served as an important liaison to state and local law enforcement agencies. Sam reported directly to the executive director of the department and was required to maintain offices at both the state prison and at department headquarters in Salt Lake City.
The dispatcher gave her only the basics. "DL1, see the officers at the parking garage, 220 East, 300 South. Unknown white male reported down at that location."
"Ten-four." A parking garage in downtown Salt Lake—probably a mugging gone bad, she thought.
By the time she arrived, the area had been cordoned off and the forensics team was busy at work. The victim, a middle-aged male, had been stabbed and bludgeoned to death.
"What have you got, Rob?"
"Not a hell of a lot so far, Lieutenant," replied Sergeant Rob Porter, supervisor of the CSI team. "The vic never made it home from work. Somebody at his house reported him missing. The uniforms started looking for him at his accounting office in the Towers. When they couldn't locate him, they backtracked here where they found him lying next to his car. The EMTs hustled him to the hospital, but I'm afraid it was too late."
There was blood everywhere. Almost to herself, Kate said, "God, what a mess."
"You're right about that, Lieutenant," said Porter, glancing around the concrete floor. "Stab wounds and blunt force trauma always seem to produce the biggest bleeders."
"For sure. Did anybody report seeing anything?"
"Not that we know of. The garage attendant saw the victim enter but doesn't recall seeing him leave. Of course, that's because he didn't leave. The attendant is a college kid who, I'm guessing, doesn't pay much attention to the comings and goings of this place. Nobody's taken a formal statement from him—figured you'd probably want to do that."
"Yeah, I'll talk to him. Any evidence left lying around—like maybe the perp's wallet with a picture ID and a current address?"
Porter smiled, "Afraid not, Kate. One of the EMT's mentioned blunt force trauma to the back of the victim's head and a jagged stab wound in the chest area. We haven't found any physical evidence here consistent with those types of wounds. We did find the victim's wallet dumped on the next aisle over, minus credit cards and cash. We'll process the wallet for latent prints as well as his Passat."
"Okay. Have your people conduct a thorough search of every floor of the garage. Also have them canvass a two block area in every direction. There's an alley immediately east of us with a couple of dumpsters. Search those as well. If you need more help, call in the uniforms."
"By the way, who is our victim?"
Porter reached for his clip board. "Driver's license identified him as Arnold Ginsberg, white male, age forty-four."
Kate looked puzzled. "That name sounds familiar to me, but I can't place it. Has anybody run him through records?"
"Not as far as I know," said Porter.
McConnell radioed the dispatch-records office and ran Ginsberg's name through the system. Before dispatch could respond, it came to her. Why hadn't she remembered? Arnold Ginsberg was a witness in the upcoming trial of rogue, polygamist leader Walter Bradshaw. In fact, Bradshaw was scheduled for a preliminary hearing in the next few days. She'd heard that from members of the homicide team who'd handled the original investigation. Ginsberg's murder might have been a coincidence, but McConnell didn't much believe in coincidences.
A chilling thought entered her mind. There had been another witness in this case, a female college student from the University of Utah. When records came back confirming Ginsberg's status as a witness in the case, Kate also asked for the name of the second witness and her home address.
A patrol sergeant, Dennis Martinez, met Kate at Robin Joiner's home. It was an older apartment complex about a mile south and west of the university campus. Joiner occupied a ground floor unit that had a covered patio and a sliding door at the rear. Kate sent Martinez behind the apartment to cover the patio exit while she approached the front door. She saw it immediately. The door had fresh pry marks dug into the wood around the lock. Somebody had used a screwdriver or pry bar to jimmy the lock. Kate drew her nine millimeter, quietly turned the door knob, and pushed open the front door. She paused momentarily. The apartment was dark and quiet.
Excerpted from Silent Witness by Michael Norman Copyright © 2008 by Michael Norman. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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