The Case of the Perilous Powder Four college sleuths get involved in the investigation of a deadly substance.

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Jul 4, 2018 No Comments ›› admin

FICTION
by Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note: The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office was my beat when I wrote this story. I’d seen a memo posted at the S.O. about a scary, powdery substance (code named, as I recall “Talcum”) that if tasted, would cause “instant death.” Nothing ever came of it, except that I used the memo as the basis for the third Duval Street mystery. As you’ll see, I made up a more plausible name for the powdery poison.

Morgan Stewart was nibbling on a sandwich, and Howard Thornberry was half asleep trying to watch a TV show when the knock on the door came. Still chewing, Stewart headed for the door. More knocks sounded before he arrived. The door was opening, and a girl stood there staring at Stewart. Her eyes were wide, her mouth was drooped, and her long black, hair was badly in need of brushing. She wore no makeup, and was clad in a sweatshirt and blue jeans.

“You’ve got to help!” she cried.

“Sure, come in a have a seat.”

Stewart helped the girl into the apartment, and sat her down on the couch next to Thornberry, who was now sitting on the edge of his seat. The girl half-fell onto the couch. She looked as if she was in a state of shock. Stewart and Thornberry waited for her to speak.

“Are you the guys known as the Duval Street Detectives”? she asked.

Stewart nodded.

“Then you’ve got to help me. I don’t have any money, but I’m begging you to help me.”

“Howard, fix her something to drink,” Stewart said. “I made a pot of coffee a few minutes ago.”

Thornberry poured the coffee while Stewart encouraged the girl to calm down.

“First of all, maybe you’d better tell us your name.”

“It’s Linda,” she said as if she were out of breath. She took the cup of coffee from Thornberry, “Linda Mays.”

“Okay, Linda, just calm down, and start at the first. Are you in some kind of trouble?”

“No, not me specifically. It’s the guy I’m – I was seeing. And he’s not in trouble. He’s dead.” She looked as if she felt better having made the statement.

Thornberry told her to continue.

It happened late last night,” she continued. “I don’t know what time. I was out with a guy named mark Anderson. We had been out dancing, and Mark said he had to be back at his apartment to meet someone. I asked him if it was a girl, and he said no. He didn’t want me along, but I told him I didn’t want to go home. He said all right, but that I would have to hide in the bedroom when his friend came by. I found out later that Mark’s friend was selling him cocaine. But they were having some sort of disagreement. That’s why he didn’t want me there when his so-called friend arrived.”

Thornberry asked a question: “Had you been dating Anderson very long?”

“I wouldn’t call it dating. I had been out with him before. But I didn’t know he was into drugs. At least I didn’t know he was into anything heavier than grass. Anyway, when Mark’s friend came knocking, I was escorted by Mark into the bedroom and told to stay there with my mouth shut until the guy had left. Mark called him ‘George.’ And the paper says his last name is Grant. I could hear most of what went on between Mark and this guy. They discussed whatever it was that Grant had brought with him – I guess it was heroin or cocaine – and then I heard Mark fall. Grant left, and I ran into the living room and found Mark dead.”

“Can you remember the exact words of the conversation?” Stewart asked.

“I can remember most of it. Grant was very sarcastic, very cutting. He told Mark it was a good thing he wasn’t late for the appointment. Then, I could some rustling of papers, and Grant was pitching some drug to Mark. But Mark didn’t want to buy. If I can remember, he said, ‘Look, I’d really like to be left alone. I just don’t want it anymore.’

“Then Grant said something about Mark squealing to the cops. Then he said, ‘All right – if you want out, you want out.’ But he got Mark to taste some new kind of heroin or cocaine, or whatever it was. I thought what Mark said was strange — something like, ‘How do you get at it, George? The stuff is in three plastic bags, sealed airtight, and taped.’ Then, Grant said it was ‘special stuff.’

“And then Mark must have tasted it. I heard him fall.”

“And what did you do then?” asked Stewart.

“After George left, I waited. I was so nervous, and I must have been trembling. But I finally went to mark. He was already dead. I didn’t know what to do so I went home. After reading the newspaper account this morning, I decided to come to you for help.”

“You look like you haven’t eaten in a while. Why don’t you let us fix you something?”

She agreed, and after the snack was prepared, Linda began to talk again.

“I feel much better now,” she said. “But I still haven’t told you everything – or why I need your help. You see, Grant was arrested a few blocks away. But according to the paper, they charged with possession of heroin and cocaine. I know he killed Mark. He ought to be charged with murder.”

“I’d like to see that newspaper article,” Stewart said. He picked up the paper from a small shelf under the television set. “Here it is.” Stewart read the article aloud:

One Jailed, one Dead in Drug Dealing

Mark Anderson, 33, of 2214 Forest lane was found dead late last night of an apparent drug overdose. Police said they found the body after receiving an anonymous phone call. Acting on information from the call, officers stopped a late model Chevrolet several blocks from Anderson’s apartment, and arrested George Grant, 35, a known drug dealer. Police theorize he may have been dealing with Anderson, and may have panicked when Anderson overdosed. Grant has been charged with possession of cocaine and heroin and is being held under $50,000 bond in the county jail. Indications are that no charges will be filed concerning Anderson’s death.

Thornberry turned to the girl. “Linda, why are you so sure that the official police version isn’t right? Maybe mark did overdose.”

“We hadn’t been using that night, and I don’t think Mark had time to take anything while he was talking to George. George was angry about something – maybe he was part of a drug ring with Mark – but anyway, he was mad, and somehow, he killed him.”

“How long, all total, would you say that George was in Mark’s apartment?”

“Not longer than five – maybe ten minutes.”

“Could George have injected something into Mark?”

“No. Mark would have protested.”

“No blood on the body?”

“No blood.”

Thornberry thought for a while. You know, it sounds as if this George Grant has the power to snap his fingers and make somebody die.”

“Anything you haven’t told us, Linda?” Stewart asked.

“Nothing else. I just would like to see George Grant hang for what he did. Mark wasn’t a perfect human being; neither am I. But he was decent to me, and I liked him. I want to see Grant get what’s coming to him.”

“OK, Linda,” Stewart said. “Let me have an address where I can reach you, and we’ll do what we can. But this may be more than we can handle. If the police don’t think it’s a murder case, there may not be much we clan do about it.”

“Just do what you can,” she said as she jotted down an address near the Dawson College campus. “And please keep this talk in confidence.”

“You have our word.”

Linda Mays looked considerably better as she left than she did when she arrived. Thornberry and Stewart looked at each other for a while wondering which way to take the case.

“I wasn’t kidding her, Howard. I’m not sure this is something we ought to get involved in.”

“You may be right, but let’s at least talk to Rex and Steve and see what they think.”

Later in the day, the four men got together to discuss the case. Rex Walton, the pre-law student, seemed very interested in Linda Mays’ story. Steve Larsen, Walton’s Swedish roommate who played on the Dawson College Football team was likewise interested.

“You know, I’ve read of cases like that before,” Walton said. “Just the other day I read about a drug dealer in Clarksville who was hospitalized with brain damage. Funny thing though, he wasn’t in a wreck, and suffered no fall or gunshot wound. Just suddenly, brain damage. No reason.”

“What did the authorities say about that one?” Thornberry wanted to know.

“Not much. It’s just a small town. I think they only have two policemen. As I understand it, they were going to call in some experts from Dallas, but I haven’t heard anything else about it.”

Larsen finally said, “Morgan, why don’t we let Rex discuss the situation with his old friend, D. A. Fulton, and see what type of evidence they have against Mr. Grant.”

“Good idea,” Stewart agreed. “And Steve, why don’t you check with the people in Clarksville and see if you can get a tie-in with that case up there. I’m going to check into George Grant’s background, and Howard can do some checking on Mark Anderson.”

It was the next day before Walton had a chance to drop by the courthouse and talk to Warren Fulton, the district attorney. The two men walked into Fulton’s office, poured some coffee, and sat down to talk. Walton explained as much as he could about the DSD’s involvement in the Anderson-Grant case, but as promised, he didn’t mention Linda Mays by name.

“Was there an autopsy performed on Anderson’s body, Mr. Fulton?”

“Rex, the Medical Examiner gave it the usual going-over. We didn’t have any reason to suspect any other type of death except an overdose until now. This girl you talk to – she says no one was using at all that night?”

“No. According to her, Anderson simply fell dead. One thing that might be of importance. She mentioned something Anderson said just before he fell. Grant had given him a packet of a powdery substance, and Anderson commented on how it was packaged – said it was inside three plastic bags and sealed airtight.”

“Rex, this could be serious. That sounds like SNOW.”

“Sounds like what?” Walton exclaimed.

“SNOW,” Fulton repeated. “Let me show you a memo from the Region III U.S. Marshal Service.”

TO ALL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES:

Be on the lookout for a lethal form of powdered tear gas called SNOW. This substance is whitish and at first can be taken for heroin or cocaine. If smelled, this substance causes irreparable brain damage. If tasted, it causes instant death. Extreme caution should be exercised with any handling of this toxic substance. Additional information as follows:

1. SNOW always comes in air tight, hermetically sealed plastic bags.
2. Contact with skin causes a burning sensation.
3. Reference made to a possible indecent involving SNOW in Clarksville. Suspected drug dealer there hospitalized with brain damage after sniffing SNOW.
4. Suspected SNOW should be left sealed and sent to nearest D.E.A. lab for analysis.

Walton handed the memo back to Fulton. “You just received this?

“About two days ago. I had never heard of SNOW until then. But we’ve posted the memo, and it’s caused a lot of talk among my staff. I guess it’s that way at the S.O. and the police department too.”

“You think there’s a chance that mark Anderson died from sniffing or tasting SNOW?”

“I’d say there’s a good chance given your description of what you were told. That girl’s description fits SNOW to a T. Fulton looked worried. “I sure hate to think of that stuff showing up here in Cedar Falls.”

“Has your investigation turned up anything in the case?”

“We just plan to prosecute Grant on drug charges. Unless we can actually find some SNOW either in the apartment or on him or in is car, there’s not much we can do in the way of murder charges.”

“Did you examine the apartment and Grant’s car?”

“Yes, but at the time, we didn’t know that SNOW might be involved in the affair, At any rate, we didn’t find anything of that sort. By the way, you might be interested in knowing that Grant had his bond reduced and he’s out on bail.”

“Have you ever dealt with Grant or Anderson before?”

Yes, they both have records mainly in drug dealings. Last I knew, they were working together, but apparently, they had falling out.”

“If you knew about their ring, why didn’t you arrest them?”

“As I said, they’d both been in trouble before on various offenses. We were gathering evidence to put them away for good, but we hadn’t been able to get enough evidence to have an airtight case. We were hoping we could get one of them to sell some cocaine or heroin to one of my staff. Then, we would have been ready to prosecute.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“If SNOW is involved, I’m going to call my men off the street. I can’t let them be exposed to something that could kill them instantly with no warning. We’ll have to find another method of gathering evidence against the pushers in the community.”

Walton stood up to leave. “D.A. Fulton, thanks for letting me drop by. I’ll let you know if we come up with anything.” The two shook hands, and Walton left the office.

That night, the four detectives met in Stewart and Thornberry’s apartment to discuss their progress.

“I’ve come up with some interesting developments,” Larsen said.

“So have I,” echoed Thornberry. “How was your meeting with the D.A., Rex?”

“I may have uncovered the key to the whole thing.” Walton produced a copy of the memo that Fulton had shown him. He passed it around to the other three, and explained Fulton’s theory that Anderson died from a taste of SNOW.

“Very interesting,” Larsen commented. “I, too, found out about this stuff, SNOW. I called police chief Bill Edmunds up in Clarksville today, to ask about the incident up there. He told me that this suspected drug dealer who sustained brain damage is now missing from the local hospital. It was a guy by the name of Tom Mitchell. They found him, incoherent, sitting in his car on the outskirts of town. Chief Edmunds said he had apparently lost his ability to speak or even to think. So they admitted him to the hospital. I also called the hospital to find out how he escaped, and said he may have just walked away. Apparently, they didn’t think a person with no mind would escape, but he did.”

Walton had a question: “How did you find out about SNOW?”

“I asked the chief if he knew what caused Mitchell to lose his mind, and he said a local newspaper article had attributed it to this substance. So I called the paper and talked to Bill Littlefield, the reporter who wrote the story. He said his information came from an anonymous phone call. Apparently, the phone call to the paper came before the incident with Mitchell. The caller told the paper that substance called SNOW was in Clarksville, and that it would cause instant death or brain damage. The reporter told me that he forgot about the call until the police found Mitchell in his mindless state. The reporter then pulled out his notes from that phone call, and wrote his story. By the way, the story was picked up by the national wire services, and Chief Edmunds says his office has been swamped with phone calls from news media people all over the country. So we’ll be getting quite a bit of media coverage on this story before it’s all over.”

“So the Clarksville victim is missing.” Walton had his chin on this hand. “That’s interesting. Howard, what’s your bit of news?”

“I was going to do some checking into Mark Anderson’s background. I decided the best way to do that was to talk some more with Linda Mays. I figured she’d be in more of a state of mind to talk than she was last night. So I dropped by the address she gave on First Avenue. There’s an empty lot on that address. And there’s no Linda Mays in the phone book, and no Linda Mays enrolled at Dawson College.”

Stewart entered in the conversation. “I did some checking on George Grant. The police let me look at a microfilm file on him. He’s been in trouble on drug charges before, and the file says he’s been known to be a drug dealer. He’s served time on a burglary conviction, and once on a worthless check scheme.”

Walton stood up began pacing. “This whole case is crazy. People are missing right and left. The sheriff and the D.A. are afraid to keep their men on the streets, and we don’t even have a sample of this SNOW to analyze.”

“And don’t forget that we apparently don’t have a client anymore. Linda Mays is among the missing.” Thornberry was pacing the floor himself. “But I’m not about to say quit. I’m convinced there must be a clue somewhere that we’ve missed.”

“I do have one idea, Walton said. “Steve, I want you to phone the hospital in Clarksville again, while I make a phone call to Atlanta.”

The calls were made, and the next day, Walton and Larsen dropped by D.A. Fulton’s office.”

“Mr. D.A.,” Walton said to begin the conservation. “We haven’t solved this case by any stretch of the imagination. But we do think we’ve spotted a sort of pattern.”

“That’s more than I’ve got. And I’ve learned to trust your ideas.” Fulton was sitting up at his desk anxious to hear what Walton had to say. But it was Larsen who picked up the conversation.

“We may be way off base, but last night, we were noticing how many people involved in this case are missing. There’s Linda Mays, who was supposedly our client, and Tom Mitchell, who disappeared from the Clarksville hospital.”

“And George Grant who’s out on bond, but it nowhere to be found.” The D.A. threw in.

“So we have three people missing,” continued Larsen. “And so far we still haven’t seen any SNOW.”
“Walton took up the narrative. “Last night, we made two calls. From the first call, we learned that then hospital over in Clarksville never had a chance to run any official tests or an encephalograph on Tom Mitchell. They were preparing the tests when he ran out on them. We also talked with a scientist at the National Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. He told us that he’d never heard of SNOW, and he made a quick computer check. The computer had never heard of it either.”

“I see what you’re driving at,” Fulton responded. “Maybe this whole thing is a scheme to take the heat off the drug community by putting a scare into officers.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Walton said. “But too many things have been happening at once. I’m afraid there’s something major about to break, and there couldn’t be a worse time with officers in the country afraid to even take a sniff of any suspicious power.”

“Walton, you’re probably right, as usual. I think I’d better have a meeting with Sheriff Culbertson and Chief Curry.”

Later that day, Walton learned that the meeting had resulted in extra surveillance of places where drug dealers were known to hang out. Another week passed before the DSD’s again heard from D.A. Fulton. Fulton and sheriff wanted to see them, and a meeting was arranged at the courthouse.

“Walton, we did some checking based on your theory. The whole investigation resulted in a raid last night. In fact, we’re still making arrests, but the bulk of the people involved are upstairs, in county jail. Fulton nodded at the sheriff, and he took over the story.

“Of course, we had made all the same checks on Grant and Anderson you did. But everything still pointed to a drug overdose as the cause of death for Anderson. We never could find a direct link to SNOW. After your discussion last week with the D.A., we took the opposite direction and looked for evidence to prove it WAS an overdose. Of course, that’s assuming that SNOW would produce the same effects as an overdose of a normal drug.”

Fulton picked up the story again. “So we assumed that SNOW wasn’t involved. The Anderson death could have been accidental, and Grant and his girlfriend decided to use the death to help out in their SNOW scare. We had already concluded, from talking to you, that the Mitchell guy over in Clarksville must have been in league with Grant. So Grant intended to use the Anderson death as a logical follow-up to the incident with Mitchell. The girl, Linda Mays, was sent to you knowing that you’d become interested in the case, and would get onto the SNOW theory. Once you were involved, she simply made herself scarce. She knew you’d stay on the case even without her around, and she didn’t want to be available just in case you figured out the scheme. By the way, Grant’s arrest wasn’t part of the plan.”

Larsen and Walton were listening intently as Sheriff Culbertson continued:

“We started to issue a memo to all our men saying the SNOW scare was a fraud, and they shouldn’t worry about it. But we decided against that, just in case the drug ring we were working against had a way to get inside information. As it turned out, it’s a good thing we didn’t write that memo. Instead, we chose ten good deputies, and filled them in, and had them patrol the county in places where we thought drug deals would be going down. Sure enough, last night, they rounded up eight members of the drug ring, and gathered enough information to get warrants out on ten others.”

“And no SNOW recovered?” asked Walton.

The D.A. smiled. “No SNOW at all. But almost five million dollars worth of Mexican brown heroin. They flew it up here on a small private plane from somewhere near the border. We’ve got drug agents investigating down there. Apparently, they had picked Cedar Falls as a good place to use as a distribution point to larger areas like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and New Orleans.”
Walton added, “And they felt like Cedar Falls cops would fall for their SNOW scare a lot quicker that Drug Enforcement Agents in a large town.”

“We’re about to hold a news conference, men, but we thought you’d like to pay a visit to the jail first.” Fulton was obviously enjoying the aftermath of the arrests.

“Sure,” Walton and Larsen both said.

The four men stepped into on elevator outside the sheriff’s office, and rode up to the 4th floor, where the country hail was located.

The four went through a routine security check (which wasn’t hard to pass since the sheriff and the D.A. were along) and soon were looking into a tank containing several men.

“You won’t recognize any of the faces,” the D.A. said. “But this gentleman here is George Grant. And this is Tom Mitchell, the man without a brain. And come to think of it…”

Mitchell just scowled and turned his back to the four. Fulton continued…

“And this is Bill Littlefield.”

“Bill Littlefield?” Larsen exclaimed. “He’s he reporter who broke the story about SNOW in the Clarksville paper.”

“Right you are,” said Culbertson. “It was part of the plan for Littlefield to give lots of coverage to SNOW and to get the wire and networks interested if possible.”

“And here,” said Fulton, “is Clarksville Police Chief Bill Edmunds. Edmunds is the reason we put so much confidence in the story about Mitchell and the Clarksville incident involving SNOW. Edmunds made out the report on that case, and we got our information from him. I have to admit that when we decided to keep our drug investigation secret, we never expected to nab that big a fish.”

None of the prisoners would say a word.

“That’s really incredible,” Walton said. “No telling how long he’s been manipulating the drug scene in this county.”

“It’s all over now,” said Culbertson. “By the way, over in the women’s section of the jail, you’ll find Virginia Malone, also known as ‘Linda Mays.’”

Later that day, Larsen and Walton explained the whole story to Stewart and Thornberry as the four collegians met for a snack in the Dawson Student Center.

“And it was Edmunds who managed to convince the U.S. Marshal service to get out a memo to all law enforcement agencies, warning them about SNOW.”

Thornberry looked at Walton with a sigh of relief. “I’m glad this case is under wraps. I’ve been so conscious of any type of powder since we got involved with SNOW that I haven’t salted my food in over a week.”

THE END

© 2018 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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