By Randall Lippincott, Jane McMaster, Judye Reilly & Kirsten Trimble
“It should go off when she starts the car,” the young man dressed in blue coveralls said. He worked quickly and carefully, placing the one-pound brick of C-4 explosives on the inside of the wheel well nearest the gas tank of the black Mercedes C-Class parked in the Rittenhouse Square garage. “This’ll make a mess of our girl,” he added with a snicker.
“Someone’s coming,” whispered the other young man, also dressed in coveralls. He leaned from behind the open doors of the white van parked directly behind the car. On the side of the van, the logo K & A Locks was stenciled in green letters with a Celtic cross underneath. “Hurry up and let’s get out of here.”
A minute and 20 seconds later, the van drove away down Walnut Street. A minute and 25 seconds later, Sydney McManus turned around and walked back down the garage staircase toward the Chestnut Street exit.
Ernie Hargrove hung up the phone after the daily call from his mother. Now he could officially begin his day. He enjoyed talking to his mom and didn’t really mind that she checked up on him daily. She was incredibly proud of him, but no one was more relieved when he retired from the Philadelphia Police Department than she was. Twenty years of worrying about him getting killed in the line of duty was more than enough. He had come way too close. She was hoping that after retirement he would take it easy, go fishing and to Phillies’ games, not open a private investigations firm.
Ernie loved being a cop; it was what he always expected to be. At 22 he graduated from the academy and began patrolling the streets of Philly. At 30 he made detective and at forty-two he knew it was time to get out. Twenty years on the streets were enough. There were times when he felt like a dog chasing his tail, going around and around, but never quite getting the prize. In his case, the prize was the crime boss of all crime bosses, the thorn in his side, Pee Wee O’Shea. Ernie and his team had worked for years to nail the bastard, but he always managed to slip through their grasp. The year that Ernie retired his team was close to bringing Pee Wee O’Shea down. To this day much of what happened was still a blur, a red blur to be specific since he watched it unfold through blood pouring into his eyes. The bullet just grazed his head, but it bled like a son- of-a-bitch, which is what ultimately spared his life.
They thought I was dead, Ernie said to himself, they thought I was dead. Sometimes during the following months, he wished that were true. One of his team made the ultimate sacrifice, shot before Ernie’s blood soaked eyes. While thankful he couldn’t clearly see the final seconds of Ronny Carillo’s life, he knew he’d never forget the sounds – the echo of the gunshot that seemed to last forever, the thump as the detective hit the ground, and the gasping of his last breath. The final straw for Ernie came one day many months later while making a drug bust. With warrant in hand, Ernie and his team burst into the suspect’s apartment sending several agents up the stairs with weapons drawn. Before they could get to the top, the surprised suspect grabbed his toddler son and used him as a shield. Holding a knife to his child’s throat, he forced the detectives to back down the stairs. With the panic of a caged animal and the detectives’ guns aimed at him, he threw the child down at the officers and dove through a window out to the fire escape. Ernie was the first one after him and after taking a shot, which hit the fleeing man in the shoulder, Ernie jumped off of the metal ladder and tackled him. The next thing he knew he was strangling the man with his bare hands. It took several team members to pull him off the guy as Ernie tried to choke the life out of him.
Fortunately, besides the bullet, Ernie didn’t do any additional damage to the suspect. The child survived with just a few scratches, and more importantly Ernie came to the conclusion that it was time to get out. Next time I may actually kill someone, he feared. He poured another cup of coffee and ran his finger over the scar above his ear.
Retirement was fun for about a month and then he started to get itchy for the action again. He tried to ignore it at first since it was probably normal to miss something he’d spent the better part of his adult life doing. More than that though, he felt he left unfinished business when his team failed to bring down Pee Wee O’Shea and the Irish mob. The memory of Carillo’s brutal death wouldn’t let Ernie out of its grasp, and he longed for one more shot at the motherfucker responsible for Ronny’s murder. When one of his detective buddies asked him if he’d be interested in a little surveillance work he jumped at the chance. Granted, sitting in his ’99 Oldsmobile Intrigue in the middle of the night watching for a bail jumper wasn’t exactly the most exciting way to spend time, but he loved being back on duty again. After that, the department starting calling him in for other side jobs – a little surveillance here and there with a tail or two for good measure. Nothing too extreme or dangerous, just keeping an eye on a suspect’s whereabouts and maybe taking a few photos. During one long night watching a crack house and waiting to see if a suspected murderer would show up, he realized that doing this full-time could not only be exactly what he was looking for, it could actually be profitable. So, parked in the dark, hunched down in his car, the idea for Ernest J. Hargrove Investigations was born.
It was almost a year since he’d set up shop and things were going well. With his reputation for excellence as a detective, he was finding a lot of work coming his way from his old team and other colleagues. Of course, being a private investigator also brought its share of following cheating spouses and snapping photos, but as he quickly learned, infidelity paid well.
He was lucky to find his office assistant one night while dining at a local restaurant with a few friends. Kendall Joslin initially caught his eye because she resembled his little sister, and as she waited on his table throughout the evening they had an opportunity to chat. Her temp job at the restaurant was ending soon when the woman she was replacing returned from nursing a broken ankle. He also learned that she was new to the city and looking for full-time work. His business was starting to take off and he invited her to come and interview for the position he was advertising. The truth is he hired her because she’s the only one who actually showed up and he was desperate. He got lucky when Kendall turned out to be a huge asset – intelligent, organized and reliable.
It was obvious that Kendall enjoyed working at Hargrove Investigations and thought the world of Ernie. He was very patient with her as he explained the way things worked around the office. She didn’t know much about his life as a police detective but she learned that he was good at what he did. Ernie was six feet tall and didn’t seem to be terribly agile or coordinated, but she quickly learned that she was wrong. He could slip into a room and never make a sound. He often startled her by coming up behind her and asking for a file or some other task, and she never heard him coming. He was average looking in a nondescript sort of way, which is another reason he was a good investigator. He was the kind of guy you wouldn’t notice. With his brown hair parted on the side and brown eyes, he just sort of blended. The scar above his ear was nearly covered by his hair, and he wore it that way on purpose. He wasn’t a flashy dresser and drove a boring old gold Intrigue, which no one would ever look twice at. He told her several times that she reminded him of his sister, Debbie. He had Deb’s picture on his desk and she admitted there was a resemblance. Maybe it was the dark eyes or their similar nose, but they did look a little like sisters. And after nine months of working for Ernie, he treated her more like his sister than his employee and Kendall seemed right at home with him. They worked well together and she seemed to enjoy learning about private investigation.
Ernie knew Kendall was sharp and had a keen eye for detail. He began taking her on simple jobs to give her a taste of what he did. She was eager to learn and soaked up
everything he taught her. She especially loved the gadgets – infrared binoculars for night surveillance, giant zoom lenses for the cameras and even the little digital recorder that he used to record notes while on a stakeout, which Kendall would later upload to the computer. He would roll his eyes every time she told him how cute it was. Cute, he thought. Only a woman would think a highly technological piece of equipment was cute.
Ernie picked up his ringing phone. “Hargrove Investigations,” he answered.