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Wunce Upon a Crime

“And they call me the god of thieves and charlatans?”

She pointed her right hand “finger gun” at the television.

“Pew.” And the political commentary blinked to black.

She tossed the remote from her left hand to the bedside table. Only three more days in
this crumby little town and she could disappear again. She resented being in small towns,
where the best accommodations barely rated three stars. But, if everything worked out here,
she would have a tidy sum that would hold her over for the better part of a decade.

She told herself that she worked in small towns to stay below the radar. The truth was
that her schemes were getting harder and harder to pull off. Not because she was slipping, but
because people were getting so used to scams and corruption that they looked a little harder at
things than they used to, especially in the big cities. The only group that still fell for the old
tricks were the retirement set; and she wasn’t about to stoop that low.

She had seen this cycle of corruption before. The masses were subjugated, in an
attempt, to slake the appetite of the few. It always led to destruction, from within or without.
Royalty and oligarchs had been overthrown, throughout the world, by the people. The people
would turn around and create new “royalty” and oligarchs.

There was the ancient Roman Empire, with its corrupt Senate, falling to enemies on all
sides, after alienating its citizens. It wasn’t too long before the Roman Catholic Church rose to
take control. There was the British Empire and its greed for land. They faced their sunset when
they began to lose revolution after revolution in their former colonies. Each of those colonies
created its own “chosen few” to give power and wealth. In Russia, the Romanoffs gave way to
the Provisional Government, who gave way to the Bolsheviks, who gave way to the corrupt
party Communists, who gave way to the oligarchs of Democracy. Each step created a new ruling
class greedy to exploit everyone else.
With her long black hair and smooth olive skin, most would have put her in her early
forties. They would be off by a couple millennia; and, she had lived through this cycle many
times. It was as inevitable as it was bloody. Sometimes she had been close to the seat of
power, taking as much advantage as she could. Other times, she had made sure to be out of the
way, so she didn’t suffer the same fate as so many of her race.

As she put her long black jacket on, over her short black skirt and red top, it occurred to
her that the cycle seemed to be progressing faster now than it has in the past. This score might
need to get her somewhere safe, away from the next revolution.

She stopped into the bathroom of her suite, to check herself out in the mirror. She
shaped her dark eyebrows with her fingers and ran her tongue along her teeth. She whispered
to her mirror image, “Laverna, you’ve still got it.”

With that she flipped the lights off in her suite and strolled out of the hotel room for a
night on the town.

It was a dark and stormy morning. The whole week had been dreary, which was not all
together unusual in the Spring, in Mount Pleasant. The fact is, it was never that pleasant and
there was no mountain to speak of. Nevertheless, prolonged gray skies always caught the
residents by surprise.

When the cold rain hit, it came down fast and hard. Most of those caught in the rain,
scurried for the closest shelter. A few tried covering their heads with whatever they had in their
hands. It never really provided much protection, but everyone tried, convinced that they were
the one to finally figure out how to use a two-page ad as an effective umbrella.

However, the paper umbrella brigade looked like geniuses compared to Detective Jake
Wunce, who appeared too dumb to come in out of the rain. The casual observer wouldn’t
notice that his attention was fully on a late model Ford Mustang, parked in a small downtown
lot, a block and a half away.

The blue sports car had been parked there for a couple of days, based on the small
collection of parking tickets on the windshield. A call had been placed to Jimmy “Market”
Marcum, informing him that his beloved ride would be towed by noon if it were not removed
from the 90-minute lot. Now, all Jake needed to do was wait.

The tall athletic Detective leaned against the old downtown brick façade of his favorite
watering hole. His light brown hair was starting to get wet, as the rain soaked through the
faded crimson hat embroidered with a script “A”. His insulated flannel was also not holding up
well to the rain. Jake had put on some size since he had left town for college, but some of the
locals still recognized the prominent brow and piercing blue eyes that were trained on the,
always full, public parking lot.

There was some poetic justice in using the car to trap the wanted felon. A significant
part of Jimmy’s rap sheet revolved around vehicular crimes. He started with petty larceny, by
stealing electronics from unlocked cars. He moved up to stealing the cars, themselves. And
today, the warrant involved hitting his girlfriend with his car during a recent drunken spat.

This kind of obvious trap shouldn’t work on an experienced criminal, until you account
for a man’s love for his wheels… or generational stupidity. Jake wasn’t sure if he was hoping
this worked, so he wouldn’t have to track him down, or hoping it didn’t, so he could continue to
believe that humanity had a chance.

Just as that thought crossed Jake’s mind, Jimmy Marcum proved that humanity was
doom. Approaching the car, on the next block, Jake spotted someone matching Jimmy’s
description. A 5’8” male, at a wiry 135lbs, wearing dirty jeans, a dirty Detroit Tigers ballcap, and
a University of Michigan jacket moved towards the Mustang in a hurried walk. His hands were
jammed in his pockets and his shoulders hunched, in an effort to ward off the cold rain.

Jake began moving in that direction, in a slow jog, trying to avoid getting Jimmy’s
attention just yet. As Marcum reached his car and began to pull his keys from the pockets of his
dirty jeans, Jake broke into a sprint. Marcum’s cold, wet hands struggled to pull the key fab
from his right pocket. Just as he pulled it free, he spotted a large man running towards him at
full speed.

Jimmy Marcum abandoned his car and his keys. He took off like a greyhound just
released from the starting gates. He didn’t even hesitate when Jake shouted, “Freeze, Police”.

The footrace was on. Marcum headed back through downtown, which consisted
primarily of small business and large bars. What little foot traffic might normally exist had
dissipated when the rain hit. Marcum was quick and had a half a block head start. But, Jake
was faster.

Jake wasn’t in the same shape he was when he played quarterback at Alabama, but his
6’4” and long strides had him making up ground, fast.

With the officer only 10 yards behind him, Marcum took a jab step and skittered
between parked cars on his left. He kept going in that that direction and angled himself toward
Nelson Park and the Chippewa River.

The slick move between the cars forced the larger Detective Wunce to continue to the
end of the row before taking the left and fall in behind Jimmy Marcum again. Jake had fallen
back to about 50 feet behind. Jake slowed a little, just enough to grab his radio from the back of
his belt.

“We’ve got a forty-eight fifty. Subject is heading down Broadway, on foot, toward
Nelson Park. Cut him off at the railroad overpass, by the bridge.” Jake yelled into his radio.

“We’ve got him.”, crackled back.

Marcum glanced back to see that he had opened up a substantial lead. The cop seemed
to have slowed to talk on the radio. Just then he heard sirens ahead of him. He whipped his
head back around to see a patrol car screeching to a stop, block the road about 200 feet ahead
of him. He veered to the right, into the parking lot of the old train station that had been
converted into a restaurant.
Jake was back up to full speed closing distance, again. He knew that he couldn’t let
Marcum get to the trail the crossed the river into Island Park. He changed his pursuit angle, so
that was head towards the trail bridge. Marcum would have to cut back towards him, if he
wanted to use that as his escape path.

The cop was heading towards the trail bridge. But, Marcum figured he could get across
the “Chip River” the old-fashioned way and headed straight for it. Without a moment’s
hesitation, he ran down the bank and jumped in.

The moment he hit the water, Jimmy’s muscles locked up. He was not prepared for just
how cold the river would be in early April. When he broke through the shock of the near
freezing water, Marcum popped up to the surface. He saw the officer, who had been chasing,
on one side of the river and two uniformed officers on the other side of the river.

“I was always told that the E. Coli came from farm run-off upstream, but maybe some of
it is from the human waste. I see a big turd in the river now.” Jake said, half laughing and half
panting.

Everyone was looking at the detective for a solid fifteen seconds while he took a few
controlled breaths.

“Well, Mister Marcum, you can swim to the side and we’ll cuff you. We’ll read you your
rights. We’ll shove in that squad car. And we’ll take you to the station for booking. Or you can
stay in the water until hypothermia sets in. You’ll pass out and be pulled downstream. If your
body makes it past the rapids by Nelson Park, we’ll drag you out on the far side of Island Park.
The choice is yours, but it doesn’t seem like much of a day for a swim.” Jake said it with an
indifference that convinced Marcum that the cop would let him die in the river.

Jimmy swam to the side with the uniformed officers and dragged himself out of the icy
waters.

Jake called across, “Read him his rights and make sure he survives all the way to the
station. Hypothermia’s too easy for this piece of crap. I’ll meet you there to book him”.
“You got it, Detective.” One of the patrolmen answered.

Jake climbed back up the river bank and headed back to his car. Even without following
the scumbag into the river, he was cold and wet from the April rain. As he walked back towards
downtown and his pickup truck, he thought about how he needed to start running again.

Katrina Sullivan didn’t care that it was rainy. Any day that she could stay in Mount
Pleasant, instead of making the hour drive to Saginaw, was a good day. Afterall, the reason she
went to work for The Lodging Company, instead of a larger firm, was so she could stay local. She
had always been driven to be the best, and to her Mount Pleasant was the best place to live
that she could imagine.

Katrina had been a 4.0 student with a double major in hospitality and public relations at
Central State University. She had impressed at several internships during her college years and
received multiple job offers during her senior year. The Lodging Company, a large regional hotel
management firm, had seen great things from Katrina as an intern. And when she graduated,
they offered her the only administrative position they had available, Safety Coordinator. Within
a year, the Director of Safety had taken a position in a larger market and Katrina stepped right
into the role. When the Director of Public Relations retired two years later, Katrina convinced
the CEO and COO that she could take on that role in addition to her current responsibilities.
Three years in, she was still excelling at both and was being groomed for an executive role.

Her early career success, coupled with her natural beauty, gave most people the
impression that things came easily to her. The reality was that she worked very hard to
maintain both her success and her appearance. Sure, her red hair had a natural wave and her
large green eyes were hypnotizing, but she was up at 4:30am every morning to go for a run.
After her morning workout and shower, she’d drive the hour to the corporate office in Saginaw,
often beating everyone else in. Her work day often stretched until 8 o’clock in the evening,
before she’d drive home. Her slender athletic build and delicate features were admired by
numerous men, but she hadn’t had time for any of them, or much of anything else, since her
high school sweetheart left for a college out of state.

It was a special treat for Katrina when she needed to work at one of the properties in
Mount Pleasant. She could sleep in a little bit. Sometimes she would even skip the morning run
to have breakfast with her parents. She still lived on her parents’ farm, just North of town.
However, she had paid to build a small two-bedroom house behind the family farmhouse, so
she didn’t see them as often as she would like.

With her commute cut down to fifteen minutes, Katrina didn’t even flip on her CD
player, which was loaded with the most recent Diana Gabaldon novel. She entertained herself
by rehashing the morning conversation with her parents. They tried to hide their opinions by
rephrasing them as questions, but their point always got through. They wanted her to spend
less time at work and more time on having a personal life. And that really translated to “get
married and make us some grandbabies”. Katrina knew it came from a place of love, but she
always redirected it to suggesting her parents go visit one of her brothers and their families.

The familiar road disappeared under her wheels, until Katrina was pulling into The
Gardengate Hotel, with no real memory of the drive that got her there. The Gardengate was
one of the newer properties in the Lodging Company portfolio. It also represented a deviation
from the typical business plan for her employers. They had always been interested in bed nights
and typical hotel rooms. The Gardengate was a full-service conference center, with three
ballrooms and numerous meeting spaces. The Lodging Company and Central State University
had worked out a great lease price for the campus property, just a stone’s throw from the
football field. In exchange, the University would get preferred rates for use of conference space
that it severely lacked.

Part of the deal with the University, Katrina’s alma mater, required a full-service
restaurant that would provide catering to the conference center. Three years after the ribbon-
cutting, most of The Gardengate’s food service was still being prepared offsite and brought in.
That was about to change. Katrina was coming in today to work with the Hotel Manager and
the General Manager on the marketing and public relations campaign announcing that an
adjourning restaurant was to be built.

Katrina wheeled into a parking space near the lobby entrance. The black and gray stone
façade gave the hotel a grandiose and modern look. Slate tile floors and dark wood accents
continued the theme as she entered the lobby. The double set of automatic sliding doors
silently shut behind her. The lobby still had the faint smell of new construction. Katrina
approached the large rounded counter to the left, where a young woman was standing
attentively.

“Welcome to The Gardengate. How may I help you?”, the petite blond asked.

“Hi I am Katrina Sullivan. I have a meeting with Gary Pacini.”

“Yes, Ma’am. They are in meeting room Alpha.”, came the reply.

“Thank you.” Katrina returned the pleasantry, with a genuine smile. Unlike many women
in their twenties, Katrina liked being called “Ma’am”. She relished the respect, and fear, that
came with being from the “corporate office”. She had worked extremely hard to be viewed as a
professional, in both work ethic and appearance. Today, that meant a black pant suit, a tight
bun, and muted lipstick. Being called “Ma’am” meant that the work paid off.

Katrina passed the lobby bar on her left, with a row of tinted windows on her right. The
hallway opened into a little foyer that served as lobby space for a set of three meeting rooms.
The door for Alpha was propped open, so she went straight in.

Katrina didn’t care these meeting rooms. She felt they lacked the aesthetic of the rest of
the hotel. This was somewhat intentional, of course. These rooms were meant to be flexible.
The tables were generic round folding tables, made from pressed wood with a walnut laminate.
The chairs were metal with maroon cloth pads. The walls had walnut-stained wood wainscoting
up to about three feet with cream and gold patterned wallpaper above.

Today, there were only three round tables, all to one side of the room. One table had six
chairs around it and the other two had none. There were paper agendas set on the table in
front of four of the chairs. A black leather portfolio lay open on the table in front of another
chair. Clearly someone had already set up for the meeting, but they weren’t here now.

Katrina walked over to the table, set her own black notepad down in front of a chair on
the far side of the table. She took the chair on either side of hers and moved them over to one
of the empty tables. She adjusted the agendas to correspond with the new chair layout and she
sat so she was facing the door.

Katrina had just gotten settled in when a slightly overweight man entered the room. He
was probably mid-fifties with white thinning hair and a white mustache. He wore tan slacks and
a dress shirt with narrow vertical blue stripes.

“Welcome Katrina. I see you found the place.”, he said, a little too loud for just the two
of them in the room.

“I sure did, Keith. How have you been?” She got up to shake his hand. Katrina had
worked with this hotel manager numerous times before. Keith Ballard was a the youngest of six
kids and his need for attention had followed him into adulthood. But he was a good guy that
she enjoyed working with.

Keith gave her the two-hand shake, completely enveloping her hand with his two giant
paws. He continued with the high volume, “Thanks for coming over. I’ve been great. Doc says
the blood pressure is under control, but he still wants me to drop a few pounds. Did I tell you
that Jessi and Brad are pregnant?”

“We talked about is the last time I was here.”, she responded, hoping to head off the
long story about his daughter, that she knew was about to follow. “Is Tim here yet?”

“I haven’t seen him, but he’s usually a few minutes late. Can I get you something to
drink?”, he asked.

As Katrina was about to ask for coffee, the young desk attendant, from the lobby, rushed
into the room, with a look of panic.
“Mr. Ballard, housekeeping found something.”, she yelled, at a volume that surpassed his
and with an urgent tone.

Keith took a deep breath, “What is it?”. His tone did not reflect the same concern, yet.

She responded in a tone that was both a scream and a whisper, “It’s a body”.

“So, no coffee then?”, Katrina thought.

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