Paul Kleberson

Paul Kleberson is one of the main characters in the crime thriller The Mantis Pact

Friday 9th May 2003 had been just another day in the Homicide Squad.  There were one or two live investigations in progress, none of which were likely to go anywhere interesting, and there had been no alerts from other divisions that gave any hint that anything unusual was due to happen.  In any case, it was the first weekend of the River Festival, when people were normally too busy enjoying themselves to cause a lot of hassle for the Wichita Police Department.

So the weekend beckoned with more promise than usual that it may provide some welcome ‘me-time’, it also being one of the every-other-weekends-off that did not involve having fun with my visiting kids, or making the less-enjoyable alternating trip to California to see the entire extended family.  The kids were next scheduled for the final weekend of the Festival, when we would decamp in front of the Century II to eat way too much ice cream and funnel cake, and hear the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s annual rendition of the 1812 Overture, complete with preceding USAF fly-past and concluding National Guard cannons.  So although this Saturday might involve a few hours at the Old Town Block Party, taking in a set from a local blues-band and bumping into some acquaintances I hadn’t bumped-into since last year’s event, the rest of the weekend was mentally-pencilled-in for some long-overdue historical research.

Although my oft-desired academic career had resolutely failed to materialise, primarily because I was normally too busy chasing felons or being a part-time Dad, it didn’t stop me from submerging myself in private research at times of light workload in the Squad.  My history first from Cambridge, England, and the research I had carried-out obtaining it, still maintained my name on some interesting mailing lists.  It was one of those that had prompted recent correspondence with a professor at Cornell who was working on a history of the meat packing industry, culminating with my offer to produce an overview of the Wichita Union Stock Yards and their role in transforming the local economy during the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Historical research is something like a busman’s-holiday for me, as it involves the same skill-sets that I use in my everyday job.  What makes it more enjoyable is the lack of urgency to find the definitive answer, most of the cases being long-closed and their victims suitably-avenged.  Not so a live murder investigation, where you are dealing with the current anguish of those close to the victim, or the real-time fears of the populace at the potential ability of a perpetrator to re-offend.  And, of course, the urgent demands of the politically-sensitive higher-ranks who perceive their very position to be in jeopardy through their reliance on others to answer the questions they couldn’t even frame for themselves.  The particular bane of my life is Chief Stanton who has recently managed, somehow, to manufacture a direct org-chart line into my Squad, via me.

This is puzzling as, realistically, there is little need for him to have anything more than a passing statistical-interest in our caseload.  All unexplained deaths come first to Homicide, some of which are quickly explained as natural causes by the autopsy, after which they become a short paper-trail in a closed file.  Some show-up as obvious foul-play, but from the twenty or so of those cases that come across my desk every year in Wichita, most are going to be drug or gang-related in one way or another.  This means that the perp is often easy to identify, with the majority of the subsequent work formed by the assembly of sufficient substantial evidence for either the DA to persuade the felon to cop a plea or, in the cases of the particularly resolute or stupid ones, evidence that is solid-enough to secure a conviction in court.

Rarely does a murder case involve extensive investigation in pursuit of a mystery felon – less often still does it feature a leading member of Mid West society.  So although it is not unusual to be roused from bed by a phone call at stupid-o-clock in the morning, that summons is usually to some crack-den or whorehouse in the area we call the badlands, not to a tidy simplex in one of the more well-kept and sedate suburbs.

But that wasn’t the only reason I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach as I pulled-on the trousers of one of my working suits.  Initial reports coming across from my second-in-command, Chris McKinley, were that we had a high-profile victim – the fiancé of a member of one of the more powerful families in Kansas.  It was also apparent that the associated politics were already well in play before I climbed into my police-issue Chevy outside of my apartment at 2 a.m. that fateful Saturday morning.

To read how Marjoree Rolles became involved click here