The crime scene was little different from the two or three others that begged for the grudging attention of an overworked New Orleans homicide squad.
The victim was short, middle aged, of swarthy complexion, overweight and dressed in a worn brown business suit. He lay face down in a pool of his blood half way between the desk, where it appeared he had been sitting when shot, and the doorway which he had attempted to crawl to.
On the other side of that open door sat a distraught receptionist crying into a soggy wad of tissues.
"Ah was jus' gone a few minutes," she sobbed. "Ta th' bathroom. Ah din't even have tiam ta pee bafor ah heard th' shot."
Well, welcome to the club, lady, I haven't had time to pee in a month, Parrish thought--but said, "I'm awful sorry about your boss, Miss..."
"It's Mizzis.--Mizzis. Lavoish," she hastily corrected between sniffles. "Ah'm a single woman now, of coase, since poor Mr. Lavoish passed on."
"I know how upsetting all this is for you, Mrs. Lavoish, but you may be our best source of information," Parrish pressed on. "We need you to tell us all you can about Mr. Goodwin. What kind of business he was in, who his associates were--his family, his friends, if you know any. Any problems he may have been having, business or otherwise. Any enemies that he may have..."
"Oh, lans, Ah don't think he had an enemy in the world. Why, he was one of the nicest people Ah ever knew. Why, he was generous ta a fault."
She went on to touch all of the subjects on Parrish's list in her soft Louisiana drawl. Very little that she had to say was significant yet, but he took careful notes anyway. He studied the woman as she spoke. She was nearing fifty, he judged, slim, almost thin. Her foundation makeup struggled to hide the encroaching wrinkles. There was a touch too much mascara and it had begun to run as she wept. The rouge was too pink and the lipstick too bright. She was not stylish in her dress, but the long brown skirt she wore was not cheap. The green blouse was open at the neck allowing for a bright kerchief of soft crepe to be tied snugly inside the collar with a small knot on the right side; another attempt at hiding signs of aging, Parrish guessed.
"Now you say that when you came running back from the restroom, you saw no one in the hall?"
"Why, no. Th' john is around th' corner of th' hall. It backs right up to th' wall where Mr. Goodwin's desk is. That's why Ah could hear th' shot so clear."
"Did you hear any one say anything?"
"Only, poor Mr. Goodwin. He said, 'What are you doin' here?' And then Ah heard th' shot. Well, Ah jus come a'runnin', Ah tell you."
"Is that exactly what Mr. Goodwin said? He didn't say 'who are you?' or "what do you want?"
"Oh, no. That's exactly what he said: 'What are you doin' here?'"
"Could he have said, 'What are you doing in here?' "Parrish pursued.
Mrs. Lavoish's brow wrinkled in thought for a moment before she answered. "Well, no Ah don't think he said that." She had stopped crying and save for an occasional sniffle seemed to have regained her composure.
"Did you see Mr. Goodwin immediately when you reentered the office?"
The voice wavered again, "Oh, yes. He was still alive. Ah ran to where he was a'layin' an Ah called out to him. He had stopped crawlin' and the blood was spreading all on the carpet." She paused, gulped for air and sped on. "His head dropped down an' when he looked up at me agin, the blood was drippin' off his mustache and he said somethin'. He said it agin 'cause he musta seen that Ah didn't understand him the first time. Then..." She sobbed and mashed the mat of tissue against the smear of lipstick, tore it away and finished the sentence, "he made an awful sound, a groan like, and then all the breath jus' went right outa him. Ah screamed an' run down the hall ta th' dentist's office there." She shuddered and sank back in her chair. “It was awful and it was scary," she finished.
"Can you tell me what he said--as near as you can repeat it?"
"Well, yeah, but it don't make no sense. Least not ta me. It sounded like: 'tween the ill co an the brass'."
"And he said it twice. Did it sound the same both times?"
"Oh, yes, only the firs time it didn't make as much sense as it did the second time--however little sense it makes anyway."
"Do you think he meant 'between'?" Parrish asked.
"Ah guess it could be that," she admitted.
"Was 'illco' one word or two separate words, do you think?"
"Well, Ah guess--Ah mean 'ill' is a real word, but 'co' is jus' sort of a prefix, ain't it? Like 'co-operate', or 'co-sponsor'--like that?"
"So you think he said, 'between the ill co and the brass' ? Right?"
"Uhhuh. Yessir, Ah think that's what he said."
"So what the hell does that mean?" Scottie wanted to know. He had come out of the dead man's office just after the lab photographer had completed his shoot and he had heard Mrs. Lavoish's assertion.
Now, he carried a handful of items in individual transparent plastic bags. Bags that he began to spread out on his desktop in the corner of the crowded squad room down town.
Parrish, lounging on one corner of his own desk a scant two feet away, shrugged and leaned forward to see more clearly the results of Scottie's treasure hunt. April, the third member of the team had swiveled her chair around, away from her desk which was perpendicular to those of her partners.
Scottie's forehead, having grown ever taller in the years he and Parrish had worked together, glistened now from brow to crown with beads of sweat as he bent under the glare of the strong desk light.
"Wallet of one George Goodwin," he said, jabbing a lean forefinger at a bag. "Contents," he continued indicating the several others spread out in a row to the right. "Drivers license, two credit cards, six of his business cards, three business cards of others, a couple with notes on the back. A discount card for a local restaurant, an AAA member's card, a pick-up ticket for a dry cleaner and fifty-two dollars in bills."
"No photos?" April asked.
"Nope," Scottie replied matter-of-factly. "Pants pockets," he continued, pointing to the second row of bags. "Key ring, roll of antacid, 76 cents in change, comb and handkerchief. Shirt pocket: ball point pen and small notepad. Pockets of suit coat--which was draped over the back of his chair- - inside pocket: a checkbook, outside, right side: matchbook cover, outside left, empty."
Both men turned to April.
"He was 67, import business--mostly carpets from western Asia. Apparently it was his father's business before him. Divorced with a single son--estranged according to Mrs. Lavoish. Business was just good enough to pay the rent, her salary, a living wage for him with an occasional bonus when he made a big sale. That, he usually spent on a trip abroad--where he had some family." She flipped the page in her notebook and went on. "He lived alone in a condo, didn't mix much with his neighbors. Occasionally hosted a barbecue for a small group on the back patio near the pool. May have been business associates, may have been visitors or relatives from another country. Neighbors say the group would sometimes play strange instruments and sing what sounded like foreign folk songs."
"No women friends?" Scottie asked.
"Not according to Mrs. Lavoish."
"Except Mrs. Lavoish, I think," Parrish ventured. "Apparently they were seen together several times at the restaurant the discount card's for. It's not far from the office and some of the women who work in the same building would stop off there now and then after working late and find the two there--dining and in intense conversation."
"Arguing?" Scottie hinted.
"Not necessarily, according to the reports. Just intense."
"Could have been business," April said cautioning. "She was apparently the company book keeper as well as secretary and receptionist."
"At least one observer, a friend who worked in the dentist's office, suggested it might be a middle age romance. She couldn't be specific. It was based on several things that Mrs. Lavoish dropped on occasion. Apparently the course of the relationship did not always run smoothly, but when it did, Mrs. L was inclined to drop a hint about her amorous weekend or other holiday."
"Was the source sure that Mrs. L was talking about Mr. G?" April demanded.
"No. But, they were seen together by several people on several occasions in a relatively short time. But, you're right; it's not conclusive-- yet worth looking into further. After all, right now she's the only one we know that knew him. Until we find other friends and associates, we have to start with her." Parrish declared.
"O.K. I'll do a run-down on her." April said. “What else you want me to do?"
"What about trying to find the son?" April nodded and flipped open her notebook again.
"Why don't I try to find the guys on the business cards?" Scottie volunteered. "And I'll also try to get Mrs. L. to let me look at whatever deals were in the works and see if I can get a line on some of his business buddies."
"Sounds good," Parrish nodded, turning to his own desk. He pulled a file out of a desktop box labeled ‘pending’. "I've still got to go down to the morgue and look at this new arrival. If we're lucky the mob has shot and delivered the number one guy on our ten most wanted list. That'll close a few cases, and open a new one on him."
He picked up the phone and involuntarily reached for a cigarette at the same time. But the pocket held only a thin box of nicotine gum. With a grimace of annoyance he tossed it on the desk. A single square jostled out and lay accusingly on the blotter until he picked it up and slipped it into his mouth.
The phone on the other end had rung a third time and Parrish was still looking at the bags Scottie was now carefully stacking into an evidence basket. Impulsively, he reached across and picked up the bag with the matchbook cover. It advertised a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He looked up at Scottie, but his partner only shrugged. Parrish tossed the bag back into the basket.
Scottie pirouetted between the half-dozen other desks that separated him from the elevator. There, he reached out for the baseball cap that dangled from the bentwood clothes tree. The Saints' logo was indistinct around the edges where it had begun to fade into the colors of the surrounding material. He popped it onto this sweating head as the doors slid open and he got a knowing look from the bunko sergeant getting off.
The cap had once been an issue in the squad room. Scottie and several others thought it was his right to cover his baldness if he wanted to. The brass thought otherwise and they, of course, had won the argument. That was long ago and things had changed, but Scottie still took it off and put it on at the elevator door. He wouldn't admit it aloud, but the cap had become a lucky talisman. He was sure that something bad would happen to him if he lost it or failed, for some reason, to wear it on the street.
Two other guys from the robbery detail stepped aboard as the doors began to close. They both looked up at Scottie and nodded. He was taller than either of them. In fact Scottie was the tallest cop in New Orleans.
April got back to Goodwin's office just as Mrs. Lavoish was locking up.
"Honey, Ah hope ya'all ain't a'gonna start with the questions agin'. Ah'm pure beat." She dropped the large key ring into the woven tote hanging from her forearm.
"Oh, won't take a minute and we can walk and talk," April assured her, falling into step with the older woman.
They were a study in opposites. April was just tall enough to pass the entry requirements of the police academy and Mrs. Lavoish stood a head and a half above her. April was the chocolate brown that attested to an earlier white ancestor and Mrs. L was, even with the makeup, pasty-faced white. April's fresh scrubbed look was set off by closely cropped hair that showed off the graceful curve of her head. Mrs. L.'s graying coif was brushed and teased and sprayed.
The older woman's protestations had carried them down the wide steps that led out of the vestibule. But April's gentle prodding had mollified her by the time they approached the restaurant down the street.
"Let's pop in here for a cup of java, Mrs. Lavoish. I could sure use one and you probably could too."
Integration had come to New Orleans long ago, yet the Mrs. Lavoishes were still wary of mixing too freely with their black associates in public, but the stresses of the day made the thought of the cool dimness of Nick's Nook, an inviting one.
The door to the bar was immediately to the left upon entering from the street, while the dining room spread its tables off to the right and toward the rear of the building. A large sign over the bar door divided the words 'Nick's' and 'Nook' with an oval photo of Nick. It was obvious that Mrs. Lavoish was a frequent patron--apparently with a favorite table, for she started to sit at one then looked at the smiling barmaid and pointed to a booth against the wall.
"The usual, Millie?" the barmaid called. Mildred Lavoish nodded and slid into the booth, facing the bar. "Make it a 'large', Dee," she said with the relish and familiarity that told April that Millie Lavoish probably made Nick's a regular stop on the way home.
"Your friend?" Dee prodded.
"A ginger ale with a twist, please," April called.
There were two older men at the far end of the bar and a man and a woman nursing half- empty beer mugs at a table near the door. None were within earshot.
"I gather that you were very close to Mr. Goodwin, Mrs. Lavoish."
"Lans, call me Millie--everybody else does," she paused.
"You said this afternoon that you and he often talked of the business aspects of the company because you kept the books."
"Oh, my, yes. We got to know each other very well." She paled beneath her roughed cheeks and began to search the tote bag for tissues. "You do when you run a small business like this," she said quickly. The clasped tissue seemed to give her courage and she cleared her throat and went on. "There was neva much margin for error and none for extravagance. We often consulted on cash flow problems, particularly when a shipment of carpets were 'bout to arrive." She paused a moment and her features hardened somewhat as she went on. "And then, of coase, when he'd have a good month, he wanted to go off and spend it right away."
"Where did he go?"
Millie Lavoish studied the young cop across from her a moment before she spoke. "Is there any reason that anything Ah say could get inta th' newspapas?"
"Not unless it's pretty sensational. Was he a drug pusher or a sex pervert? That would attract some attention."
"Lans, no," she shuddered. "Nothin' lak that. He was a Turk. He went to Turkey to visit some family there every time he had a big sale. He bought most of his carpets and other stock from dealers there, so he'd write off the trip on his taxes, but he really went to see his family. Now, he never wanted anyone to know he was a Turk."
"Why? Do you know?"
"Well, as he used to say, don't feel bad about your ignorance. See here in th' States they don't hardly teach us any history except US and European. We don't understand the really vicious hatred and fear that most Europeans have of the Turks."
"I see what ya mean, Millie. I don't know much about Turkey, myself"
"Well, it's what's left of th' Ottoman Empire. They're Moslems, he called 'em. My grandaddy was a Baptist preacher and he called 'em Mohamadans."
"So why didn't Mr. Goodwin want people to know he was a Turk?"
"Cause there's a lotta prejudice agin' Turks among some folks from countries that the Turks occupied for 400 years. Seems them folks is like my other granddaddy's kin in Kentucky. They get into them hates and they never give 'em up. They jus' keep on a'hatein' generation after generation."
"Was he involved in a feud with someone from there? Is that how he got killed, maybe?"
"Oh, no nothin' like that. He just thought it would be bad for business if anyone knew he was a Turk. 'Can't be too careful, when you're in business,' he used ta say. That's why his daddy changed his name. Now, I don't think anyone but me and his family knew what his real name was."
"Do you think it would be all right for you to tell me what it was? It might help finally to find out who killed him."
Millie sobbed, the fact that he was dead having been brought painfully to the fore again. "Well, Ah guess it cain't hurt nothin' now. It's one athem funny sounding names. I could never say it like he said it, but I saw it written several times. It was Gültekin."
“How'd he spell it?" April's notebook was open to a new page.
"G-u-l-t-e-k-i-n. Had them two little dots over the ‘u’. His daddy was the one who changed it to Goodwin for business purposes. It never sounded much like the Turkish name, but Goodwin was easy for everybody else to read and say." She said it again, as if to demonstrate: "Goodwin."
"Goodwin regularly supplied about a half dozen retail stores on the Gulf coast with Turkish carpets and other traditional textiles from the countries that were behind the Iron Curtain during Soviet days." Scottie turned the page of his notebook and continued.
"Lately, he had been bringing in some more exotic stuff that a Turkish wholesaler had found in Eastern Georgia and old Armenia." He flipped the page and went on.
"I talked to two of his customers here and phoned one in Dallas. They had nothing but good things to say about him. Had met him a time or two here when he would host all his Gulf customers for an appreciation party. All three said that at those gatherings he seemed to know every guest well and visited with each one. Always remembered the wives names. Always served some exotic dessert that would be the subject of conversation among the wives each time they'd meet."
"Yeah, they were Turkish specialties. Cost a lot. Mrs. L. was always on his case about spending money," April chimed in. "She always doubted that the parties ever did anything to increase sales and they were always expensive."
"But no sign of any business conflicts? " Parrish wanted to know.
"Not from these guys."
"No sign of it according to Mrs. L. either," April confirmed.
"Anything on the son yet?" Parrish asked, around his last swallow of coffee. He sat looking across at April, her fresh-scrubbed unlined face giving no hint of the late hour she had spent with him the night before. He had had her report over the bottle of white wine before they had moved on to more personal things that needed talking about between them. A whiff of her was still in his blonde mustache and his breath quickened as he drew up the image of her lean, naked body glistening in the heat of the New Orleans night.
It was a department 'no-no' and they had both fought it early on, then on one bitterly depressing day a year ago, he allowed his loneliness and her uncanny understanding of his trauma and sadness to overwhelm the good sense of both of them. Since then Parrish had begun to be very careful on the street--suddenly he had something to live for again.
It was impossible to hide the affair from Scottie, who knew Parrish too well for too long. The two had talked about it and Scottie asked only that they keep a very straight business-like relationship on the job. He didn't want others to suspect and he be put in a position to lie about it. But for them he would lie. He loved Parrish like the big brother he never had… and anyone who loved Parrish was to be loved too.
For Scottie's benefit April opened her pad and then proceeded without looking at it again. "Goodwin's son, Besim, was a graduate student at Univ. of Michigan up until last December. He was studying Economics--an exchange student from an Istanbul University. He had been taken back to Turkey when his mother divorced Goodwin just after the boy entered high school. Goodwin always tried to see him when he went to Turkey for visits, but the mother always tried to prevent it. Several times when he did see Besim, the boy railed at him. The mother had apparently poisoned him against his father. Mrs. L. couldn't give any details about the terrible things the mother accused him of, but it was something Goodwin anguished over when he had been drinking. The Mother died about a year ago--just as the kid got his BA."
"You said he was in Ann Arbor until last December. Then what?" Scottie had the matchbook cover from the Ann Arbor restaurant in his hand.
April checked her notes briefly before answering. "Well, he didn't come back for the second semester. Mrs. L said that Goodwin went up to spend Christmas with him just before Besim went to Istanbul for semester break. Apparently they had quite a row and the kid decided not to come back."
"Any idea what the fuss was about?"
"No. He wouldn't discuss it with Mrs. L. But he brooded about it quite a lot she said." April paused a moment. "Know what else is strange?
Mrs. L says he didn't smoke.” Scottie looked up from the matchbook. “When I asked her about the matches and the restaurant it came from she said she had never seen the matches and he had never mentioned the restaurant."
Scottie unzipped the plastic bag and opened the matchbook. No match had been used. He closed it again and turned it about. "Look at the way this thing has been flattened and the way the corners have been rounded off from handling. He apparently kept it in that coat pocket or one like it ever since he came back in December."
"January," April corrected. He spent New Year's eve with someone up there. Someone he wouldn't tell Mrs. L about."
"They tell me that it cools off on summer evenings in Michigan. You can get a good night's sleep," Parrish said, holding out his hand. Scottie dropped the matches into the outstretched palm, nodding his assent.
OLD SINS, NEW SINNERS
A Police Procedural
A Land Parrish Mystery
The OFFICIAL WEBSITE
FREE from Amazon
"The gods visit the sins of the fathers on their children."
Gene J. Parola
Award Winning Novelist