Murder in the Court
Stiehl goes underground while the kid bails out, and the two of them meet to uncover the worst in human society--from a dirty District Court Judge right on down to the local cops on the beat. Things look bleak for D.J.'s upcoming trial when suddenly Stiehl has a revelation. Halfway through the preliminary hearing to bind the kid over for prosecution, Stiehl shows up with three Federal officers--and the kid gets a change of venue ... much to the chagrin of the judge. When the judge goes to step down and the FBI clasps him in cuffs, all hell breaks loose. In a dynamite final scene, the judge is hauled away kicking and screaming, and Stiehl reveals the real savior behind the scenes.
When Hymie Stiehl gets word that an old Chicago crony of his has been sent to prison for contractor fraud in a small town in southern Colorado, the Yiddish Bulldog knows something is wrong. He calls the contractor's attorney, who tells Stiehl that it was a set-up job from the start, that the contractor was railroaded by an overzealous or possibly even outright dirty District Attorney. Stiehl mentions the case to his erstwhile sidekick, D. J. Shanahan, who comments on how difficult it is to be an honest contractor these days. He knows, he says, because his whole family grew up in the construction business. In a rare flash of "butt-fuckin' genius," Stiehl buys two tickets on Amtrak, and the sleuths are off to Trinidad, Colorado.
Once there, Hymie sets D. J. up in his own construction firm, which the kid runs remarkably well. Before long, the local newspaper prints an article extolling the virtues of the firm and its contractor head. Within weeks, the entire town pours out its gratitude at finally having an honest, professional contractor in town. D. J. is even wined and dined by one of the town's leading businessmen, Sam "The Sham" Amata, who tries to entice D. J. into going into business with him. "There are lotsa ways to make money in this town," Amata confides. "They don't all gotta be legal."
The other lumberyard owner in town, Scottie Sandish, a one-time male escort and prostitute whose retired father owns half of Trinidad, also tries to con the town's newest and most successful contractor into partnership, dangling his blonde-haired, blue-eyed decorating consultant before him. Soon, D. J. is the town celebrity: everyone with a problem comes to him; everyone with a deal wants him.
As D. J. and "silent partner" Stiehl continue to rack up building successes, Hymie uncovers a wealth of information about the local D.A., a small-time attorney-turned-politician who just happened to wind up in one of the biggest drug distribution centers in the United States. A call to some FBI friends in Washington, and the D.A. is himself arrested for dealing drugs and stolen weapons, along with Amata's brother, Fred.
Convinced that their work is done, D. J. prepares to sell the business to his new marketing director, a one-time minister named Ray Salvatore. Within weeks, Salvatore's two top framers show up missing and are feared the victims of foul play, and a third trusted employee is bludgeoned nearly to death by a trio of thugs wielding baseball bats.
At a local restaurant, Hymie and D. J. discuss the events when a handful of townspeople walk through the building and out the back door. They do not reappear. Two of the people, Hymie reveals, are henchmen for Amata, running drug deals in the back alleyway. Before long, Stiehl gets the low down on them, Amata, and the restaurant owner. But when the restaurateur turns up dead, the plot thickens.
As the two sleuths struggle to locate the murderer, D. J. is surprised by a visit from the local police, who arrest him and charge him with contractor fraud. His bail is fixed at $10,000, and he quickly bonds out. But while in the station, he overhears talk of making Amata "happy." D. J. tells what he overheard to Stiehl, who advises him that it's time to pack up and leave Dodge. But before D. J. can close his business deal with Salvatore, the police pick him up again, this time charging him with conspiracy and intent to commit fraud. This time, he is held on a $20,000 bond, which he makes with Stiehl's help.
On his return to the office, D. J. finds that the place has been ransacked. More than $30,000 worth of tools and all of their confidential records have been stolen. Salvatore is nowhere to be found. Fearing for his safety, D. J. calls the police and files a report. He and Stiehl hear nothing for several days, at which time a follow-up call to the police chief tells them that the investigation has been dropped for lack of evidence. When he and Stiehl go to the acting District Attorney to turn over their evidence on the drug dealings, the thefts, and the tie-ins to Amata, they are interviewed briefly, promised action, and dismissed.
The following day, Salvatore shows up, wearing a gold earring and a silver cross, hair slicked back, collar open halfway down his chest. He has with him a "big, burly Mexican" who advises D. J. that the business is through and he should leave town. Pronto! D. J. asks Salvatore if he had anything to do with the thefts and arrests, and the two smile.
Stiehl shifts into overdrive, digging deeper into courthouse records, before finally learning that his old contractor buddy who had been railroaded and sent to prison wasn't the first. Two other local builders had the exact same thing happen to them. Before he can put things into perspective, Stiehl learns from a local public defender he has befriended that a warrant for D. J.'s arrest is coming down. "Christ,” says Stiehl. “What now?" The public defender clears his throat. "Contractor fraud, embezzlement, distribution of drugs, corporate fraud, corporate embezzlement, collusion, racketeering, and suspicion of murder." Stiehl asks who was killed. The public defender tells him the police found the bodies of the two missing framers lying face down in the Purgatory River, bullet holes in their heads.
Stiehl breaks the news to his partner, who sees his whole life flushing down the toilet. He can't believe things have has gone this far. Stiehl contacts an attorney friend of his in Denver, who advises that, when the police show up at D. J.'s door, D. J. shouldn't be there.
Stiehl and D. J. go underground, hiding out in a sleazy motel room in Pueblo, just north of Trinidad. There they put together what they know and, through judicious questioning, learn that the new D.A. is being manipulated by local judge Jesus Manzanaro. Digging deeper, Stiehl discovers that it was Manzanaro who sent all the other contractors to prison, one for the rest of his natural life. He also learns that courtroom dealings involving Amata had been overwhelmingly favorable to the Italian lothario, who by now is known to have Mafia ties stretching all the way back to Sicily via Chicago.
Three days later, word reaches the pair through the attorney that the charges have been filed and a warrant issued. A local manhunt has begun. A cash bond of $200,000 has been placed against the contractor. The attorney calls the D.A. and, through skillful haggling, gets the D.A. to drop the murder charge for lack of evidence and lower the bond to $50,000.
D. J., by now a nervous wreck and near delusional, agrees to meet the attorney in Trinidad in the morning, turn himself in, and get a bondsman to post for him. In court, Manzanaro sets a hearing date for two weeks off. As he sternly rebukes the D.A. in public for lowering the bond on so "dangerous a criminal" as D. J., Stiehl disappears. He returns later to tell D. J.’s attorney that CCC's former marketing director Salvatore plans on opening his own construction firm right across the street from Colorado Custom Construction ... and, further, that Judge Manzanaro's court stenographer is Salvatore’s first cousin.
"As if that ain't enough," Stiehl says, "Salvatore and Manzanaro are both part of a Mexican Mafia, which Amata set up more than a decade ago to act as a buffer between his own Mafia activities and the community. You," he adds to D. J., "are in big trouble."
D. J. asks what the police investigation turned up. Stiehl shrugs and tells him the police in Trinidad don't investigate, they exterminate. He learns from talking to a local F.A.A. inspector that, when a twin-engine private plane crashed outside of Trinidad recently, the inspector was the first on the scene. The pilot and his passenger were both dead, and there were hundreds of pounds of drugs onboard. The inspector left to call the police. By the time he returned, the chief and a passenger were already on the scene. The drugs had vanished.
"And he thinks Amata was involved?"
Stiehl looks at him coldly. "Amata's son was the Chief’s passenger."
While Stiehl and D. J. work desperately to find loopholes in the government's case, the hearing draws near. Just hours before, D. J. is visited by a young, voluptuous Hispanic woman to whom he had offered a job shortly after he arrived in town. She had been down on her luck, a former prostitute, and faced with the proposition of caring for a three-year-old daughter without any money or any place to stay. She told him that she had learned through some "friends" that the hearing was rigged. Manzanaro had ordered the D.A.'s investigator, Billy Sneeb, to trump up phony evidence and then, using Salvatore as a toady, solicited four former CCC clients to issue statements corroborating the D.A.'s charges. D. J. was being set up to take the big fall--up to twenty years on each of four counts of contractor fraud. Once in prison, Manzanaro had been advised by Amata, D. J. wouldn't last a month.
On the day of the hearing, things go badly for D. J. and his attorney. At every turn, they are overruled by Manzanaro, leading the attorney to whisper "that son-of-a-bitch is the worst I've ever seen!" Finally, as the Judge is about to declare that enough evidence exists to bind D. J. over for trial, Stiehl races in and hands the attorney a message. The attorney asks to approach the bench. When he does, he asks that the judge remove himself from the case. When the judge refuses, the attorney says he will have no choice but to go to the state's governing body overseeing the conduct of judges.
"On what grounds?" Manzanaro demands testily. The attorney shows him Stiehl's notes. As Manzanaro reads, his face grows first angry, then flushed. Finally, he agrees to meet with counsel in chambers. As Stiehl and D. J. wait, one of the snitches Stiehl has hired comes into the courtroom and whispers something in Stiehl's ear.
When the judge and the attorney return to the room, Manzanaro announces that he has decided to remove himself from the case "for technical reasons." The attorney is delighted, but Stiehl is not yet finished. He rises and asks to address himself to the court. He then brings in a Federal Agent from the U.S. Department of Justice, who issues a subpoena for the apprehension and arrest of Sam Amata, investigator Billy Sneeb, Ray Salvatore, and businessman Scottie Sandish. "Oh, yes," the agent adds, "and Judge Jesus Manzanaro." When the judge asks, "On what grounds?" the agent tells him for racketeering, conspiracy to commit judicial misconduct, judicial misconduct, conspiracy to distribute a foreign substance, distributing a foreign substance, conspiracy to commit prostitution, and trafficking in illegal substances.
"That's impossible!" the judge bellows. "You have nothing to corroborate those charges. Nothing!"
Two more agents enter the room and place the judge under arrest. One has already been down the hall and cuffed Sneeb. The agent advises D. J. that the case will be taken over by a visiting judge from outside the community and warns him not to say anything in public about what has transpired, pending further investigation and the possible apprehension of several remaining suspects.
On the train back to Chicago the following day, the kid asks Stiehl how he managed to tie everything together so quickly. Stiehl admits that he had some help from outside sources, but that it was the judge, himself, and his nefarious history that eventually brought everyone down. That ... and some Mafioso in Chicago who harbored a few grudges against the Amata family.
As the train makes a steep bank around a curve, one of the passengers walking down the aisle bumps into D. J. and drops an envelope into his lap. D. J. makes a move as if to alert the stranger, but Stiehl stops him. Hymie takes the envelope and opens it. After reading for some while, his lips turn into a sly smile.
"What is it?" the kid asks. Stiehl replies, "Oh, just a note from a friend." D. J. asks if it's anyone he knows. Stiehl nods his head. "Yeah," he says. "It's from Jesus Manzanaro's former mistress." The kid scratches his head. "I don't know any former mistress. I didn't even know he had a former mistress." Stiehl grins. "Sure you do. She just wanted to thank you again for offering her a job when she needed it the most ... and to tell you the world will be a lot better off where Manzanaro is going ... after she's through testifying."
NOTE: All material is copyright protected. No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically, mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author. All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers. Copyright 2009 by The Swetky Agency
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