White Death by George A Bernstein
Detective Al Warner is back at work, recovered from his deadly final encounter that ended the hunt for The Prom Dress Killer.
Meanwhile, Ashton Kerry is furious his in-laws, who both died in a flaming boating accident, left him nothing in their will—but his wife’s massive trust fund provides all he can spend. Determined to have his own stash so he can ditch his family and be with his mistress, he enlists the Cuban mafia to ship cocaine via his company, packaged as brochures. Kerry is paid a nice percentage of their value. But in setting this up, the Cubans murder five of his employees, drowning them in a fake auto accident. Then Kerry’s ties to the Cubans become more complicated–and dangerous–than he ever expected.
Warner’s gut tells him the accidental drowning of five factory workers is highly suspicious, and his “gut” is seldom wrong. It’s one of two cases the “Hero of Miami” is zeroing in on. The other puzzler is the exploding rash of deadly ODs from fentanyl-laced heroin—White Death. The drug is so lethal, Warner suspects the fatalities may be intentional. Soon everything erupts into a series of stunning revelations and deadly confrontations, with Warner once again thrust into mortal danger.
Targeted Age Group:: Late teens & adults
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After the success of my first 2 stand-alone novels; "Trapped" (winner of "The Next Great American Novel" and a Top 100 novel), and "A 3rd Time to Die," I decided to begin a detective series. The first of my Detective Al Warner novels won top professional reviews, with great praise for me as wordsmith and creator of unexpected endings, so I continued the series with "Born to Die," (again with 5-Star reviews), "The Prom Dress Killer" (Highly lauded in magazine reviews), and now, "White Death," also with 5-star reviews
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
They are a continuation of the characters from the first 3 Al Warner novels. I wanted Warner to be a tough, smart cop with human frailties–someone with great instincts, but I did not want to write a Police Procedural. The Al Warner novels are character driven, always with endings not even my editors guess.
Detective Al Warner skidded his Dodge Charger coupe to a stop behind one of the two Miami-Dade Police cruisers, their strobing red and blue emergency lights igniting surreal patterns across the still-dark landscape. He was out of the car before the engine took its last gasp, always eager to control a crime scene before some well-meaning but inexperienced street cops contaminated the site.
He squinted into the golden fireball, making its morning debut, barely over the staggered roofline of the urban horizon. He slipped on cotton booties and strode toward the epicenter of blue-uniformed activity. Two officers were stretching out yellow crime scene tape, making use of street lights and pedestrian signs to encompass the area. Warner growled softly. Too many cops were still walking inside the site.
He ducked under the tape and hurried toward an officer standing with hands on his hips, gazing into barren park. He turned at the sound of Warner’s approach, his chin tilted, dark eyebrows slightly raised.
“Yeah. Whatcha got, officer—” he glanced at the cop’s name badge “Echevera?”
“Call me Tito, sir. It’s two dead Latinos. One a single pop to the forehead and the other a bit messier. Looks like two or three to the face.”
As they talked, they eased toward a small gaggle of officers and a short, scrawny man in a scruffy suit, crouching near one of the bodies.
“Get those patrol officers off the site, Tito, and tell ’em to watch where they walk. They might be contaminatin’ the crime scene.”
Warner’s gaze raked the trampled, uneven terrain, speckled with sparse weeds, a few candy wrappers, and a crushed aluminum can.
“No vehicle?” Warner asked when Echevera returned.
“Ground’s pretty hard,” the detective muttered, dropping to one knee, a hand skimming feather light over the dirt, “but looks like tire tracks here. Two vehicles—probably SUVs or pickups by the size of the tread. And some shattered glass there. Maybe a side window?”
Tito Echevera stared with admiration at Warner’s quick assessment of the crime scene.
The detective sprang to his feet, striding with a lithe grace to the little guy in the rumpled brown suit, who was now studying the second corpse.
“Whatcha got, Moe?”
The man rocked back on his haunches, grinning.
“Jeez, the Hero of Miami’s here, and I don’t even rate a friendly hello. Always in such a damned hurry to get into the case.” Metro-Dade’s head of the Crime Scene Unit pushed himself to his feet, stripping off a latex glove before offering the detective his hand.
Maurice Gold was an unlikely looking cop, almost a dwarf, with thinning, light brown hair and a bushy little mustache. Thick, shaggy eyebrows hovered like wings over a huge, hooked, Semitic beak, earning him the nickname, "the Hawk." And like that raptor, his sharp eyes rarely missed much. The two men shook, Warner clapping him on the shoulder.
“The area secure, Moe?” Warner’s gaze swept the area. “What are all these blues doin’ in the scene?”
“We’ve already examined the grounds, Detective. Not much probative there, except for the tire tracks, shell casings, and some shattered glass. We’re getting markers for them and four shell casings.”
“So, COD seems pretty obvious.” Warner crouched next to the first corpse.
“Yeah,” Gold replied. “That one took a pop to the forehead, a 9 mil, from pretty close range. Messy exit wound, so I’m guessing a wad-cutter or even a hollow-point. Death was instantaneous, and he dropped right where he is. Haven’t found the slug yet, but we got the casing.
“That unlucky bastard,” nodding toward the second victim, “took three to the face, probably through a side window of a vehicle. No car on the site, though, so someone moved it. Lots of tiny glass shards embedded in the first wound. Really messy. Looks like the first bullet was tumbling, coming through the glass. The other two were clean pops. Any of the three would have been fatal.”
“So the shooter caps vic number one,” Warner mused, “then puts three in vic number two before he can react. Musta been standin’ close to the car when the action started.”
“That’s my guess,” the Hawk said as he donned a new set of latex gloves. “Then rest of my CSU team should be here any minute to do a thorough sweep, and then polish up the details.”
“Any IDs? Looks like they might be Colombians instead of the Cuban cartel, maybe on a drug deal.” Warner accepted a pair of crime scene gloves from Gold, slipping them on.
“Both wallets were untouched.” The Hawk handed two leather billfolds to Warner. “I’m guessing they were popped for something bigger than just robbery.”
“That’s what startin’ to worry me. Hope this ain’t a drug war brewin’.”
He flipped open the wallets, slipping out the driver’s licenses.
“Manuelo Carta, and—Silvio Pena. Could be . . .”
“Detective!” The patrol officer waved him over. Three women hovered by the sidewalk, yammering and gesturing in classic Latina style.
“Better finish up the bodies prelims, Moe, before the ME gets here. Let’s not corrupt the crime scene any worse than our boys in blue may have already done. See if you can come up with a TOD.”
“Detective,” yelled Echevera, “You gotta hear this.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m comin’.” He handed the wallets back to Gold and strode across the hard-packed dirt.
“What’s up, Tito?”
“Looks like we got three witnesses to the shooting.”
“Witnesses? You gotta be kiddin’.” His dark eyebrows arched. “When was the last time anyone saw anything go down in this neck of the woods?”
“Well, I guess starting now. These two ladies—Yolanda and Daniella—were pushing baby buggies on the other side of the street. And grandma here . . .” he looked at his note pad, “. . . Selena Morales was en route to the mercado, just up the street. Yolanda seems to speak the best English.” Tito turned to a stout, caramel skinned woman, probably in her mid-thirties. Her round, flat face and slanted, almond-shaped eyes spoke to her Indian bloodline. Probably Mexican, Warner thought.
“So, ma’am,” Warner studied her, fastening onto her dark eyes. “You saw something here last night?”
“Sí.” She glanced at the other two women. “First we hear the gun—bang! Then bang-bang-bang. Is noche—night—so we don’t see so good.” Her two companions are nodding.
“We afraid. This no such a safe place. Then a gringo, he comes fast from el parque. He carries a bolsa . . .”
“You mean a briefcase?” Tito asks.
“Sí. Maybe, but is small and square. He leaves with the noisy tires. A silver car, I think.”
Two heads bob, tongues moistening lips, topaz eyes darting back and forth, sweeping the area. Civilians talking to cops had a right to be nervous in this part of Little Havana.
“Can you describe this guy?” Warner asked. “Height? Build? Hair color? Anything?”
She peeked at the other two, seeking encouragement. Selena, the oldest, shrugged, hands to the side, palms raised. Yolanda sighed, turning her gaze on Warner.
“Talking with policia es muy peligroso, but he was no from this place.”
“A gringo you said? You mean white?”
“Sí, and muy grande—a big hombre. I see from the street light, he has the red hair, I think. Then he is gone in that car.”
“Would you recognize his face, if I showed you photos?”
“Oh, no. No. Don’t see the face. Is pretty dark, even with street lights, and we hide behind a car. He sees us, maybe he shoots us, too.”
“Yeah, I’m not surprised. Look, will you give your names and phone number to officer Echevera?” Warner handed him his card. “He’ll write his number on there. Call him or me if you think of something else.”
He took the street cop by the arm, turning him away. “See if you can get any more details outta them. They may relate better to a Latino. We’ll have to bring them in for a formal statement, anyhow, so see what you can do.”
“Yessir. Sounds like somebody ripped off a dope sale, huh?”
“Yeah, maybe. But where’s the drugs? The ladies saw the perp make off with what was probably the cash for the buy. Or maybe someone was buyin’—or sellin’—non-existent product, and things went south. Something just doesn’t smell right.”
The detective glanced at two men and a woman arriving at the scene, all toting cases.
“Looks like the rest of Moe’s CSU team’s arrived. Gotta get back to the scene. You finish up here, officer. Good work on the witnesses. Don’t know if they’ll help much, but it’s a start.” He patted Tito on the arm and pivoting, loped back to the scene. He moved with the quick grace of a running back.
The officer turned back to the three women, all looking ready to bolt the scene.
“Okay. Gimme me your numbers and you can go, for now. ”
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