Title: Fire on the Mountain
Author: Clabe Polk
Peter Stanwick did one thing wrong; he got killed.
Stanwick, the dead ‘cook’ for Jack Haven’s crank operation, was found with Jack’s wife, Susan’s cross in his pocket; its chain broken. How did it get there?
Jack’s lab where Stanwick worked is torched. Susan is beaten severely. Jack dies suddenly. A traffic accident or murder? Who burned the lab and why? Why was Susan beaten and by whom?
The Havens are a dynasty of bootleggers with history dating back to reconstruction progressing from bootlegging moonshine whiskey to growing and distributing marijuana. Brothers Jack and Jason compete to produce and distribute crank.
DEA is unable to locate one or more crank labs in Jericho County. Will Eiser’s investigation of Standwick’s murder lead the way?
“That’s great!” Eiser leaned back in his chair. “So Standwick was killed on that tabletop.”
“Looks like somebody was,” answered Moore. “That’s not all. The bullets were confirmed to be 9mm, and marks on the bullet you dug out of the wall match the marks on the bullet the Medical Examiner recovered from Standwick’s body…same gun. Now all we have to do is find the gun.”
“Do you think one of the Haven boys offed him?”
“Maybe,” said Moore. “But what about Susan? She got drugs from Standwick when she was in a bind. Maybe she killed him to keep her habit a secret.”
“Maybe, although it’s not like a junkie to kill their source,” Eiser observed. “I keep thinking about Jake telling me the Haven triplets always gave each other guns for their birthday. Among them they might very well have a murder weapon. Their birthday party was last night by the way. I wonder what Jake got this year?”
“How are we going to look for a murder weapon among the Havens’ guns? And what’s to keep the murderer from tossing it? We could never get search warrants for that without more information.”
“No, we wouldn’t,” agreed Eiser. “Let’s see what Susan can tell us about guns.”
City Square Park was the persona of a sleepy small town square where kids played tag in the mottled shade among the trees while equally sleepy moms watched them from park benches. A couple of picnic tables had been added, one of them occupied by a young man munching an apple, the finishing touch to his daily bag lunch in the park. He rose, tossing the apple core and his bag into a garbage can, and strolled away, passing Eiser and Moore’s bench. A little farther along, he passed Pierce and Jordan sitting on a facing bench. He was oblivious as the two agents sized him up without looking directly at him.
Lost in thought, Eiser could have been another of the sleepy occupants of the other benches, however, Moore’s eyes missed nothing. “Here she comes.”
Eiser roused himself and looked in the direction Moore was facing. Susan was crossing the street entering the park. She was walking steadily; no sign of her addiction or her recent beating. As she approached, they stood to greet her signaling the two agents that she had arrived.
“Hello, Susan,” said Eiser. “We’re glad you could come.”
“I’m happy to help, but I can’t stay long. My kids, you know.”
“We know,” replied Moore moving toward the federal agents. “Who are they with now?”
They approached the second bench. Pierce and Jordan rose to meet her.
“Susan,” Eiser said, “I’d like to introduce Special Agents Pierce and Jordan with DEA.”
“DEA? Seriously?” The gravity of what she was doing landed squarely on her awareness for the first time. Until this moment it had been about payback, revenge for the beating, for the abuse…a vision in her mind of the power to cause her tormenters the kind of pain she’d suffered. An eye for an eye. Suddenly, it was real. She could do the Haven family disastrous damage, put them completely out of business, and put Jack and Jason in prison for years. Did she really want that?
“Uh…n-nice to meet you,” she stammered.
“You as well,” replied Jordan. “Let’s move to a picnic table where we can sit while we talk.”
Over the next hour Pierce and Jordan grilled Susan about the laboratories; their locations, physical layouts, staffing, and took names and much contact information as she could provide about others knowledgeable about the lab’s operations. Besides Jack and Jason, the names included Jake, Charlie, Jonah, Mary, Elizabeth, and Bret from the Haven family, Jack’s second chemist Sam “Sammy” Turner, and Jason’s chemist Willie “Madman” Leon. She told them she’d heard Jason and Charlie talking about somebody named “Scar”. She told them the trailer that burned last Sunday was one of Jack’s labs that had been run by Peter Standwick. Standwick was dead, the lab destroyed, and Jack had never mentioned it. She told them she would have thought he would have been livid, but he hadn’t said a word.
Eventually, Pierce and Jordan came to the end of their questions. “We know you need to get back to your kids,” they said, thanking her for her time.
Susan asked Eiser, “What now?”
“We talk about what you said and plan a strategy. When that’s done, I’ll tell you as much as I can. It won’t be much. Are Jack and Jason into guns?”
“Goodness, yes!” Susan exclaimed. “Jack has a whole room with nothing but guns. They give each other a gun every birthday. It’s a tradition in the Haven family.”
Susan shrugged. “Several. Jack and Charlie shoot 9mms a lot, but Jason only shoots .45s. I guess it makes him feel powerful or something. Jack mentioned something about giving Jason a 9mm for a birthday gift. I thought that was a mistake, but Jack and Jason are always pulling each other’s chains, so I didn’t think much of it.”
“Did he give Jason the 9mm?” asked Eiser.
“I don’t know. Jason got drunk at the party on Thursday and accused Jack of beating me in front of the guests. They got into a big fight and ruined the party. They took the gifts home with them unopened as far as I know. No one saw what they got each other.”
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
Fire on the Mountain is non-stop action. A crime family progressing from a long tradition of bootlegging to modern drug-running finds that internal rivalry and competition are fatal flaws, and that a woman scorned and abused, when combined with local murder and federal drug investigations, are the final straws that break the family apart.
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CLABE POLK is a multi-genre author of several novels, novellas, and short stories. Originally trained in biology and natural sciences, he is a life-long reader with a curious mind, who is retired from more than thirty years in professional environmental protection and law enforcement and who has too many interests to list.