When his phone rang at a few minutes past three on Sunday morning, Tolven was not surprised. It was a hot weekend in June and just a matter of when, not if. He listened and jotted some quick notes on the first yellow page of a fresh legal pad that he kept next his bed whenever he was on call. After he hung up, he turned on the coffee maker before he got into the shower and fifteen minutes after he had answered the phone he was in his car and headed to a part of town he knew better than some folks that had lived there all of their lives.
He saw the glow from the harsh lighting from the expressway and used it as a waypoint as he wound his way through the side streets until he couldn’t drive any further. He parked behind another unmarked police car and before he got out of his car he looked at the temperature display in the rear-view mirror and wrote that down, along with his arrival time, on a second line on legal pad.
The first line was in his own shorthand, notes that he made from the information that had been given to him by the dispatcher: “0307/1V/VoS/SiC, 2315 Earle St.” Later, when he typed his formal case notes, he would write that he had been called at 3:07 a.m. and told there was one murder victim, the victim was still on the scene, a suspect was in custody, and it had occurred at 2315 Earl St.
Detective Tolven slammed his car door and saw a human fireplug standing in front of him, silhouetted by the bright lights on top of a fire engine that were trained on the crime scene. Tolven saw the body. It was covered by a yellow, plastic sheet and a young uniformed cop was standing next to it. It almost looked like he was making sure that the dead guy didn’t get up and run away.
“Captain,” Tolven said.
Even though they had known each other for more than twenty years, before either one of them had any rank, Detective Tolven always addressed his friend formally. The two men shook hands.
“Not too messy,” Captain Elsasser said. “.410 shotgun, one round in the chest. Happened inside the house and the kid ran outside and died in the street.”
Tolven made more notes. “Suspect?” he asked when he’d finished writing.
“Still inside the house.”
Tolven’s pen stopped moving and he gave his friend a look.
“I’ve got two guys in there with him. He’s an old guy and the medics are checking his blood pressure and sugar level. It looks like a righteous shoot. Some neighbors heard it happen. The dead guy kicked in the door and started shooting up the house. The old guy whacked him with a bolt-action .410. I haven’t seen one of those in a long time.”
Tolven thanked Captain Elsasser and walked toward the scene. Before he ducked under the yellow barrier tape, his partner pulled up and they quickly divvied up the job. Tolven had worked the scene on their last case which meant he would work the suspect this time and Becky would work the scene. A uniformed officer wrote down their names in the log. Tolven stood motionless and let his eyes take everything in before he went any further.
A blood trail led from the open front door, down the short sidewalk, and disappeared under the yellow sheet. There was a small black pistol on the front stoop and one of the windows had a bullet hole in it. There weren’t any of the usual leftovers the medics left behind when they were treating a patient; no empty medical packaging or discarded IV bags. The victim had been dead when they arrived. He kept looking and made more notes.
His overview finished, he stepped over the blood stains on the porch and walked into the house. It was at least ten degrees hotter inside the small residence, and stuffy, almost stifling. A paramedic was taking a blood pressure cuff off of an old man who was wearing a threadbare flannel bathrobe and sitting on a sagging couch that had mis-matched cushions. Two big cops were standing in opposite corners of the living room. They both looked tired and bored. There was an old shotgun on the kitchen table. Tolven nodded at the cops and then at the medic.
“He’s OK,” the paramedic said. “You just need to keep a closer eye on your sugar level, Mr. Baldwin.”
Tolven nodded his thanks to the medics. He read the name off of his nametag and added it to his pad. There were two more bullet holes in the plaster above the couch, one narrowly missing a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King.
“Can I sit down, Mr. Baldwin?”
“I didn’t know who it was,” the old man said. Tolven sat down next to him. Patient. Years of experience and more than one misstep had taught him not to say anything. After a few minutes of silence he asked one of the cops to get them some water.
“I didn’t know it was him,” Mister Baldwin said again after he drank some of the water that was brought to him.
Tolven noted the change in what the old man said. He got up and walked into the bedroom. There was only one pillow on the bed, one pair of shoes beside a nightstand. Tolven saw a faded pair of tan work pants on one of the bedposts and grabbed them along with the shoes.
“Mr. Baldwin, let’s get you dressed and go down to my office.”
The old man nodded and took the pants and shoes from the detective. Tolven gave his car keys to one of the cops that was in the house.
“Take him out the back door and put him in my car. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Stay here,” he said to the other cop.
Tolven went back outside and watched Becky work with the tech, pointing out items she wanted photographed and collected. When she saw him watching her she walked over and held up a clear plastic evidence bag with a wallet in it. There was a smear of blood on the inside of the plastic bag.
“Positive ID. I ran him and he’s got a pretty bad history and a DOC number, so he’s done some state time,” she told him.
“What’s his first name?”
“Martin,” Becky answered without looking at the ID. “Last name…”
“Baldwin,” Tolven interrupted. “It’s the old man’s son.”
When they were finished, Tolven ended up just taking Mr. Baldwin back home. There was nowhere else for him to go. He called Becky before they got there and made sure that the fire department had washed away the blood. When they got out of the car he could hear chimes from a nearby church announcing the worship hour.
The shotgun was no longer on the kitchen table and there were gaping squares cut into the plaster where the evidence technicians had excavated the bullets from the wall. Mr. Baldwin sat back down on the couch where he had been when Tolven had first met him. Tolven put the white Styrofoam take-out box in the barren refrigerator. What remained of his third cup of coffee was cold, but he held onto it like a security blanket.
“I’ll come by and check on you tomorrow, alright Mr. Baldwin?”
The old man nodded and was still sitting on the couch when Tolven let himself out the front door. Becky was standing at the curb beside her car.
“Do you think he’ll be OK?” she asked him.
The phone woke him up again, almost twelve hours later than the last time.
“You forgot, didn’t you?’
His sister. Divorced, lonely.
“No,” he lied. “Can’t we go see him next Sunday? It’s not like he is going to remember anyway.”
“But today is Father’s Day.”
Tolven swung his legs of off his bed and slipped into his flip-flops.
“Of course it is. I’ll be there in an hour.”