The story begins
When you get
a strange feeling that something isn’t quite right,
even though there’s no obvious basis for it, your
comfort index begins a slow slide, like a worn tire
on an icy road. You have no idea where it might end
up but know it won’t be someplace you want to go.
That’s how I felt after getting the call from Arnold
Wechsel on a Saturday afternoon a week before
Jill and I had spent a few
hours at the office that morning, tidying up loose
ends to clear the deck for the new case we had taken
on the day before. A brisk north wind that bore the
sharp sting of winter chased us back to our warm and
cozy log cabin in the woods. I don’t mean to sound
like some latter-day Abe Lincoln. It was closer to a
manor than a country cottage. The biggest log house
I’d ever encountered. As for the woods, it was a
forested three-acre plot in a heavily-populated
I had just pulled off the
padded jacket that made me resemble an Iditarod
driver who’d wandered off course when the phone
rang. I checked the caller ID and saw Arnold’s name.
We hadn’t heard from the young man in a couple of
“Where’ve you been, Arnold?” I
asked. “Long time no see.”
“I have been working many
hours,” he said, his German accent making it sound
“Your Uncle Jeff has been
pretty quiet lately, too,” I said. Arnold’s Aunt
Lisle was married to Jeff Price, an old Air Force
OSI colleague now stationed at Ramstein Air Base in
“I talk to my mutter
every week or two.”
His mother was Lisle Price’s
younger sister. Three years ago they had paid his
way to study the maintenance of high performance
vehicles at Nashville Auto Diesel College.
“I hope everyone is doing well
over there,” I said.
“Yes, thank you.” A man of few
words, he got right to the point. “I am calling for
a special reason, Mr. McKenzie. I have some
important information for you.”
From my limited experience with
him, I knew Arnold was a serious young man. Now he
sounded downright mysterious. “What sort of
“I do not wish to talk about it
on the telephone.”
“Then come on over. We just got
home and don’t plan to go anywhere else.” We had
invited him for dinner once, so he knew where we
“Not there. I do not want it
known that we meet.”
This was beginning to get
spooky. “What does it concern?”
He hesitated, then said, “Your
National Basketball Association matter.”
I couldn’t believe what I’d
just heard. My voice sharpened. “Arnold, how did you
know we had any interest in that situation?”
“Please, I will tell everything
when we meet. It will, how do you say, blow the
I looked around at Jill and
shook my head. “When and where?”
“Seven-thirty tonight at a
small automobile repair shop owned by my friend. It
will be closed, but he gives me the key.”
Arnold provided me an address
in the Dickerson Pike area of Northeast Nashville
and promptly hung up.
Jill saw my puzzled look. “What
was that all about?”
I told her what Arnold had
“How do you suppose he knew
about our case?” she asked. “We haven’t even met the
principals involved yet.”
“That’s something I intend to
ask him when we meet. It sure sounds like the
situation Terry mentioned, though.”
Terry Tremont, McKenzie
Investigations’ best lawyer client, had called us in
yesterday afternoon. He was retained by a group of
Nashville Predators’ hockey fans circling the ice
wagons in an effort to thwart a clique of local
businessmen intent on bringing an NBA team to Music
City. It was the old story of this town ain’t big
enough for the both of us. Or, in this case, the
three of use, since Nashville already had both
professional football and ice hockey.
Terry wanted us to check into a
rumor that something shady was going on among the
NBA franchise seekers. He had been frank in laying
out his skepticism. He thought his clients’ concerns
were based on flimsy evidence.
“Somebody heard bits of a
conversation and told somebody else,” Terry had
said. “Could be strictly a rumor, but these people
are fanatics. They’re really fired up about this, so
we need to try and find some answers.”
From Arnold’s description of
information that would blow my mind, it certainly
sounded like he was ready to confirm the rumor.
“He didn’t give me much chance
to ask questions,” I said.
Jill moved into the kitchen and
filled the carafe with water to make coffee. “You
probably wouldn’t have gotten any answers. Arnold is
a sweet boy, but he can be awfully reticent.”
“I’m getting some bad vibes
from this,” I said.
Jill spooned coffee into the
filter and flipped the switch. “If this has the
potential to solve our case, you should be getting
I sat at the kitchen table and
gazed about at the miniature Christmas tree on the
long white tile counter, plus numerous other holiday
doo-dads my bride of nearly forty years had artfully
placed around the room. It was the season for good
vibes. I just didn’t have them.
“I wish we’d been able to talk
with one of Terry’s clients before now,” I said.
“What did you get set up with Bradley Smotherman?”
“His secretary said we could
see him at eight-thirty on Monday. He’s in one of
those office buildings on West End out past
Smotherman was ringleader of
the group called Protect our Preds, the super hockey
fans we would be working with.
“Did you have any luck with
Gordon Franklin or Mack Nolan?” I asked.
She ran slender fingers through
her thick black hair, a feature that, along with a
pleasantly-curvy body, sometimes made people mistake
her for my daughter. Not an ego-soothing notion. She
was nearly as old as I was. “Franklin will see us
Monday at eleven-thirty. Mack Nolan, as you might
guess, will be harder to pin down. I talked to his
manager. He promised to make time for us as soon as
I understood. With a string of
top country hits, the young man was much in demand
around the circuit. He, along with the other two
well-heeled fans, had put up most of the money for
the organization. They had hired Terry Tremont and
planned various strategies in an attempt to thwart
the basketball promoters. Being primarily a
Tennessee Titans fan, I wasn’t prepared to take
sides on the issue. But if Arnold held the key to
clearing up the claims of skullduggery, I anxiously
awaited hearing him out.
the place as soon as I stepped out of the
car, my breath vaporizing in the cold December night
as though I had lapsed back into the smoking habit.
Rather than smoke, the smell of used oil and worn
tires tainted the breeze. The street appeared as
cluttered as the back room in a neighborhood bar.
Iron rods criss-crossed the window of the small auto
repair shop that had been a service station in a
previous life. In a half-hearted attempt at
Christmas décor, a winking string of icicle lights
writhed like a nervous snake above the overhead
A shiny red Corvette several
years removed from the showroom sat next to the
building. Arnold Wechsel had driven it when he
visited our house. I saw no lights inside but knew
he had to be here. I was running a few minutes late.
As I approached the office door, hands jammed into
the warmth of my jacket pockets, I regretted not
bringing my 9mm Sig Sauer. Like most PI’s, I didn’t
carry it routinely. I had been a bit lax in my
thinking tonight, though, feeling Arnold’s imposing
size would keep any bad guys at bay.
At the door I hesitated, then
turned the knob.
I pulled the door open, stared
into the darkness. Something began to take shape on
the floor as my eyes adjusted. I drew back, half
expecting a bark or a lunge. Instead, I realized it
was a body. I felt a pounding in my chest. Was it
My first impulse was to rush in
and turn on a light. My cop instinct restrained me.
Not without a weapon.
I hurried out to my Grand
Cherokee for a flashlight. Back at the door, I
shined the light inside. Worn black and white vinyl
tiles covered the floor. One white square was tinged
a garish red. Arnold Wechsel lay sprawled on his
back beside a battery display, a lifeless stare
fixed on the ceiling.
I caught my breath and my heart
seemed to stop. I swept the area with the flashlight
but saw no one. Moving carefully to his side, I
squatted down and checked his pulse. Nothing. A
large, stocky young man with a neck like a Titans
lineman, Arnold had fallen almost the full depth of
the office. A small round hole in his cheek with
dark smudging around it told me he had been shot.
Blood pooled beneath his head from the exit wound.
I felt totally helpless.
Jeff Price’s wife and
sister-in-law had been happy that a friend was
nearby in Nashville to offer help if needed. In the
back of my mind, I knew this was not my fault, but I
felt responsible anyway. He had come here to give me
information he thought I needed.
My investigator mindset kicked
in and I knew what I had to do. Find who killed
Arnold Wechsel. I pulled out my cell phone and
speed-dialed my Homicide buddy, Detective Phillip
“Phil, this is Greg McKenzie,”
“Damn, Greg. You really know
how to spoil a guy’s nap.” He spoke slowly, as if
grappling with clouds that needed clearing.
“Sorry, friend. This is one
call I really wish I didn’t have to make.”
He suddenly sounded wide awake.
was supposed to meet a young German who’s the
nephew of an old OSI colleague. He was bringing me
some information. When I got here, I found him shot
in the face. Dead.”
“Damn. Where are you?”
I gave him the address,
explained the condition of the body, the darkened
“I’ll get a patrol car and an
ambulance over there.”
“In that area, on a Saturday
“Not my smartest move lately.”
“That’s for sure. Stay in your
car until they get there. I’ll be right behind ’em.”
I took a last look at Arnold,
already dreading the call to Jeff Price at Ramstein.
The Metro Police chaplain would contact the family,
but I needed to alert Jeff when things settled down.
I pulled the door shut, walked over and placed my
hand on the hood of the sleek red car, using a
handkerchief to avoid disturbing any fingerprints,
or leaving any of my own. Still warm, despite the
frigid air. I glanced at my watch.
Seven-forty-three. He hadn’t been here long. Was he
a target of opportunity for some young punk out to
grab a quick buck? If so, the killer would have
high-tailed it out of here. Or had someone been
waiting to ambush him? In that case, the murderer
could still be around.
I got in my Jeep and pressed
the door lock. Would anybody have heard the shot, I
wondered? I looked around the darkened street. A
drab market that likely depended on the sale of beer
and cigarettes for survival sat to one side, closed
for the day. A vacant building in the other
direction had a For Lease sign in place of its
former occupant’s name. Across the street, a blue
tarp stretched over the roof of a burned-out house.
The nearest occupied residence appeared a couple of
doors down, where a bare bulb with a few years of
grunge on it cast a dim glow over the porch. Not the
sort of area where people would come out and
volunteer information even if a cannon had been
I took out my cell phone and
made another call I dreaded. When Jill answered, I
tried to put it gently. “I’ve got some bad news,
babe. When I got here, I found Arnold had been
“Oh, Greg! That’s awful. Is it
There was no way to make it any
easier. “As bad as it gets.”
“You mean he’s…”
“Dead,” I said when she
hesitated. “Phil Adamson and more cops are on the
“His mother will be
devastated.” After a moment of pained silence, she
asked, “Who could have done it?”
“That’s what I intend to find
“Do you have your gun?”
“No. Coming to meet with
Arnold, I didn’t see the need for it.” Though I
should have, considering the location.
“Be careful, dear, and don’t do
I liked to think of myself as a
guy who chooses the prudent alternative, although
expedience sometimes seems to get in the way. I
didn’t make any promises. My wife knows me too well
for me to try blowing smoke in her direction.
I heard the sirens before I got
off the phone. Shortly afterward, I found myself
flanked by two Metro Nashville Police blue and
whites. I got out with my PI card in hand. A burly,
stern-faced cop with a thick mop of white hair
confronted me. From the look on his face, I gathered
he was not at all happy that I had forced him out in
the cold away from a warm, cozy corner café.
I held out the card. “I’m
Private Investigator Greg McKenzie.”
He gave my ID a cursory glance.
“They told me you’d be here. Where’s the body and
what happened?” The tone of voice told me this was
not a guy to mess with.
I read “Dexter” on his name
plate, then pointed toward the shop entrance. “He’s
just inside that door. He’s been shot in the face.”
The sound of another siren cut
through the cold night air. The cop looked around as
a boxy Metro Fire Department ambulance swerved into
the parking area and added it’s flashing lights to
the Christmas tree effect of the police cars.
“Hadn’t we better check out the
building?” a low-pitched female voice asked from
I turned to see the blue
uniform of the second cop, who had stood silently
behind me. She was a little shorter than my five-ten
and a lot slimmer. I judged her to be mid-to-late
“You see anybody else around
here, McKenzie?” Officer Dexter asked. It sounded
more like a demand.
“How long you been here?”
“Around fifteen minutes. I
didn’t see anyone, but they could have gone out the
“You didn’t go inside?”
“Only to check his pulse. I
didn’t find any.”
“Come on, Bolling,” he said.
“You stay where you are, McKenzie. I’ll get back to
The officers drew their guns
and headed for the building in a cautionary crouch
as two men climbed out of the ambulance, one
carrying a large equipment bag.
“What do we have here?” a tall
paramedic asked, zipping up his blue jacket against
the icy breeze. He had the physique of a basketball
center and the weary expression of someone who’d
rather be back at the fire station drinking coffee
instead of traipsing around in this God-awful cold.
I explained what I had found,
that the cops were clearing the building. As the
ambulance crew ambled toward the shop, I headed back
to my car. I didn’t see any advantage to standing
out here freezing. As I slid onto the seat, I
realized I’d not had a chance to consider the
repercussions of this murder on our case. Before I
could get my mind shifted away from the shock of
finding Arnold dead, the cell phone rang.
“I’m headed out North First,”
Phil Adamson said. “Are you okay?”
“I’ve been better.”
“Hang in there. I’ll be on in a
jiffy. Patrol guys on the scene?”
“Guy and gal,” I said. “Dexter
“Watch your flanks, buddy. Tom
Dexter’s a real hardass. He give you any problems.”
“Give him time.”
“I wasn’t too pleased with the
way he delivered his ‘I’ll get back to you.’”
Phil chuckled. “Try to keep
from getting cuffed before I can make it over
He was familiar with my
reputation for not treading lightly on toes that got
in the way. I stuck the phone back on my belt and
looked up to see the older cop stalk out of the shop
headed for my Jeep. Evidently he’d left the young
policewoman to monitor the crime scene. I donned my
Tennessee Titans cap and stepped out onto the
“Find anybody else?” I asked.
“No. You know the victim?”
“His name is Arnold Wechsel.”
“Who is Wechsel and what’s he
Where his face had looked stern
before, he twisted it into a scowl now.
“He’s the nephew of a former
Air Force colleague of mine. He called this
afternoon and asked me to meet him here at
“He said he had some
information for me.”
“He said he’d tell me when we
“You make a habit of this,
McKenzie? Traipsing around at night in shitty places
with no idea why?”
“Officer Dexter, I worked a
quarter of a century as a special agent for the Air
Force Office of Special Investigations. I’ve spent
many a night meeting with informants, having no idea
what sort of info they might show up with.”
“I don’t give a damn if you’ve
spent a hundred years meeting with pimps and whores.
I want to know what you were doing here tonight. And
don’t tell me you were just fishing.”
I couldn’t see the handcuffs on
his belt, but I knew they were there. And though I
had no desire to try them on, I’d had about enough
of his blustering.
I took a deep breath. “I just
talked to Detective Phil Adamson on the phone. He
was on North First and said he’d be here in a jiffy.
Why don’t we wait for him and I can satisfy
everyone’s curiosity with one telling?”
“Are you refusing to answer my
I’m sure he wasn’t accustomed
to anyone crossing him. I suspected the flush in his
face did not just stem from the weather. He seemed
to be near the boiling point. And so was I.
“No, sir. I’m not refusing
anything,” I said in a slow, deliberate voice. “I’m
A Sporting Murder excerpt Copyright © 2010,
Chester D. Campbell. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used
or reproduced, in any manner whatsoever, without the written
permission of the Publisher or the Author.