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Spokane Sting: Mystery Short Story

IN THE August 11 ISSUE

FROM THE 2018 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Diana Deverell

With a new school yearly nearly upon us, it seemed a perfect time for a mystery short story with a bit of a back to school kind of feel. Spokane Sting has never before been published.

A clean-cut guy holding a metal detection wand stood beside me in the Mineshaft Saloon and Dance Hall lobby. The dude looked to be my age, twenty-nine. Like me, he wore a tomato-red golf shirt over black jeans.

My shirt had security embroidered in white thread over my heart and in all-caps on my back. The color went well with my loose streaky blonde mane.

Before I became a Washington State Trooper, I went to film school. I learned to live any part I played. I was doing the same for tonight’s undercover role.

I enjoyed the change from my blues. The uniform shirt and jacket flattened my boobs, and I had to twist my hair up to get it under a Smokey-Bear hat.

Not that the dreadlocked male coming through the entrance showed any interest in nicely-costumed me. When he held out his arms for wanding, his eyes focused on the first line of the framed notice screwed to the knotty pine paneling.

NO MINORS

The recently-renamed Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board required all bars and taverns to post the notice headed by those eight scarlet letters.

I hoped the kid read the black line below the red:

Persons under age 21 not permitted.

Tonight’s underage patrons got to read the law before they broke it.

While a security camera filmed each illegal drinker’s misdemeanor, I focused on my main objective.

I wanted to identify the felon responsible for the rash of phony driver’s licenses turning up in Spokane County.

Often, an underage drinker will buy a fake online. The kid gets a package from China in the mail with the bogus ID hidden in a plastic novelty item.bar

Early this summer, the number of counterfeit Washington State driver’s licenses showing up at university-area bars, liquor stores, and recreational marijuana vendors mushroomed alarmingly. Each fake had a working bar code plus the bearer’s real name, address, and photo with an altered birth year. To the untrained eye, they were indistinguishable from the real thing.

University officials were alarmed. Their stats showed that increases in student drinking correlate with more sexual assaults on campus. We cops feared that in a car-dependent Spokane County, younger, less experienced drivers might attempt to drive while high on pot and booze.

Most likely, we’d be first on the scene of more gruesome and bloody crashes on local highways.

So town and gown got together to discuss how to solve the problem.

I was at the meeting with my boss Kent Harper because we work for the Washington State Patrol’s special investigation unit based in Spokane. At that first meet, Kent pointed out that the increase in high-quality fake IDs among university students might mean the person making them had established a base on campus.

Nodding agreement, a deputy sheriff proposed raiding a nightclub catering to a young crowd. We’d bust some minors and make one of them cough up the counterfeiter’s name.beer

Kent’s smooth talking refined that old-fashioned head-busting into tonight’s sophisticated sting. As the youngest law enforcement officer in the group, I was tasked to make it attractive to illegal drinkers.

Kent hooked me up with the owner of the Mineshaft. It sits in a dusty valley east of downtown that reminds me of a third-world country. Land is cheap in Spokanistan and a sea of asphalt surrounds the five-thousand-square-foot saloon.

Now, at five o’clock, I peered out the glass double-doors. Long rays of golden August sun glinted off dozens of parked cars and trucks.

The outdoor host sat six inches from the glass. He was running a bar code scanner over the ID presented by a chubby-cheeked girl. Twenty more eager youngsters waited in line behind the rope.

I was hot to save lives and catch whoever was profiting from youthful recklessness. Crime fighting is in my blood.

I’m named Andrea after my father, Andrew Jackson Clark. He’s an FBI agent in DC. When I was growing up, he told me stories of righteous stings going all the way back to Abscam.

When I phoned Dad for tips,
I could tell he envied me. He was too senior to go out in the field. I got to have all the fun.

While I identified suspects, my security cover required me to patrol indoors like an old-fashioned bouncer. I’m six-feet tall and in good shape. I can toss drunks out of the Mineshaft if I have to.

My colleague finished frisking the dreadlocked patron and waved him in.

The kid fit my profile, and I trailed him through the archway. I made a mental note when some pal shouted, “Hey, Barry, over here.”

The Mineshaft is a huge rectangular box of a building with a gorgeous hardwood floor and polished oak bar. At the moment, the DJ was relying on the Country Party play list.

The air smelled of fresh popcorn and every wooden chair clustered by the round cafe tables was filled. Male and female servers in white shirts with black vests held loaded beverage trays high as they wove between the bar and the tables.beer

The crowd of young men and women standing at the edge of the shrunken dance floor was three deep. A few couples were out two-stepping, but everyone else had a hand around a hard-plastic drinking glass.

Today was the Friday before Labor Day and classes at the big private university would be in full swing on Tuesday. I’d persuaded the Mineshaft owner to hold a Back-to-School Party.

We bargain-priced the beverages and placed catchy ads highlighting the happy hour savings, nonstop music, and hundred-dollar-gift-card door prizes.

We neglected to mention that our draft PBR was the lite version, the well-drinks were half-strength, and the colorful Jell-O shots held more water than vodka. We were betting the baby drinkers couldn’t tell the difference.

More than half the two hundred and fifty patrons already indoors lingered in front of me. Another hundred had gone to the enclosed patio where the music featured rock, rap, and hip hop.

A couple dozen drinkers packed the indoor tropical-themed section. Hellboy used to rule that corner but the mechanical longhorn had been replaced by beach sand, palm fronds, and a tiki hut.

The flat-screens over the tiki bar scrolled surfer shots, casting bluish light over the drinkers.

Snaking through the crowd, I stopped every minute or so and asked a random patron, “How ya’ doin’?”

Security personnel pose casual questions to reveal how inebriated the respondent is and decide if it’s time to stop service. I was also picking out interrogation subjects.

Going in, I’d figured the youngest lawbreakers would cave the quickest under questioning. I’d concentrated on getting names from adolescent-looking patrons.

But maybe my strategy wasn’t smart. Maybe older students would be more clued-in. I needed to include some of them.

I headed for a peppy redhead who might be a cheerleader. She’d know everybody in the student body. A clumsy passerby knocked me gently into a svelte brunette.

She recovered her balance like a pro. A single splash from her cola drink hit the dusty-rose silk blouse topping her white cropped-leg jeans. She smelled like expensive Moroccan hair oil. Her poise convinced me she was legal age, and I was eager to get past her.

“Excuse me,” I began, and she turned.

Panic flashed in her gray eyes. I added the brunette to my list. After apologizing, I promised we’d pay her cleaning bill. Reluctantly, she gave me her name.

I continued across the floor, stepped behind the bar, and hustled through the swing door into the brightly-lit kitchen. No food service tonight. Instead of grilled beef, the room smelled of freshly-scrubbed cop.

Three uniformed Spokane County deputy sheriffs occupied the folding chairs fronting the make-shift desks spaced along the walls.

I spotted Trooper Sergeant Steve Larson tending the computer system. He wore French-blue uniform trousers, a pale blue shirt, and a dark blue bow tie.

The computer array sat on the stainless steel worktable at the center of the kitchen. Every license scanned at the door went into a software program that compared it to the driver license database. The program flagged the fakes.

Steve gave me a gleeful look. “Fifty counterfeits so far,” he announced.

“Does that list include a Sydney Fielding?” I asked.

Steve poked his keyboard. “Check this out.”

I popped over. Her license photo matched the brunette I’d bumped.

Steve shook his head. “She’ll be twenty-one in three months. You sure you want to drag her in?”

Sydney had taken over my number one spot for patron most likely to name a local ID counterfeiter.

“She’s been on campus two years,” I said. “I need to talk to her.”

We wouldn’t start interrogations for another thirty minutes. I had time to correct my strategic error and add more older subjects.

I tapped the screen. “See if you have a Barry with his hair in dreads.”

Presto, the kid’s picture appeared on the screen.

“I want him, too.”

Ernie, the Mineshaft owner, came out of his office. Stumpy with shaggy gray hair and beard, he looked like a poorly groomed Jon Stewart.

“We drew double the crowd I expected,” he shouted. “Thanks to you, Andrea.”

I was pleased.
I’d tried hard to lure every local underage drinker in Spokane County with a fake ID. Twitter had to be buzzing that the Mineshaft was letting everybody in, no questions asked.

Ernie inspected me carefully. “My uniform suits you better than your trooper outfit. You’re ten times better-looking than the actress who beat you out for that part.”

I’d told Ernie about my failed acting career. Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of roles for big, athletic females. I was on the verge of giving up when the perfect one came along. A brawny woman warrior in a series that’s still running.

The casting director gave the part to a “more androgynous” six-foot-tall female who’d bulked up in advance, cut off her hair, and wore armor to the audition.

I’d been a tomboy all my life, but I was too girlie for HBO?

I said the hell with Hollywood and changed my major to criminal justice. After graduation, I found a cop job on the west coast as far from LA as I could get.

I’d followed my father into the family trade, but I refused to work for the feds. Asking Dad for tips was acceptable. Working where everyone knew me as Andrew Jackson Clark’s little girl was not. I wanted to make it on my own.

The kitchen door swung open, and my boss marched in. Kent yanked at his red golf shirt, and I realized he was unhappy out of his blues. An older guy but well-toned, he looked sort of hot in uniform, at least until he put on the hat.

I don’t look hot in mine. No big deal. I’d have gone on international television in chain mail and crap hair.
An ugly uniform wasn’t a deal-breaker when WSP offered me a chance to bust bad guys.

Kent frowned at me. “We’ve reached capacity ahead of schedule. We can’t let anyone else in. We have to start interrogations now.”

Damn. No time to find better interviewees.

Echoing my concern, Kent continued, “At this point, it’s a crap shoot. We’ll need a lot of luck to catch a counterfeiter based on campus.”

I wanted so badly to nail our perp, I rushed out my next overly-optimistic words. “I’ve spotted three subjects who seem promising.”

Kent slapped his hands together as if he was brushing away doubts. “Give their names to Ernie, and we’ll hand out the door prizes.”

Within five minutes, Ernie had flashed the house lights and taken control of both sound systems. He told the crowd he was announcing the lucky winners of the first three one-hundred-dollar gift cards. Ernie read the names, setting off rounds of cheers.

Seconds later, dreadlocked Barry plunged into the kitchen on a wave of extra-loud techno. He balked when he saw the uniforms.

Kent got him in a come-along hold and drew him to the central work table.

Steve grabbed the next arrival, a big lad whose unfamiliarity with well drinks had gotten my attention.

Sydney arrived last. She didn’t resist when I took her hand.

We three troopers started by demanding the subjects surrender their counterfeit licenses.

Steve’s deep voice overwhelmed the big lad. He confessed that he’d bought his ID off a website.

I heard Barry waffle through three or four sentences before he admitted the same thing.

Wordless, Sydney fake-cried into her hankie. She’d never taken acting lessons. A convincing weep requires concentration. You can’t be checking out everything around you when your eyes are filled with tears.

But Sydney had carefully tracked the other two guilty patrons as each was paired with a deputy for ticketing.
Since confession had won no mercy, she tried pleading. “I’m heading for law school. This misdemeanor will stop any reputable firm from hiring me.”

“Sorry to hear that.” I aimed to sound sincerely sympathetic.

Encouraged, she lowered her voice to an intimate tone. “I’ll be twenty-one in November. Do you have to cite me?”

I added regret to my voice. “I’m afraid so.”

Moving on to let’s-make-a-deal mode, I tapped my finger on her driver’s license. “If you help us catch the felon who sold you this, I can recommend leniency. How’d you obtain this ID?”

She’d heard the other two confess. Instead of blaming the internet, she threw up her well-manicured hands. “My boyfriend only talked me into coming here with him yesterday. When I said yes, he got it for me.”

My heart beat faster. The turnaround time was too short for an online purchase. “Sounds like your boyfriend might be able to get you out of this mess,” I said. “Why don’t you ask him to join us?”

I held my breath. If Sydney loved the boyfriend, she’d take the hit alone instead of getting him cited, too.

She pulled out a phone, hit speed-dial, and said, “I need you back here.” After a pause, she added, “No, nothing’s wrong. Use the swing door behind the bar marked staff only.”

Steve had tuned into our conversation. He made eye contact and tilted his head toward the door. He’d intercept the boyfriend.

I ordered Sydney to shut off her phone.

She did so with verve. “I’m practically legal. My being in the Mineshaft tonight is a rite of passage.”

She said it as though she meant right of passage.

“Sorry, Sydney,” I said sadly.

She made a face. “Taking my ID ought to be enough punishment.”

I shrugged. “My hands are tied.”

The man I’d seen with her earlier pushed into the kitchen. He wore tan Dockers, a light yellow cotton sweater, and a horrified expression when he registered the uniforms.

“Josh,” Sydney exclaimed. “I need you to do something for me.”

Steve had Josh’s elbow before the man could back out.

Sydney asked him to tell where her fake ID had come from.

“I don’t know a damn thing about your driver’s license,” he insisted.

“Josh,” she crooned. “I told them you gave it to me. All they want to know is where you got it.”

“Internet,” Josh muttered.

“We’ll both be fined unless you tell the truth,” she snapped. “You said a buddy did you a favor. Give them his name, and we can walk.”

I was impressed. Sydney was only an undergraduate. When she got her law degree, she’d take over the world. She definitely had Josh under control.

“I bought it from Warren Pierce,” Josh admitted.

“You have an address for Mr. Pierce?” I asked.

Josh’s glance shifted to the door and back to me. “I only see him in class.”

Another student. I raised an eyebrow at Steve. “Check the name?”

Kent followed Steve to the computer.

Seconds later, Steve nudged me aside and took charge of Sydney and Josh.

“Boss needs you,” he said.

Kent was at the swing door. I hurried after him.

“Pierce’s photo matches a heavy dude in a Hawaiian shirt who was pumping down rum and cokes at the tiki hut earlier.”

We stepped out into the thump of heavy bass and took separate paths around the edge of the dance floor.

Six patrons filled the wicker bar stools in the tiki hut. All faced the flat-screen where a woman in a hula skirt was showing off hip action that meshed with the throbbing music.beer

The broad-backed man on the far end wore a baggy orange aloha shirt decorated with white hibiscus. He had his forearms on the bar top.

Kent got to him first and slid the man’s drink out of reach.

I planted myself ten feet away, hemming Pierce in.

I couldn’t hear Kent’s soft words. I imagined something like, “Sir, my partner and I need to speak with you in the office.”

A phrase that might’ve worked if Kent and I had been in uniform.

Even tipsy bar patrons hesitate before resisting arrest. A red golf shirt doesn’t have the same effect. Slipping off his stool, Pierce snarled, “No way, dude.” He slammed a meaty hip into Kent and shoved him aside.

Pierce plunged toward me.

When he was a twelve inches from me, I shifted sideways and aimed my foot at his crotch.

He swerved, and my sneaker heel hit his thigh three inches above the knee.

He hunched over to protect his privates and tried to bull past.

I moved straight into my dream role. I imagined I was clutching a longsword made of dragon-fired steel and given to me by a king slayer. I clenched my hands together and slammed them down on the base of Pierce’s skull.

He collapsed onto the soft sand like he’d been thrown by the mechanical bull.

“You didn’t have to take him down single-handed,” Kent muttered into my ear. “I had time to alert the door staff to stop him.”

“Didn’t want to risk letting him escape.”

Kent snapped handcuffs around Pierce’s wrists. “Where’d you learn that move?”

“Hollywood.”

He laughed. “You were cinematic all right.”

I glanced around. Most patrons had pressed closer to gawk at the take-down. But beyond the onlookers, a few kids were quietly moving toward the exit. Skittish illegal drinkers were clearing out. Their hasty departures wouldn’t stop them getting tickets. We had all their faces on film and photos of their fake IDs.

We were using a variation on the traffic-control cameras that captured a speeder’s license plate. Traffic cops used the photo as the basis for mailing a court summons to the registered car owner. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office would deal in a similar manner with the underage drinkers.

In addition, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board would refer lawbreaking students to the university for appropriate counseling.

Half a dozen deputies waited in their cruisers at the parking lot’s only exit to stop and breathalyze all drivers. We wouldn’t have any DUI fatalities tonight.

Kent helped Pierce to his feet. I took one arm, Kent took the other, and we muscled him toward the kitchen.

Over the PA, I heard Ernie announce the end of happy hour. Staff would be rechecking IDs before filling any new orders.

I imagined the rest of the minors fleeing the Mineshaft.

I’d wanted to say that all night. I giggled.

Kent grinned at me. “Trooper Clark, you showed excellent cop instincts when you staged this sting.”

“You mean it?”

He gave a firm nod. “Hollywood’s loss was a big gain for Washington State Patrol.”

I beamed. “Turns out, Spokane is more my kind of town.”

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Check out our new mystery podcast.

Before moving to Denmark to write fulltime, Diana earned her living as a long-haul trucker, beef farmer, youth worker, and hot/cold war diplomat. Those adventures took place in 48 states, two Canadian provinces, El Salvador, and Poland. Her latest release is Bitch Out of Hell, a political thriller in which security pro Bella Hinton battles the forces of evil converging on today’s Washington, DC. Diana also writes legal thrillers which are set in Spokane and international thrillers which are not. Details at www.dianadeverell.com.

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