The Hell of It All
By Bob Kroll
“A stylish noir. ” — The Globe and Mail on The Drop Zone
Retired detective T. J. Peterson is working the table scraps that his former partner, Danny Little, sometimes throws his way. One of them has Peterson hearing from a snitch about a body buried 30 years ago, the same ... Read more
“A stylish noir. ” — The Globe and Mail on The Drop Zone
Retired detective T. J. Peterson is working the table scraps that his former partner, Danny Little, sometimes throws his way. One of them has Peterson hearing from a snitch about a body buried 30 years ago, the same time a drug kingpin went MIA. Peterson is also ducking an ex-con with a grudge, a hitman who likes playing jack-in-the-box with a 12 gauge. Then a former lover re-enters Peterson’s life and begs him to find her daughter, an addict who knows too much about the local drug trade for her own safety. The search for the girl and the truth about the 30-year-old corpse takes Peterson down into the hell of it all, deep into the underworld of crack houses, contract killing, money laundering, and crooked professionals doubling down on their investments of black money.
Bob Kroll studied history at Providence College and the University of New Brunswick. He worked on farms and in the woods before settling into a forty year writing career. His previous books include The Drop Zone, The Hell Of It All, and Fire Trap. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The look-off on the east side of the harbour was a refuge for Peterson, a place he went to think and to rummage through memories that sometimes brought him comfort, but mostly did not. He lowered the Jetta’s windows despite the cold and listened to the traffic crossing the older of the two bridges spanning the harbour, listened to voices that the water carried from the dockyard, listened to sounds from the houses on the street below.
He had parked with the Jetta aimed at the harbour mouth, giving himself a postcard perspective of the naval base, two islands, and the concrete and glass of downtown. He looked without seeing Halifax as the “vibrant and safe capital city by the sea” promoted by the tourist board. He saw something else. He saw what cops see: the hard side, the ugly side, the side unreported in the press.
The rising sun ricocheted off the rearview and had him angling to avoid it. He reached into the glove box for the spiral scribbler and the pen clipped to the first few pages and settled behind the wheel to write down thoughts and feelings. Dr. Heaney had suggested it, and a few of the others in the therapy session had been doing it. But instead of words, he drew a large question mark. He traced it over and over, until the pen cut through the page.
He closed the scribbler and watched a ferry cross the harbour. He remembered the day he’d taken it back and forth several times with his daughter. It was a sunny winter day like this one. He remembered laughing with her. He could not remember laughing with her many times after.
He thought about Cassie, and her face and his daughter’s blurred into one. He remembered Katy’s last words to him: “Fuck You. ” He shifted uncomfortably and felt something in his coat pocket. The Ruger. He set it on the passenger seat. There was something else in the pocket. He pulled out the napkin with Patty Creaser’s phone number and then his business card with Tanya’s number and the address of Logan’s sister where Cassie might still live. Tanya had written something else: “The sudden loss of you left me hopeless. ”
He closed his eyes, opened them. He looked at the Ruger and then at the sealed mickey in the open glove box. An uncontrolled breath escaped, and he rubbed his face. He shoved the Ruger back into his coat pocket and the spiral notebook back into the glove box.
Tanya had said no cops, but he knew better. He needed them for their database and fast access to the whereabouts of the people he wanted to find.
He waited for Bernie outside the police station in the employee parking lot. He knew she’d be in an hour ahead of the morning shift. She parked her car, slid out, and zipped up her down jacket. Detective Grace Bernard, who insisted on being called Bernie.
He got out of the Jetta and intercepted her before she got to the front door.
“Have you been ducking me these last few weeks?” she asked. Her grin said she was glad to see him.
“That goes both ways. ”
She pretended to juggle.
“You don’t look overworked,” he said, breaking out a weary smile.
“A comment like that means you’re looking for something. ”
“Something like that. ”
“The deputy chief know you’re coming in?”
“I doubt Fultz wants to see me,” Peterson said, holding open the door. “Not enough time between us. ”
“You know he’s up for chief as soon as Menard retires. ”
“Peter Principle in action,” Peterson said.
“We could do worse than Fultz. ”
“Not by much. ”
Bernie led the way upstairs to the Investigation Unit. Peterson’s gunshot knee hurt on the climb. He was tired too, from walking the downtown streets all night. Bernie saw he wasn’t keeping up.
“You still living at The Office?” she said
“I don’t change much. ”
“Except for trading your desk for a barstool. ”
“Better company than listening to old men complain at a coffee shop. ”
“You could go home,” she said.
“The walls and furniture talk too much. ”
Two drug-squad cops in civvies came through the double doors and started down the stairs. One of them, Ryan Lewis, a giant of a man but a gutless wonder, the kind of cop who cuffed a suspect first and muscled him later, recognized Peterson and stopped.
“I thought this place kissed you goodbye,” he snarled.
“Bad penny,” Peterson said.
“Good thing the government is flushing them,” said Eddie Bigger, the other drug-squad cop. He was the opposite of Lewis in size, mouth, and attitude. Like most little guys, Bigger was always looking for a scrap.
Peterson took it in stride and faked a smile. “Yeah, but a lot of people are saving them. Pennies will be worth millions someday. ”
Lewis wanted the last word but couldn’t think of anything to say. He turned to go, but not before giving Bernie a quick nod.
“What was that about?” Bernie asked. She was holding one of the double doors open for Peterson.
“He misses me,” Peterson said.
“They all do,” Bernie said. Wry smile. “You want coffee?”
Jamie Gould, gelled hair, late thirties, held down the coffee room. Newspaper opened to the crossword page on the Formica table. He saw Peterson, rose, threw out his hand, and said, “Have you been forgiven, or am I just wishing it?”
“I doubt I’ll get off the shelf,” Peterson responded, shaking Jamie’s hand.
“I should’ve known better,” Jamie said. “Fultz would never take you back when he’s bucking for chief. ”
They laughed as Bernie pulled two coffees and passed one to Peterson.
“You remember Billy Moran?” Jamie asked Peterson.
“I punched his ticket,” Peterson said. “He backed over his mother and said it was an accident. ”
“Know what he’s doing now?”
“He did four out of ten,” Jamie said. “Good behaviour. ”
“I’ll bite. ”
“He goes door to door selling chairs in heaven. ”
You could’ve hung clothes off Jamie’s grin.
“I got it straight from his parole officer,” Jamie continued. “Moran targets seniors and quotes them chapter and verse, you know, Jesus telling his disciples he was off to prepare a room for them in heaven. Then Moran feeds the seniors some shit about charitable gifts and buying themselves a chair. I mean who wants to go through eternity standing up. ”
“People are buying them?” Bernie asked.
“A hundred bucks a chair,” Jamie said. “The parole officer said Moran sold eight. ”
“Discount anything fifteen percent and old people’ll buy it,” Jamie said. “Double the price and call the sale two for one, and seniors can’t give you the money fast enough. ”
Peterson started for the door.
“Moran’s lawyer is Lester Arnold,” Jamie continued. “He’s arguing all religions take down payments on eternal happiness. So what’s the difference, huh? The Catholic Church, the Prods, they’re the ones selling the rooms in the first place. ”
Bernie was still laughing.
“Leon Ferris was another one of yours, wasn’t he?” Jamie said.
That stopped Peterson.
“He’s out, too,” Jamie added.
“I heard,” Peterson said.
“Fourteen shaved down to seven and out in five, double credit for time served. Like what’s going on, right! The guy attempts a hit and the parole board goes short time on his candy-land smile. ”
Peterson didn’t answer. Thinking.
Jamie shook his head. “Swinging door, know what I mean? It makes you wonder why we bust them in the first place. ”
Jamie had a fresh thought. “You and Leon had a thing together, right?”
Peterson feigned nonchalance. “A dust-up that didn’t go his way. ”
He and Bernie carried their coffees down the hall past half a dozen early birds who waved or nodded to Peterson.
“Dust-up?” she said. “That’s what you call it?” They entered the cupboard-sized room that a few detectives liked to use for private meetings. “I heard you broke his arm. ”
Danny was inside waiting. His legs shifted uneasily under the wooden table, and his fingers drummed the half-dozen case files on top of it.
“Whose arm?” Danny asked.
“Leon Ferris,” Peterson said.
Danny’s smile faded. “You heard. ”
“Little bird. ” Peterson leaned down to straighten Danny’s tie. “It’s amazing how a good woman can change a man. ” He winked at Bernie. “He never dressed this way for me. ”
“Not for me, either,” Bernie said. “Danny has a steady girlfriend. ”
Peterson smoothed a hand over the tie. “She must dress him in the morning. ”
Danny slapped his hand away and tapped the files on the table. “You can see how busy we are. We got forms up to here. ” He slashed a hand across his throat. “And reports like you wouldn’t believe. You jumped at the right time. ”
“Pushed was more like it. ”
“Either way, you miss out on all this paperwork. So, how about we close the Ferris file and call it past tense?”
“Not if it’s happening now. ”
Bernie saw the strained look exchanged between the former partners, Danny’s more drawn than Peterson’s. They had a twenty-three-year history together. Uniform cops sharing a car and half their lives. Peterson stealing time from his wife and daughter and making detective first. Danny three years later. Partnered again. Covering each other’s ass. Good cop, bad cop, with Peterson mostly coming off as Sir Lancelot with a grudge.
“Leon made a threat five years ago,” Danny said, punching each word to sound convincing. “That doesn’t mean—”
“Yes, it does,” Peterson said. “I talked to Cory yesterday. Leon wants a reunion. ”
Danny straightened the stack of files, lining them up with the table edge. Jaw set. Voice insistent. “You’re not the only cop on a nutso’s hate list. ”
“Former cop. That means no badge. ”
“Which means what?”
“I keep an eye over my shoulder. Right hand hanging free. ”
“That’s the part I’m worried about. ”
“That he might get hurt?”
“Straight-up fight, you come out on the short end. ”
“Leon Ferris doesn’t go straight up,” Peterson corrected. “He works the shadows with a sawed-off or a Glock. ”
Danny leaned toward Bernie. “Leon Ferris was . . . is—”
“I know all about Leon Ferris,” Bernie said. “I helped work the crime scene when I was in uniform. He shot Serge LeBlanc point-blank with a Glock. Paralyzed him. There was something about a favour he owed. ”
“Drug debt,” Peterson added. “Not his. Serge owed Sammy O’Brien big time, and O’Brien asked Leon Ferris to collect the bill. ”
“Sammy O is Blackwood’s delivery boy,” Danny said to Bernie. “But you’re right about the favour. No money changed hands, but the word was that Sammy O had a small-time retail licence for sale, which Ferris wanted to tap. ” He nodded to Peterson. “His nibs had an inside source about the hit on Serge LeBlanc. A warrant turned up the gun, ballistics matched, and two witnesses put Ferris on location in a starring role. ”
“I made the arrest,” Peterson said.
Danny nodded at Peterson. “He can’t just read Leon his rights and arrest the shit like everybody else,” he said. “No! He has to bust Leon’s arm with that claw hammer he carries—”
“Cat’s paw. It’s a nail puller. ”
“Whatever. ” Danny waved a hand and said to Bernie, “It turned out Ferris had himself a real bad day. ”
“And you think he’ll come for you?” Bernie said to Peterson.
Danny tapped the case files again. “We’ll do what we can to keep tabs on him, but more than that . . . ”
“I’m not asking for police protection,” Peterson insisted. “There’s something else. ” He inched forward in his chair. “A woman corners me in The Office and says her fifteen-year-old daughter is missing. ”
“Different department,” Danny said. “Down the hall, second left. ”
“You going to listen or not?”
“I’m listening. ”
“The mother thinks the girl witnessed a shooting nine days ago. The girl said something about a gun and had blood on her clothes. ”
“Did she say where?” Bernie asked.
“Near the abandoned building on Canal Street, where that oil business used to be. That’s where the vic was grabbed. ”
“We’ve had no complaints from that neighbourhood. ” Danny said, a hint of scepticism in his voice. “Every other neighbourhood, but not that one. ”
Peterson let it go. “A well-dressed man arrived in a taxi. The cab drives off, and the girl shows up and takes the guy to the back of the building. ”
“Accomplice?” Bernie said.
Peterson nodded. “The girl has a pimp, boyfriend, whatever. His name is Logan Morehouse. She does whatever he tells her to do. He played the girl as the set-up, that’s how I figure it. All I have is what the mother told me, which isn’t a hell of a lot. I checked the building last night. Two street kids are living inside. They didn’t see much, if they saw anything, but they heard someone being hustled into a car. ”
“Who’s the girl?” Bernie asked.
“Cassie Colpitts. ”
“And the mother?” Danny added.
“Tanya Colpitts,” Peterson said, and the name was no sooner out of his mouth than he regretted having said it.
“That’s a name I remember,” Danny said, watching for Peterson’s reaction. “Why did she come to you and not the police?”
Peterson hesitated, but there was no way to backpedal, not now. “She knew I’d help,” he said.
“Like you owe her,” Danny said. “Past service or something like that?”
They locked eyes.
“I’m not opening a file on Tanya Colpitts’s say-so,” Danny said.
“Because she’s a prostitute and a junkie?”
“Yes on both counts. ”
Peterson’s face went stony. “This is going nowhere, Dan. I thought I had something important. But you’re right. It’s only a rumour. No body. No complaints of gunshots in a neighbourhood where people wouldn’t call the cops if it was the O. K. Corral. ” He pushed his chair from the table and stood.
“I see it different,” Danny said. “Her daughter runs off and she makes up a good story to yank your chain, get you sniffing around again. For Christ’s sake, you pulled her from the garbage, and what happened? She shook her ass twice and wrecked your marriage. ”
“I was missing from my marriage long before that, and you know it. What’s with you? We used to work up a file on less than this. ”
Danny pounced. “Is that what you’re doing? You working up a file? Not satisfied with what you help us with?”
“Leave it alone, Dan. ”
“Yeah, I’ll leave it alone. You want to know why? Because we’re spinning plates,” he said. “You know how many we got spinning at the same time? Bernie, tell him how many plates we got in the air. ”
Bernie made no effort to answer.
“Sammy O gets shot at, and every two-bit dealer is reaching for a piece of the pie,” Danny said, his voice climbing. “Drive-bys. One outside the children’s hospital. The media calls us up on it. They’re having a field day with what’s going on. Drugs and drug money has this city out of control. Statistics have us in first place for unsolved homicides in the goddamn country, and the mayor and council want to know how come. Like they didn’t cut the budget. No new hires and two detectives sidelined. What the hell are we supposed to do? Tell me that! No, don’t tell me, tell Fultz, tell the ones that have the whole department on a short chain. We’re leaving more criminals on the street than we lock up. We can’t handle the bodies already in the morgue, and you waltz in here with a hearsay hit because you’re working up a file. ”
Peterson shut out Danny’s voice. He heard hall traffic instead. Voices jabbering, catching up on last night’s TV shows and sports scores; laughter that trailed off toward the coffee room and the Investigation Unit, with its grid of narrow paths and crowded desks. This building had been his home. The job had been his life. And now he felt like a has-been looking for a place to hang his hat. He wondered if he’d been doing what Danny had just suggested. He wondered if he had been listening to Tanya and hearing what he wanted to hear, believing it because it worked up a file that could reopen a door into this building, into the life he once had.
“If it makes you feel better,” Danny was saying, “I can get a car over there to ask around, something turns up, we’ll do what we can. ”
“Yeah, you do that,” Peterson grumbled. “And anything else comes my way, I’ll keep it to myself. ”
“Don’t be an asshole. ”
Bernie threw up both hands. “Maybe you’re both assholes,” she said. “A well-dressed guy gets shot . . . ”
“We don’t know that,” Danny insisted.
“No,” Bernie snapped, “but a corpse doesn’t show up at home or at work the next day, and sooner or later someone will report him missing. I’ll pull the list and see what matches. ”
She looked from one embarrassed face to the other. “I don’t know what’s going on,” she said, “but good police work doesn’t ignore a lead no matter where it comes from and no matter how many plates we’re spinning. A girl says she saw a guy get shot, maybe helped in the shooting, I want to talk to that girl. ” She faced Danny. “Don’t you?”
“A solidly plotted mystery that should entertain old-school hard-boiled crime fans looking for a new author. ” — Booklist
“[A] thriller of detection. ” — Toronto Star
“Kroll understands that no matter how complicated the mystery it’s the personalities populating the pages that keep readers coming back. . . A solid crime thriller that leaves the reader wanting more. ” — Atlantic Books Today
“In his second T. J. Peterson novel, Bob Kroll immerses us in the seamy side of life in an east coast port city: the lowlifes, the lingo, the smells, the flare-ups of danger. . . . If you’re looking for a hit of hard-boiled detective fiction with lots of sizzling action, this book is for you. ” — Anne Emery, award-winning author of the Collins-Burke mystery series
“Kroll goes unexpectedly deep and narrow into subordinate characters like a funnel into their soul. The scenes are poignant and wounding. ” — Murder in Common
“The author did a fantastic job at creating this other world where shady things happen and people think it is okay. I was intrigued, and worried, throughout my reading. ” — Clues & Reviews
“Clocking in at a touch over 300 pages, Kroll’s suspenseful cliff-hangers and relatable characters has the pages slip by faster than initially realized. Using descriptive adjectives, at times it seems as though I could smell the Halifax Harbour and hear the noises from the side streets in a city I’ve come to know and love over the years. ” — Chronicle Herald
“This book is for fans of dark, gritty police/mystery dramas. If this is your genre, then The Hell Of It All should definitely be on your reading list. ” — Lost in the Rain blog
“This latest offering will delight fans of the genre, gluing them to Peterson's side no matter how dark things get, with enough silver linings to hint at hope just over the horizon. ” – Scene Magazine