TurkeyStuffer Suspense 90,981 words
by Mark Crockett
Someone’ s been butchering the homeless prostitutes in Phoenix, Arizona …and they’ve just killed the wrong person …
After searching for his missing streetwalker girlfriend (Mimi Driver) for nearly four days, transient Robert “Chickenhead” Gibbs unknowingly witnesses Mimi’s killer dumping her black plastic-covered body almost at his feet. Upon discovering the body is that of his beloved Mimi (he tears the plastic from her face after recognizing her shoes), Chickenhead makes an anonymous call to the police. Chickenhead (along with best friend and fellow hobo Timothy ‘Jamaica” Rummains) stands well back as a crowd gathers at the crime scene and vows to find Mimi ‘s killer. He immediately sets out on a four-day drug-induced prowl of Metro Phoenix and questions his fellow homeless. Through persistent investigation, Chickenhead uncovers information of additional dumped bodies-all having been mutilated and with a new twenty dollar bill stapled to their forehead within the last nineteen months. Unknown to Chickenhead at the time, the police have knowledge of similar murders spanning a five-year period, but their official investigation is crippled by the homeless community’s general distrust of cops.
Taking his information to the police, Chickenhead is at first ignored when he asks to see Detective Stephen Proctor, an officer with whom Chickenhead briefly spoke at the crime scene. It is not until Chickenhead borrows a piece of paper and draws a crude finger-and-thumb tracing of a turkey (matching the calling card left on all the bodies) that the detective truly begins to listen. (The police had never released that specific information to the public). Asked how he’d gotten such accurate information, an incensed Chickenhead reveals that he actually has in his possession one of the original calling cards from another dumped body that had been retrieved by a fellow bum he’d spoken to just days before.
Proctor, the lead investigator for the case, was still coming to terms with his own emotional problems-the death of his wife and unborn son during childbirth a year before. Proctor is able, as the case progresses, to empathize with Chickenhead as a man and sets his feelings aside to help solve the case. The tenuous relationship between the two men is quickly strained when Proctor’s attention (along with that of his immedi ate supervisor Lieutenant Bryan LaPlante) is fully diverted to Mimi ‘s estranged father, Peter Driver. (Father and daughter had been out of touch for five years after the former criminal court judge, multi-millionaire, and current Mayor of Houston, Texas, cut off all communication with his daughter after Mimi had left home.) Mayor Driver, an arrogant Senator-wannabe, quickly (and illegally) secures all information about the murders and, fearing whoever is committing the killings will continue to evade the police, enlists the help of ex-CIA trained private investigator Jeremiah Bitters-a dangerous man Driver keeps on retainer. After studying the purloined police notes (that included copies of Chickenhead’s information), Driver orders Bitters to find both bums and enlist their aid-at any cost.
Chickenhead-having not heard from Proctor in almost a week-goes on a two-day drunken spree. He stumbles back to the flop he’d left a week earlier and walks into a three-man ambush, which included a man Chickenhead had beaten a week before while in a drugged-up state. Chickenhead is saved, however, when Jamaica (who, upon seeing the group watching his friend’s flop, volunteers to join them in beating Chickenhead for fifteen dollars) jumps into the fray. The two friends defeat the others but are badly wounded in the process.
It is through their injuries that Chickenhead and Jamaica meet the killer known on the streets as “TurkeyStuffer .” He is Doctor Braxton Howard, one of a team of doctors perlorming pro bono work for the Columbus Free Clinic, a transient health care facility on the edge of downtown Phoenix. A demented Howard has been plucking his victims from the clinic rosters since the facility’s opening five years before. (He was meticulous in selecting homeless prostitutes who came into the clinic for care and marked “none” in the next of kin box on the medical information paperwork filled out by all patients.) It becomes clear that Howard kills his destitute victims simply because he likes to.
Chickenhead is Howard’s last patient of the day. As Howard finishes patching up the bum, Chickenhead asks if any clinic personnel might be able to help him to deal with his nightmares about Mimi’s death. Howard is barely able to contain himself when Chickenhead tells the doctor that his nightmares began when he saw someone (Howard) dump Mimi’s body. Unable to do anything surrounded by the staff at the clinic, Howard puts Chickenhead at the top of the psych patient list and tells him to stop in after his first session that next Tuesday with the pretense that the doctor wanted to change his bandages. Howard waits .until his attending nurse leaves the room for a moment to slip the bum some money, hoping that the gesture would guarantee Chickenhead’s return the following week. As a backup, the doctor grabs the paperwork of the last few patients as he leaves the clinic in order to find Chickenhead’s home address if the bum doesn’t “cooperate” with the doctor’s plan.The transient never makes it back to the clinic. Private Investigator Bitters tracks the two friends to a seedy motel in which they’re staying that weekend and convinces them to meet with Mayor Driver. Together Bitters and Driver talk the two into working for them. In the meantime, Howard freaks out when he discovers that Chickenhead had listed his home address as a post office box number. The doctor calms down enough to figure out (by matching times on two sign out sheets) who the friend was (Jamaica) whom Chickenhead had mentioned when he originally came to the clinic. Three days later, after securing a key to Jamaica’s hotel room from a lowlife he then kills, Howard lays in wait in Jamaica’s room. Howard misses Jamaica by mere hours only because the two friends had been moved to the same hotel where Bitters and the Mayor were staying. In a fit of frustration and rage, Howard kills the room’s new resident when the poor man returns from work. It becomes clear that the doctor is starting to unravel-his desperate attempt to locate the two bums has been unsuccessful.
As a last minute thought, Howard goes through the deceased man’s pockets to make the murder look like a robbery gone bad and finds in the man’s wallet a piece of paper listing Jamaica’s name and voice message number. (Chickenhead and Jamaica had been flooding the streets with their contact numbers-and the Mayor’s money.) After finding a safe payphone, Howard uses the voicemail number to lure Jamaica into a trap by promising information on a body.
Armed with the information from the stolen police report along with the information gathered from people on the street, the two men have been able to identify six of Howard’s victims. But before Howard and Jamaica meet, Lieutenant LaPlante (Proctor’s boss) tires of the Mayor’s political pressure as well as the two bums’ lack of cooperation and orders Proctor to arrest Chickenhead and Jamaica. After speaking with Jamaica, Proctor decides not to bring them in and instead places both men under around-the-clock surveillance. The rookie cop who follows Jamaica to the diner where Howard is waiting accidentally shoots Jamaica at the moment Howard makes his move to kill the bum. Although Howard is also wounded by the cop, the doctor manages to escape. Bitters, alerted by his mole in the police department, rushes to the neighborhood hospital with Chickenhead in tow to find Jamaica. While waiting for the outcome of Jamaica’s surgery, Proctor, Bitters, and Chickenhead finally talk. Proctor confides to them that he believes whoever is doing the killings may have a medical background based on the M.O. of the killings and the controlled anesthesia drugs found at two crime scenes. Chickenhead then asked if the police had checked anyone who worked at the clinic. Proctor says yes.
Chickenhead repeats the story of Howard giving him the money. (Howard had offered the money and explained that he sympathized with Chickenhead because he himself had lost a sister to murder years before). This revelation startled Proctor who, having talked to Howard days before and not having liked the doctor’s reactions nor the results of the quick background check, tells Chickenhead and Bitters that Howard definitely had lied-the background check confirmed that Howard had no sister. It was now clear that Howard’s single purpose was to lure Chickenhead back to the clinic.
Chickenhead gives the info he and Jamaica have gathered to Proctor and Bitters. Proctor takes the info to the clinic and, after sifting through available medical records, finds that Howard had been selecting his victims-Mimi among them-from the clinic’s destitute clientele. Bitters reports this to Driver, who goes ballistic. Without telling Bitters, Driver hires another P.I. to shadow Bitters with specific instructions to bring Howard to him at any cost-but alive. Howard (hurt and on the run) escapes to Dallas, Texas, via his private plane, but is mugged at the airport and loses his wallet and his stash of money. Howard ends up in a dive of a hotel outside the airport while he tries to think of his next move. Bitters and Chickenhead arrive in Dallas two hours later after having determined Howard’s destination though the small plane’s transponder code. As Bitters relays information to Driver, the Mayor passes it on to the second group of P.1.s. Chickenhead splits from Bitters’ team and finally finds Howard at a cheap hotel. Bitters had been tracking Chickenhead’ s movements through a Global Positioning microchip embedded in the special cell phone Bitters had given the man and arrived at the fleabag hotel shortly after Chickenhead had paid the willing desk clerk for Howard’s room number.
The second P.I. crew (headed by a crooked ex-cop named George Mooreman) arrives within minutes of Bitters’ team. Regina (one of Bitters’ crew) sweet talks the hotel desk clerk into giving her Howard’s room number whereas Mooreman ‘s crew, just minutes later, beat the same information out of the confused clerk. Chickenhead is the first to reach the wounded doctor’s room, breaks through the door, and nearly beats Howard to death before he’s knocked unconscious by Bitters. Bitters, in trying to revive the doctor, is caught flat footed by George Mooreman, whose plan is to shoot Bitters, grab Howard, deliver him to Driver, and collect a substantial reward. Even that plan is foiled as Regina disables Mooreman, but not before the pudgy P.I. accidentally shoots and kills Howard. As Bitters, Chickenhead, and Regina leave the hotel, Regina calms the beaten desk clerk and purposely mentions to him the location of the now unconscious men who had stomped the poor man minutes before. The determined clerk locks the door after Bitters’ crew leaves, then finds and kills Mooreman and his partner. Bitters gathers his crew and sends them to safety, then flies to Houston and confronts Mayor Driver in his own home. The Mayor, mistakenly thinking Bitters dead by Moorman’s hand, is totally caught off guard by a very alive and pissed-off Bitters. Afraid for both his life and his reputation (Bitters has several documents and photos that connect Driver to Mooreman), the Mayor listens to and then meets all of Bitters’ demands. Using his money and influence, the Mayor sees to it that Bitters’ name in not connected with the fatal fiasco in Dallas and that Chickenhead and Jamaica receive the reward money (with more kicked in by the Mayor) for solving the murder of Mimi Driver. Weeks later and with the help of Jamaica and the same psychologist who is counseling Proctor, Chickenhead comes to terms with Mimi’s death. It is then, after Bitters spends weeks pestering Chickenhead and Jamaica, that the two friends join Bitters’ crew as P.1.s in training.