Robert Collins is Portland’s best investigative detective. When the Stevens family goes missing, he goes to work. As he uncovers clues the family may have been targeted for a professional hit by organized crime, it gets personal. Too personal. Can he face down his inner demons before he loses himself? He confronts the mob and police bureaucracy to find the missing family. Jake, partner and friend, thinks he’s spiraling into obsession, when Robert’s taken off the case but refuses to give up the investigation. Can he get past this shameless tragedy and his own past to move on with his life? Silent River is a fictionalized version of a real investigation in the late 1950s in Portland, Oregon, a time when money and power ruled the city. This story will appeal to fans of true crime and detective fiction alike. Readers who enjoy Ann Rule, Rex Stout, and Mary Higgins Clark will love CM Weaver.
Detective Robert Collins absently swigged the lukewarm coffee that he’d bought on his way to work that morning. A few officers sat at their desks. Monday mornings usually weren’t this quiet.
He pushed open the door to his office. He detested the institutional green walls. His desk was falling apart, no matter how many times he nailed and glued the drawers back together. He threw his coat at the stand along with his hat. It slid on the curled wood and stayed. The hat twirled but remained in its place. Robert didn’t bother to watch as he sat the cup on the stained desk and gingerly sat in the wooden, rolling, office chair. It hated him and had dumped him on the floor a few times.
His inbox overflowed with reports for follow-up and notes on cases he needed to read. There were times when he wished he had a regular nine-to-five job, and this was one of those times. He’d pulled an all-nighter last night, and the subject of the stakeout had played him like a cat with a toy mouse.
The sound of taps on leather shoes echoed as it moved toward his office. The announcement of Nate Polentti was not a welcome sound to Robert. He cringed as the tapping stopped at his door.
“So, you and Jake got some “prime beef” last night.” Nate’s nasal tone grated on his nerves. “Why do you guys seem to get all the bribes? Oh, that’s right, you two passed through the cleanup with flying colors. Makes a person think now, doesn’t it? You made front page news. I wonder how my uncle, Chief Gilmore, is going to take this.” Nate gave a dry laugh as he slapped the newspaper down in front of Robert. The tapping seemed more pronounced as Nate walked away.
The paper unfolded, allowing Robert to see a large picture, above the fold, of an unmarked police car. The driver’s arm rested on the frame of the open window. Thankfully, it was just an arm, he thought. He looked closer at the grainy picture. The prime target of the photographer centered on the person in the background. A white-jacketed waiter walked away from the car, balancing a tray that bore the remains of two sumptuous dinners.
The headline read: Are There Still Cops on the Take? The article stated that two police officers were seen eating prime rib dinners provided by a known mob leader who had arrived in Portland to possibly open a casino in the area.
The phone rang. Robert fumbled around under the paper until he found the receiver. He answered, not taking his eyes from the article.
“Robert, we got a call for you to report to Stan.” The dispatcher gave the address. He pulled a pen and pad from his pocket and jotted down the information. As if it were one complete motion, he jammed his long arms into the sleeves of his coat, positioned his fedora over his dark blond crew cut, and hurried through the office.
In the car, he turned the key and pressed the gas pedal. He headed down Alder Street to Sandy. Following Sandy Boulevard, the traffic kept him to the speed limit, and the drive to Fifty-Seventh Avenue took a little longer than usual. He’d hit the end of the rush hour and everyone heading to work. He poked down the street, looking for the address he’d been given.
The houses were well kept. Robert saw people milling on the sidewalks ahead and parked behind a squad car. He looked at the situation and didn’t see anything that would need a gun drawn, so he got out and slid his hat in place, running his fingers along the brim. He made his way through the crowd of people the officers tried to keep on their front lawns.
“Hey, what’s happened?” a reporter called out. “Who’s missing?”
“Stan!” Robert called to a man just going up the front steps of the house.
“Took you long enough,” Stan taunted.
“Took you long enough to call. Couldn’t handle it on your own?”
“I thought you should earn some of those taxpayers’ dollars instead of just reading the sports pages at your desk on Monday morning.”
“Yeah, well, thanks. What have we got here?” He followed Stan into the living room. A man and a woman sat on the couch talking to one of the officers.
“This is Tom and Maggie Borman. She claims something happened to her brother and his family.” Stan consulted his black book, “A Karl and Debra Stevens and their three girls. Mrs. Borman, this is Detective
Robert Collins. Would you tell him what you told me?”
Maggie Borman wore a beige sweater over a plaid shirt and pleated brown skirt. Her salt-and-pepper hair was pulled into a French roll at the back of her head. She was in her late forties; her brows were furrowed over her brown eyes.
She wrung her hands as she talked. “I called yesterday afternoon to talk to Debra, but they weren’t home. I kept calling until almost midnight. When I got up this morning, I tried again, but there was still no answer. We came over here and because I have a key for emergencies, we went in to check. I didn’t find anything missing or any reason they wouldn’t have come home last night.” Her voice broke, and she began to cry.
“Was the lock forced?” Robert asked Stan.
“No, and we couldn’t find any of the windows forced open either. Everything is locked up tight.”
“Can you give me their names, ages, and descriptions?” he turned to the woman.
“Karl Stevens is my brother; he is fifty-four. Debra, his wife, is forty-eight. Kelly is fourteen; Darla is twelve, and Sara is ten years old.” Tom spoke the names while Maggie filled in the ages.
“Do you have any idea what they might have been wearing?” Robert asked.
“No, I can only guess. I know that Debra would have been wearing a dress, and the girls were probably wearing pedal pushers, shirts, and maybe either a sweater or a jacket.”
“Is there anyone they might have gone to visit? Someone they spent the night with? There has been some snow up the Columbia River Gorge.” Robert directed the questions, while Stan stood to one side looking at his notepad and adding any details he hadn’t thought to ask.
Maggie shook her head. “They would have called me,” she muttered into her handkerchief.
When Maggie could not continue, Robert left them in Stan’s care and walked through the house. He watched a team of men search for any clues. The house was clean, but the Sunday paper lay on the side table, as if Mr. Stevens had just put the sections down after reading them. The comic pages had been divided, and some were on the floor while others were folded on the coffee table.
The kitchen had been used, for breakfast dishes soaked in oily water.
He opened the fridge, but there was no roast waiting to be put in the oven. His mom liked to have a roast cooking when they came home after church. He took a deep breath, remembering the smell that greeted the family as they all trooped through the door after the church service. This family either ate before going to church or didn’t go that Sunday. What would cause this family to skip church?
Taking a quick look in the bedrooms upstairs, he saw the parent’s bedroom. No clothes lying around; the items on the vanity were lined up on the runner. A quick check in the closet revealed no suitcases; he’d check the hall closet later. The next door down the short hall had the name “Kelly” written on a card tacked to the door. Inside, there wasn’t anything out of place—too neat for a teenager. He stepped inside. The bed had perfect hospital corners, the books so neat they were aligned by height. With his pen, he hooked the desk drawer and pulled it open. All the pens and pencils were in neat rows, small to large, sharpened to a point.
He looked for any notes she might have left, but the notepad was blank. He would have the guys bag it and bring it to him at the office, along with her schoolbag.
All the drawers held her clothes neatly folded in vertical stacks. Robert opened the closet door to see dresses, blouses, and skirts hanging in even spaces. She must have been obsessive about her room, which wasn’t normal in his book. He had no sisters, but he did have a brother who would sleep in and on his clothes. He backed out of the door, taking one more look at the dresser, small desk, bed, and night table with a single lamp.
Two cards with “Sara” and “Darla” printed on them were stuck to the next door. The beds were made, but not as neatly as Kelly’s. A wicker basket of folded clothes sat on each bed, ready to be put away. A bookshelf held books and games stuffed haphazardly on the shelves, some of the pieces falling out of the half-closed boxes. Schoolbags in this room peeked out from under the beds, nothing out of the ordinary.
He opened the last door in the hallway and found a stairway to the attic. A door at the top was closed but it opened when he turned the knob. A bedroom. He sniffed. A boy’s room. Perhaps a boarder? A single bed with a quilt over it, a short dresser, a chair, and an empty closet. He turned and went down the stairs. 6
Back on the main floor, he made a note that there was no sign of a struggle and no note left on the pad near the phone or on the refrigerator, where most people would leave one if they were going out of town.
In the basement, he touched the sawdust furnace. Still warm, even though the fire was out. It must have been going for quite a while before the fire died from lack of fuel. Robert judged it to have been out about four or five hours.
In the living room, the Christmas tree was decorated, a Santa suit lay neatly over a chair, and a bag of candy canes lay right next to it. A few Christmas decorations adorned the windows. Probably done by the girls, he thought. It was December 7, 1958, and Christmas was just around the corner. Not a time for a family to go missing. The Bormans remained on the couch, watching the officers.
“Mrs. Borman, who else might have a key to the house?”
“No one that I know of, but anyone could get in, the back door is never locked.”
Robert frowned; he turned and walked back to the kitchen. Maggie stood and followed him. He stood looking at the lock, a standard, turn knob with a button-slide, locking mechanism. Maggie reached past him toward the knob. Robert pushed her hand down, intercepting her reach.
“What!?” Maggie gasped.
“Fingerprints. If this door is normally unlocked, someone locked it. We will need to fingerprint the lock. We’ll need your prints to disqualify you, and we’ll have the others in the house. Anyone different, we will need to question them. I’m sorry I startled you.”
He met Stan on the porch.
“What do you think?” Stan asked.
“Mrs. Borman said they never went anywhere overnight that they didn’t notify her first. It’s possible this might be the exception. Let’s question the neighbors and see what comes up.”
“I have a team already on it, though we are shorthanded if you want to help out.”
“Always ready to help, after all, this could be my department—homicide.”
Robert talked to the occupants in the house next to the Stevens and one person across the street. None had seen anything that morning or the day before. One family had been gone all day, and the other had sick children and hadn’t been outside.
“Hey, Robert, the chief wants you in his office right away.” Deputy Nate’s grin almost wrapped around his head as he made the announcement.
Robert ground his teeth and nodded at the young man. The kid must have his ear on the phone every moment.
At the office of Chief Arnold Gilmore, better known as Arnie, he rapped his knuckles firmly and waited for an answer.
“Come in,” the gruff voice called out.
Robert opened the door, but the chief was on the phone. The man waved him to a seat across from him and finished his conversation.
“Good to see you, Collins. What are you working on right now?” Chief Gilmore had a balding, round head with a few wisps of white hair that grew near his left ear and were pasted across the top of his head almost to his right ear. He had a barrel of a chest and a stomach that overshot his belt buckle if he had one on. He wore wide suspenders that crossed over at his shoulder blades.
“The usual, sir. Following mob bosses who show up in our city and have to submit to their haranguing the department to the media, who then make us look like fools.” He tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but he was sure the irony was not lost on the chief.
Arnie laughed. “Yes, I saw your picture in the paper this morning. Was that your arm or Jake’s?”
“Don’t worry about it. The hoopla’s over. The man you were watching was here to put a deal together to buy a plot of land on Sauvie Island. He planned to build a casino here. Wanted to build a little Las Vegas.” Robert frowned and leaned closer to ask if that had happened. Arnie continued. “No, it didn’t happen. It’s rained here for the past two weeks. The area he wanted to see is flooded with about a foot of water. He’d
been heard to say, ‘Who would want to live in this godforsaken place, much less want to visit here?’ He had his dinner Sunday night with his boys and now is probably back in sunny Las Vegas.”
“For once, thank goodness for our rain.” Robert sighed.
“Yes, that might be true, but a casino would have brought in jobs and money to the community.”
Robert schooled his expression. He was against legalizing gambling. It was bad enough they had their own little organized crime gang running the city.
“Jobs. Yes, we would have had to hire more men, build bigger jails, and then you would have another corrupt department to clean up.”
This time Robert didn’t bother to hide his sarcasm. “Yes, we can be thankful that it isn’t going to happen. One cleanup was enough. I never want to go through that again.”
Robert had just become a deputy when someone sent large envelopes to the governor, the Oregonian, and the Journal. Inside were pictures, dates, and the names of cops who were on the take. The photos were so incriminating that there was nothing left for the governor to do but initiate a city-wide sweep. There were still officers and high officials who were on trial.
“Robert, I want you to work with Stan on this missing persons case. He specifically asked for you. You file a report regularly. That’s all.” Chief Gilmore dismissed Robert.
Walking down the hall to his office, Robert glanced at the men working. He wondered what they thought when they weren’t buried in police procedures. He’d felt some of their gazes as he passed them, conversations that suddenly stopped or seemed to change.
After the chief called them all in for a meeting and said there were going to be changes, he’d been apprehensive. He liked the chief and thought he did a good job. Then half the department disappeared. Older officers retired early or asked for a transfer. Some were indicted with criminal charges and the few left, like Jake Monroe, his friend, walked softly around some of those who remained. Not all of them agreed with the chief but knew their jobs were a thin line from being terminated.
Thank you, C.M. Weaver and Silver Dagger Book Tours.
About the Author
I live and work in the Pacific Northwest. I’m married and take care of a challenged rescue dog, Ariel. I love writing, but don’t write in one particular genre. I do gravitate more to mysteries as I’m always asking “What if?”
Amazon * Goodreads