Scent of Evil

The Plot

A hand is found sticking out of the dirt at a construction site, and Joe Gunther’s detective squad begin to research into who the man belonging to it was, how he was killed, who might have done it, and why. But before they know it, several more people are dead, including one of the town’s biggest drug dealers, and others are implicated in a variety of illegal activities, from members of the ruling elite to one of the police department’s very own. Hampered by the worst heat wave in a decade, hobbled by the press and intrusive hometown politics, Gunther figures out that the person behind the crimes is being fueled by revenge for wrongs done long ago.

An excerpt from Scent of Evil

To set the stage: Joe, Det. Ron Klecszewski, and most of the department’s uniformed day shift are in pursuit of Mark Capelli, a truck driver who works for an enormous wholesale grocery supplier in Brattleboro. They have been running after him through the huge warehouse, playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game, and have finally arrived at a long line of truck delivery bays, filled with people handling pallets of produce.

We heard a distant shout and a gunshot from one of the most distant of those bays.

“Oh, shit,” Ron muttered, and began to sprint down the length of the loading dock, cutting right and left around stacks of produce like a football player going for a touchdown.

I paused for a moment. A forklift operator clutched his arm as Mark Capelli bolted through a crack in one of the bay doors toward a truck backing up to the dock. I ran out another door, set on heading him off outside.

Unfortunately, I was still several hundred feet away and had a long line of trucks to get around. I was about fifty feet from where I thought Capelli had left the warehouse when I heard a loud crash and the roar of a diesel engine in distress.

The noise had been caused by a Freightliner cab-over being driven away from its box without the support legs being dropped. I rounded my last obstacle in time to see the box lying with its nose on the tarmac like some religious penitent. The cab, shuddering and belching black smoke as Capelli slammed it through its gears to gain speed, was already peeling away. He was headed west, against the prescribed traffic flow, bound for the far corner of the building and the entrance gates leading out to Ferry Road.

A trucker, his mouth half stuffed with a sandwich, was gesticulating near the front of the box. “He stole my cab, for Christ’s sake, that’s my fucking truck.”

I saw Ron standing at the edge of the adjacent loading door. “Where’s your car?” I shouted at him.

“Follow me.” He bent down and swung me up onto the dock before leading me through the entrails of the building on a roughly diagonal track toward the building’s dressed-up front door to the west. As we both burst out onto the parking lot, Capelli’s fire-breathing behemoth screamed around the far corner, heading for the closed front gate.

“Guess we’d better let ‘em know what’s happening,” I said, as we piled into Ron’s car, just as the truck blew through the gate with a shriek of complaining metal. Leaving parallel crescents of black burned rubber on the pavement, Capelli slewed onto Ferry Road, heading for the Putney Road traffic light. In a squeal of spinning tires, Ron backed out of his parking space and gave chase, while I began giving orders over the radio.

We had two major problems: We didn’t have enough time to get roadblocks properly organized, and we didn’t know which way Capelli would take. If he turned right at the light, he could head up Route 5 to grab the interstate at Putney, or try to vanish along the byways crisscrossing the hills around Dummerston, the neighboring township. If he turned left, which I suspected he would, his choices were downtown Brattleboro, a couple of miles straight ahead, and either Route 9 East into New Hampshire, or I-91’s Exit Three, both located at the crossroads less than a mile down the road. I told Dispatch to contact the Vermont State Police and the Windham County Sheriff’s Department for anything north of our position, the New Hampshire cops for anything east, and ordered all available units to converge on Exit Three.

Another disadvantage was that most of our patrol units were either behind us or still back at the warehouse, which left precious little to put between the truck and the open road. As Capelli skidded through the light and drove south, I modified my instructions over the mike.

“This is Oh-three. I want all available units to move onto I-91, north and southbound. Rolling roadblocks.” I hung up the radio. “Ron, you’d better let at least one of the patrol units by. We aren’t exactly legal here.”

He slowed slightly and waved one of our tailgaters on, but only one; he wasn’t about to concede the chase, despite the rule that high-speed chases and roadblocks were only to be performed by recognizable squad cars.

“Why put everybody on the interstate?” he asked. The crossroads were coming up with amazing speed. I noticed both my feet were pressed flat against the floor.

“Gut call. It’s a wide-open road. That’s what I’d do.”

As if I’d willed it, the Freightliner slid into the crowded intersection, sideswiped several cars, and peeled off toward I-91. Another police unit screaming up from Putney Road almost added to the wreckage, barely missing us and a man who’d leapt from his vehicle to check for damage. I looked over my shoulder as Ron swept around the corner. That put three squad cars behind us and one in front. I wondered what was left to stop Capelli. I also wondered how much hell I was going to catch for putting this demolition derby into action.

As soon as I saw the truck commit to the first on-ramp, I grabbed the radio again. “All units from Oh-three. The truck’s heading north on the interstate. All units respond accordingly.”

But I shook my head as soon as I’d delivered the message.

Klesczewski saw me. “What?” he half shouted over the noise of the engine and the sirens.

“Why would he head north?’

“Why not?”

It was a legitimate counter-question. Neither choice was rational, neither was the whole premise, for that matter. How Capelli hoped to escape, driving a Freightliner with a bunch of cops on his tail, was beyond me. But if he was stupid enough to think he could, he was stupid enough to think that heading south toward Massachusetts and beyond held more options than tearing up the pavement for a hundred miles toward Canada.

I grabbed the mike again. “ All units from Oh-three. Who’s on the interstate now?”

“Oh-three from One-five. I’m just north of Exit Two right now.”

“Set up a roadblock southbound just below the West River Bridge.”

“I thought he was heading north.’ The voice was high-pitched with incredulity.

“He is. I think he’ll turn around.”

“Oh-three from One-two. I’m coming onto Exit Two from West Bratt. Want me to join One-five?”

“Ten-four.”

Klescewski’s face was tight with concentration as he tried to keep out of the ditch rounding the corner of the on-ramp. “You better be right, or we’re going to look like a bunch of assholes.”

I grinned at this rare profanity; in fact, I knew that soon, especially in the eyes of several of our town leaders, we would earn the label regardless of today’s results.

Capelli’s truck was swerving slightly from side to side, making it impossible for the patrol car behind him to pass. As he drew abreast of the interstate at the top of the ramp, he added to the obstacle course by clipping a Subaru station wagon and causing it to twirl into a series of multiple pirouettes, which made all of us slam on our brakes to avoid joining in. Thus shielded, Capelli cut into a controlled slide and sliced across the emergency U-turn lane a bare hundred feet away from the ramp. He was going for the southbound route.

The unit immediately behind him missed the U-turn completely, since it had veered to the wrong side of the dizzying Subaru and was hurtling north in the far breakdown lane. Klesczewski was luckier, as were the two units behind us.

“One-two and One-five from Oh-three. He’s headed your way.”

The thousand foot long West River Bridge, one hundred feet above the water and now just a mile ahead of us, was undergoing repairs. The entire southbound span was closed, and traffic had been rerouted to one half the northbound span, which was split down the middle by a row of heavy concrete dividers. The speed limit, for good reason, was forty. We were going ninety-five.

The approach to the bridge is a slightly descending slope. Units Twelve and Fifteen, their blue lights twinkling fiercely, were clearly visible on either side of the single southern lane at the far end of the bridge. Real roadblocks, unlike those in the movies, should always allow an exit. They are supposed to show the bad guys that escape is fruitless, not to provide them with photogenic opportunities to create mayhem. At midpoint on the bridge, in the gap that separated the two spans, men in helmets and fluorescent vests were working acetylene torches from a long wooden platform, suspended by cables from the railing above. The flames from their torches looked like minuscule chips of sunlight.

“Ease up a little, Ron, the switch over is bumpy.”

Klesczewski slowed down. Capelli did not. His truck hit the thin, ripply asphalt overlay linking the southbound lane to its half of the northbound bridge, bounced once, and began to twist sideways, spewing several small rooster tails of burning rubber.

“Holy Christ, he’s going over.” Klesczewski slammed on the brakes hard, making the seat belt cut against my chest.

The truck hit the bridge sideways, with its rear wheels in the lane, its middle straddling the guard rail, and its cab hanging over the gap between the two spans. I could see the looks of horror on the faces of the workmen on the platform as the Freightliner screamed toward them, riding the guardrail like some bizarre huge toy truck run amuck. Now, added to the black smoke from the burning tires and the diesel exhaust, there was a shower of flaming sparks cascading from where the railing cut the truck undercarriage as it slid.

Slowly, as if tantalizing us, the cab began to peel forward off the chassis, exposing the engine beneath and throwing the whole disastrous mess off balance. For a moment, the truck’s wheels left the pavement, and then, with the last of its momentum, it flipped on the guardrail like an acrobat somersaulting on a tightrope. The cab flew high in the air, its driver catapulting through the window like a champagne cork. The chassis settled back on the road, a smoking, twisted, wreck, while Capelli and the cab landed with an explosion on the wooden platform below the bridge. We watched transfixed as the cab, surrounded by debris, spun silently through the hundred feet down into the shallow river. The platform, hanging on by a single cable, swung in a wide arc, and below it, dangling by a leg, which was tangled in the remains of the other cable, was Mark Capelli. The workers, hooked to their safety harnesses, were glued to the metal undercarriage of the bridge like insects to flypaper.

There was a deathly quiet as Ron and I left the car and stepped out onto the bridge. All traffic had frozen in place, all the topside workers were as still as statues at the railing; the one sound I could hear distinctly for that brief moment was the gurgling of the water far below as it swirled around its newfound obstacle.

I began to run.