The Murder of Chauncy Howard
29/09/2011 § Leave a comment
The fog was so thick that Morgan almost didn’t see the body floating near the pier. It was disconcerting to see the bloated back floating in the water, seemingly disembodied. Morgan took a second to compose himself, and then called the police.
Two nearby beat cops were the first to arrive on the scene, and they immediately began locking the crime scene down. Since the body was in the water, this task proved somewhat difficult. However, they did a decent enough job. At least that’s what Detective Boyle said when he showed up with a forensics team.
Boyle was a competent detective, by department standards. Chanston was a small town, and the police department only had two detectives. Boyle was the senior detective, having served for nearly twenty years, and thus had his choice of cases. This was the first murder case he’d had in ten or eleven years, and was a refreshing change of pace, or so he thought.
The victim’s name was Chauncy Howard, a local pothead with a sizeable record of petty theft. Boyle wasn’t exactly sad to see him dead, especially since Chauncy had often made his life unnecessarily difficult on occasion. When you’re a detective in a town this small, running into small-time losers like this was unavoidable.
Having been apprised of the victim’s identity, Boyle went over to Morgan and began questioning him about the circumstances in which he discovered the body. Morgan was pretty forthcoming, although he contradicted himself once or twice. This was normal, in Boyle’s experience, and he ignored it. The ones to watch were the ones with perfect stories.
The human mind is a funny thing, Boyle thought as he drove back to the station. The forensics team, a team they shared with the county sheriff’s office as well as the neighboring town of Billingsville, would finish gathering whatever evidence was on the scene, then document it and submit it as a report for him to read later. All he had to do know was figure who wanted Chauncy dead and who to question.
After a couple hours of filling out paperwork at the station, Boyle went to see Carol Howard, Chauncy’s mom. He knocked on the front door, and she opened it, looking somewhat surprised to see him there.
“What did my son do this time?”
Best to be honest, Boyle thought. “He’s dead, Mrs. Howard.” There’s no easy way to say this is there, he asked himself.
She looked at him as if he were some sort of sicko who thought it fun to joke about her son’s death. “He can’t be. I just saw him last night and he was perfectly fine. He ate a big meal and was happy and joking with me like he didn’t have a care in the world. He even said he finally had his act together, and that he was finally going to go places. He just can’t be dead. Not now.”
“I’m sorry Mrs. Howard, but I’m afraid it’s true. His body was found down by the docks this morning. Do you know of anyone who wanted him dead?”
“No one would want to kill him. He’s a nice boy who only ever wanted to help people. Sure, he might have stolen once in a while, but it was never much, and the people he stole from would hardly miss it. And he never harmed anyone.”
It’s funny how we can delude ourselves like this, thought Boyle. “Was he mixed up in anything new? He might have gotten mixed up with a rough crowd.”
“It’s not like that, Detective Boyle. Chauncy was a good boy who was finally getting his life right. He wouldn’t go back to crime.”
“Well, if you think of anything, let me know. I know you know how to get in touch with me. You have my sincere condolences, Mrs. Howard.”
She said goodbye, tears streaming down her face now, as the reality of her loss finally hot home. He walked out the front door and felt the wind picking up. It was only ten in the morning, but he got the call at six and it felt like he’d been up for an eternity. The fog still hadn’t rolled back, and the clouds above looked even darker than before. It was going to be a rough day.
He went down to the law firm of Johnson, Howard, and Johnson, where Chauncy’s father worked. He was a senior partner at the firm, like his father before. Phillip Howard’s connections with judges and local politicians had enabled him to help his son beat the various criminal charges he had faced over the past eight years. That was for naught now.
Phillip was in the middle of a meeting, Boyle was told, and wouldn’t be out for another hour. Boyle explained to Phillip’s overzealous secretary that it was urgent that he talk to Mr. Howard about his son. His secretary finally relented and called Phillip Howard out of his meeting.
Boyle followed Phillip to his office and shut the door as he entered behind him.
“What trumped-up charges are you bringing against my son this time?”
“Actually, Mr. Howard, I’m here because your son was found dead in the water this morning around six A.M. Can you think of anyone who would want him dead?”
“Well, there are certainly plenty of people who dislike my son. Your own Lieutenant Cowen seemed to target him a lot.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Lieutenant Cowen seemed to arrest my son an awful lot. Maybe he thought that his job would be better with my son out of the way.”
“There was this dealer my son knew. Named T-Rex or T-Bone or something like that. In fact, he even came to me Tuesday night, I think, to try to get money from me. Claimed my son owed him money. He said that if my son’s debt wasn’t taken care of by the end of the week, I would wish that I had done something. He was pretty vague about what he was going to do, so I didn’t think that he was very serious.”
At this, he paused, as if struck by a sudden thought. Then he shuddered, as if the weight of his decision had just hit him. “Did I do this? Is he dead because of me?” He began to sob now, realizing that he might have had an opportunity to prevent his son’s death.
“To be honest, sir, there’s not much you could have done. Dealers sometimes have a tendency to kill users who get behind as a way of keeping other users in line.”
Boyle told him he was sorry for his loss, and recommended he take the rest of the day off. Phillip Howard nodded distractedly, and sat back down at his desk and stared blankly at the wall, like a man in shock. Boyle saw himself out.
Boyle went back to the station to talk to Yolanda, the fresh-faced high school graduate who worked the front desk. “I need you to do something for me,” he told her.
“What is it,” she asked.
“I need you to look up Chauncy Howard’s arrest records. Make a note of the arresting officers’ names, and let me know who arrested Chauncy the most. I’ll be back for this after lunch.”
“Where are you going for lunch?”
“I’m going home to the Missus for a roast beef sandwich and her world-famous apple pie.”
“Well aren’t you special? Bring a piece back for me, please.”
“I guess since you used your manners this time I think I’ll make an effort to bring you a slice.”
As promised, Boyle came back with a slice of pie for Yolanda. She had the results waiting for him.
“What did you find,” he asked. “Are there any officers who seemed to arrest Chauncy a lot?”
“Well, Chauncy Howard was arrested twenty-three times, the first time at the age of fifteen. The arresting officer on fifteen of those arrests was-”
“Lieutenant Cowen,” Boyle interrupted.
“How’d you know,” Yolanda asked.
“Phillip Howard mentioned him. Said he was targeting Chauncy.”
Boyle thanked Yolanda for her efforts and left to see Lieutenant Cowen. Cowen worked the graveyard shift on patrol, so Cowen had to go to his home. He knocked on the door and waited while Cowen’s wife opened the door. He apologized for the inconvenience and asked if Lieutenant Cowen was home.
Cowen was home but sleeping. His wife went to wake him up, which took a few minutes. Boyle used this time to examine their house. It seemed obvious that they were living on a policeman’s salary. If Cowen was dirty, he didn’t appear to be flaunting whatever rewards he might have been receiving.
Cowen finally came downstairs, the look of someone who just woke up still plastered on his face. He was wearing disheveled jeans and a wrinkled shirt. Boyle gave him a moment to get his bearings before he started asking questions.
It turned out that the reason why Cowen had arrested Chauncy so often was simply due to the fact that Chauncy liked to go out at night and target houses on Cowen’s beat. It was nothing more than simple self-selection bias. At least that’s what they’d say at the academy, thought Boyle.
That lead didn’t pan out, so Boyle went back to the station to see if he could track down the drug dealer that Phillip Howard had mentioned earlier. He went back to Yolanda to see if she could track down dealers with an alias of T-Bone or T-Rex.
“I’m going to need another piece of your wife’s pie if you expect me to do anymore favors for you.”
“We both know that a slice of my wife’s pie is worth at least favors.”
She laughed and agreed that his wife’s pie was worth considerably more than on favor. She said it might take her a while because the database wasn’t pulling up any results, so she would have to talk to Officer Hamlin, the rookie on the drug task force.
“I need the results quickly, so don’t spend too much time flirting with Hamlin,” he said.
She blushed and mumbled “How could you tell?”
“I’m a detective, remember?”
Boyle went back to his desk and began to fill out some paperwork. After twenty minutes of this mind-numbing task, Yolanda came to his desk with a report in her hand. “Any luck,” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “There’s a dealer named Anthony Carson who goes by the nickname T-Bone. Hamlin said he’s a new player, only been in town for six months. He’s apparently a pretty rough guy and has muscled out a lot of his competition.”
“What’s his territory?”
“He deals in West End.”
That’s where the Howard family lives, thought Boyle. And that’s Cowen’s beat, he added to himself.
Boyle grabbed Hamlin and they rode out to West End. Hamlin pointed out T-Bone to Boyle, so Boyle left the car and went to question him. After a little bit of prodding, T-Bone recalled threatening Phillip Howard, though he swore that he would never kill Chauncy.
“Why not,” asked Boyle.
“Because,” said T-Bone, “He owed me way too much money. He was down ten grand to me. That’s a lot of money to lose, and there’s no way to collect if he’s dead.”
“You could have collected from his family.”
“How, man? What leverage am I going to have over his family then?”
“Are sure you didn’t kill him to make an example out of him?”
“Naw man, that’d be too expensive for an example. If I was going to make an example out of someone I’d kill someone who owed me a more manageable amount, like a grand. I’m running a business here. I can’t take 10k losses just to prove I’m tough. That’s a good way to go broke.”
T-Bone was right and Boyle knew it in his gut. He didn’t want to admit it though, because that would mean he was out of suspects. At any rate, it was starting to get late, so he thought it best to take Hamlin back to the station then head and get some supper and call it a day.
The forensics report was waiting on his desk when Boyle arrived at the station the next morning. It turned out that Chauncy Howard bled to death, due to the two gun shots that entered his chest. One apparently exited his back, but the other stayed lodged near his heart. It was a .38 caliber bullet, so Boyle pulled up his laptop and went searching through several registries to see if anyone in Chanston owned a .38 handgun.
Boyle settled in for a long wait, and so was pleasantly surprised when, after five minutes of searching, his laptop beeped out its first result: Phillip Howard. Well isn’t that interesting, thought Boyle.
Boyle decided to go to the Howard’s house to see if Phillip was home. According to his wife, he was at the office in order to keep his mind off the loss.
“I know it’s not healthy for my husband to be back at the office at a time like this. I just fear that if he doesn’t grieve like he should he’ll eventually snap and do something horrible. It’s almost like he blames himself for Chauncy’s death, and so he’s back at work to distract himself from thinking about this.”
“Well, we all have our own ways of dealing with the death of a loved one. I can’t imagine the pain that you and Mr. Howard feel. “
Boyle went on to explain that he still had some questions for Mr. Howard. Carol seemed surprised by this, and asked Boyle what else he could possibly need to know.
“Does your husband still have the .32 revolver registered in his name,” asked Boyle.
“I don’t know for sure but I would assume so,” she replied. “Why do you ask?”
“The forensics report told me that your son actually died from being shot. Specifically, he was shot by a .32 caliber gun. There are, of course, several other people in Chanston that own a .32 caliber gun, so I’m just doing my due diligence here.”
“I see. Do you have any more questions,” she asked stiffly.
“Where was your husband Monday night between eleven and one?”
“He was in bed with me, and was there the whole night.”
“Thanks for your time, Mrs. Howard. I’ll try not to bother you anymore.”
Boyle went back to his car, started the engine, then drove down to the law offices of Johnson, Howard, and Johnson. Howard’s overzealous secretary met him and told him that Mr. Howard was currently in a meeting. Boyle resigned himself to waiting, and sat down in one of the overstuffed leather chairs that were scattered throughout Howard’s office.
Boyle ended up waiting for two hours before running out of patience. He asked the secretary when Mr. Howard would be finished with his meeting and received a rather exasperated brush-off for his trouble. Two can play at this game, thought Boyle as he picked up his hat and left.
He drove back to the Howard’s house and knocked on the door. Mrs. Howard looked surprised to see him again.
“Mrs. Howard, I’d like to take you to the station for further questioning.” He was going to catch flak from the chief for this stunt, but he was tired of waiting for Mr. Howard to grace him with his presence.
“I’m not sure my husband would want me to,” she replied. Boyle thought that was a strange response. Innocent people usually comply or ask why. They don’t tend to defer to their spouse. Of course, her husband was a defense attorney, so it wasn’t as if she would be particularly trusting of policemen.
“It’s nothing serious,” he said. “We have a lineup and photo array for you to look at.”
“What good would that do?”
“You might recognize one of your son’s past accomplices; that could give us a new lead in tracking down your son’s killer.” This lie seemed to satisfy her curiosity, so she followed him to his car and he helped her into the passenger seat.
They rode in silence. She seemed preoccupied and slightly suspicious, as if she suspected something wasn’t right. Then she asked him what her husband had told him earlier that day. Caught off guard, he stammered out an altogether unconvincing reply. She looked at him sharply and demanded to be taken to her home immediately.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mrs. Howard.”
“Why not? Don’t you know who my husband is? Do you know what he’ll do to you?”
Her belligerence did not bode well, so he began to pick up the pace. He made it to the station a few minutes later, listening to her become increasingly hostile. He escorted her to the station door, and they had no sooner crossed the threshold when she spotted the chief and directed her angry tirade at him, demanding to speak to her husband.
The chief was obviously upset at Boyle, so he had a nearby Lieutenant escort Mrs. Howard to his office while he took Boyle to an interrogation room to have a word with him.
“What were you thinking, Boyle?” The sharp words stung like a slap to his face. “Phillip Howard is a personal friend of the mayor. The last thing I need is a phone call from Tom complaining about how one of my detectives is out of line.”
“Chief, I think that there’s a strong possibility that Mr. Howard-”
“Don’t even think about going there, Boyle. You’ve really screwed this up for me. I’m going to call Mr. Howard to apologize and hopefully he won’t make any trouble for the department-” The chief was interrupted by Lieutenant Mason, who announced that Phillip Howard had just arrived at the station.
Both Boyle and the chief were surprised by Howard’s appearance. The chief went out to explain to Howard that his wife’s presence was simply a misunderstanding. This confused Howard, who simply explained that he was there to answer Boyle’s questions and apologize for not being able to talk to him earlier. A look of relief crossed the chief’s face.
The chief told Howard that his wife was brought here to look at pictures of suspects to see if anyone looked familiar, and that Boyle had apparently miscommunicated this to her, causing her to be a little put out. Boyle, standing nearby, was able to hear this clearly and started to seethe quietly as the chief began to placate Howard.
Howard appeared to bear no animosity towards Boyle, stating that he understood that everyone makes mistakes, even under pressure. A lieutenant escorted Mrs. Howard to her husband, and he walked her out to the car. As he walked, he turned back, looked Boyle in the eyes, and said, “I hope you catch the guy who did this. Let me know if I can help in any way.”
Two months after the investigation began, a junkie and part-time dealer named Derek Bowens was convicted of the murder of Chauncy Howard. The firm of Johnson, Howard, and Johnson declined to represent Bowens at the trial. Carol Howard developed deep depression and is in the hospital to be observed for indefinite period of time. Detective Boyle received an official reprimand from the chief and is currently looking forward to retirement. Yolanda is engaged.