3 AM Grounder – Xperience Fiction

Written by on May 13, 2024

3 AM Grounder – Xperience Fiction – by Liam Sweeny.

The blood was frozen to the pavement by the time Jack and Burris got to the scene, a testament to the cold in the valley. It was rare that they’d both pull short straws to cover detectives Innes and Rossi, who were probably toasting the sweet Miami night at a conference after-party. But homicide was slow the past few weeks, since the polar plummet infected the region with ice, keeping all the snakes indoors.

Jack held the tape up for his partner, and they made their way to the officer securing the scene. Jack looked around, and was surprised to see so many people gawking in their pajamas and parkas. God forbid they have to canvass even half of them.

“Detectives,” the officer said.

“Hey, Mel. What have you got for us?”

The officer grabbed his note pad, flipped to the first page.

“It was called in by the owner of the bodega here,” he aimed his pen at the neon-lit backdrop of the crime scene, Second Street Mini-Mart. “He’s inside, but he’s not happy, fair warning. God forbid a murder scene keep people from buying blunt wraps.”

Jack peeked past the officer to the body, which was covered by a vinyl sheet, almost clear. It wasn’t police-issue.

“What’s with the covering?”

“Store owner did it. He said he had it from a delivery. Stupid move, but I’m thinking at this point, it’s evidence too.”

“It is,” Burris said. “Were there any witnesses, aside from the store owner?”

“Yeah, two women. They’re in the store. Owner says he didn’t see it, but,” He pointed his pen upward. Jack followed it and saw a video camera facing the area in front of the door. Small miracles.

“Burris, check the body for ID. I’ll go talk to the store owner and the witnesses. Meet me inside.”

“Should we wait for the M.E.?”

Jack glanced at the baseball bat that had come to rest over a crack in the sidewalk, and the drips of blood leading its way from the body.

“Think we know what killed him. You’re good.”

Jack walked into the bodega and was blasted with good, American furnace heat. The Christmas bell attached to the door closer announced him to the owner, who came out from behind the counter.

“We’re closed.”

Jack showed him his shield.

“Hey, when can I close up? It’s stupid to keep the lights and the heat on if I can’t sell anything.”

“Ya’ know, there’s a kid lying dead outside your shop.”

“This neighborhood? He is not the first.”

“This man don’t care about nothin’,” a short, stocky woman in leggings and a black puffer jacket walked up from the back, chewing on a stick of beef jerky. “He sells loosies, too. Sells ‘em for a buck. Arrest him for price gouging.”

“Were you outside when it happened?”

“Yup’. I know the punk-ass that did it too. He’s a punk-ass little bitch.”

“I’ll take your statement, Missus,”

“Gloria,” she said. “Miss Gloria. And that’s my girl, Alicia back there.” She pointed to a spindly girl in a weather-beaten parka.

Jack took off his gloves, turned to the owner. “Well, how about you stay open, be a good citizen, okay?”

“I pay my tax.”

“Then we’ll pass you by when we do our next cigarette sting.” Jack spotted the split-screen, black-and-white monitor behind the counter.

“I noticed you have a camera outside. Can I check it out?”

The owner folded his arms. “Sure.” Jack walked behind the counter. It took a minute to figure out the DVR, and in that time, Burris walked in.

“That’s my partner,” Jack said before the owner had any boo to say. He waved Burris back. He played the segment of tape as Burris watched over his shoulder.

“What do you think?”

“Wow, that’s bad.”

“Sir,” Jack motioned to the owner. “Is there something wrong with the camera outside?”

“Nah, it’s just cheap.” He pointed to three spots on the walls of the store.

“One’s for robberies,” he said. “One’s for my employees stealing from me, and the last one’s for shoplifting. The outside’s just a deterrent. You think I give a shit what goes on outside this place? Think I want to watch her pick up johns all night?”

“You could do worse, bodega-man.”

“Hey, ladies, how about we go to my car, and I can get your statements. I got good heat, and you can smoke.”

Gloria wrapped her arm around her girlfriend and walked toward Jack and Burris. She waved an accusing stick of beef jerky at the shop owner, and slammed three dollars on the counter.

“Keep the change, bodega-man.” She laughed. Her friend Alicia smiled.


The car was nice, toasty, with the slight hint of cigarette, and, since the arrival of its new occupants, the heavy odor of marijuana. Gloria and Alicia were giggling, with Gloria in the lead. Alicia was nervous.

“Girls, you know I have to run you. Am I going to find anything?”

“We’re clean,” Gloria said. “She’s clean. I’m clean too, but I got a record. Just nothing open.”

Jack took their full names and ran them through the database. As Jack expected, Gloria had priors for prostitution. Alicia had one drug charge too, a pot violation, but, as Gloria said, they didn’t have anything open on them.

“So you said you know who did this?”

“Yeah,” Gloria said. “That punk-ass Kevin. Kevin Daniels. He lives in Faraday Park.”

Jack scribbled down what she told him. “So, what did you see? Where were you, with respect to the store?”

“Okay, I was coming out the store. That asshole wouldn’t give me a loosie ‘cause I was twenty-five cents short, and I went out cause I saw those two talking.”

“Did you know the victim?”

“I seen him before. He goes to New Rhodes High, I know that. So does Kevin.”

“So Kevin’s a minor.”

“Yeah, he’s seventeen, I think. But he might be eighteen. He’s a junior.”

“Okay, so they were talking. Then what happened?”

“It happened quick as fuck,” Gloria said. “Kevin had the bat. He was standing right on the curb. He pushed the dude with one hand, and then he choked up like you see them do when they play ball, and whack! whack! whack!

“So, three times he hit ‘em?”

“Yup’. Dude just dropped. Then Kevin backed up. We ran back in the store. I thought he was gonna’ chase us, but he just took off.”


Jack and Burris got everything they could from the scene. The victim was a seventeen-year-old named Justin Bennett. His wallet had twenty-seven dollars cash, a learner’s permit, a high school ID and a library card.

“Patrols are going out looking for our suspect,” Burris said. “We could go back to the station, or grab our lunch break now.”

Jack panned the scene. All the gawkers were back in their warm beds. The M.E.’s assistant had packed up the body, and the evidence techs bagged up the baseball bat. His nose still tickled from the overpowering aroma of New Rhode’s finest sativa.

“I could eat,” he said.




In New Rhodes, you could count on two things any time of the day; that someone would need a short stack, and that Ginny would be there, batter ready. Jack poured strawberry syrup over his, while Burris looked over an ensemble of eggs, links and hash browns. Two men and a woman were sitting at the far table, with safety vests on and three hardhats stacked atop each other. Jack checked his watch. Three-fifteen. The only reason anyone from DPW would be out so early would be a water main break, which had been a frequent occurrence in the Arctic spell gripping the city.

“Would not want to be those guys tonight,” he said.

Burris looked up from his early morning feast. “Who, the city workers?”

“Yeah. It’s what, eleven degrees out right now?”

Burris tapped on his phone. “Ten at the airport.”

“I stand corrected.”

“Cold as hell, though. I think there’s a water main break on Fourth, down in central city. It was on the scanner in the car.”

“Why didn’t I hear it?”

“Because you’ve been a space cadet since we left the scene.”

Jack dumped a heaping teaspoon of raw sugar in his coffee. “Yeah. I bought Paul that coat. Exact same coat.”


“The one our vic’ was wearing. Paul’s got that same coat. Begged me for it,” Jack said. “It cost two-hundred dollars, on sale. I almost told him to save up for it. Should have.”

Burris nodded. “I’m guilty of buying the kids expensive clothes. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not entitled, I just know people judge you on how you dress, and I want to give them the best shot.”

“Yeah, and you’re a clothes horse too.”

“Now you know why.”

Jack dug into his pancakes, eyes to the door as a group of kids came in dressed in nineties grunge, full complement of quilted flannels and ripped jeans. They gravitated to the table in the front corner like they’d carved their names in it. Maybe they had. Ginny waved to them, and wiped off the counter before grabbing her pad. On the way over she swung by the table.

“You guys okay? You need anything? More coffee?”

“Thanks, Ginny, I’m good,” Jack said. “Burris, you need anything?”

Burris wiped his mouth with the corner of his napkin. “No thank you.”

Ginny smiled and went over to the kids. Ginny’s was an institution for Jack, an outpost in the rough-and-tumble South End. The ghosts of his past cases were sitting at the tables, noshing a big breakfast at the counter, hiding out from the sweet old woman who’d inherited the little eatery from her father, who’d inherited it from his father, and up the family tree to, as Ginny put it, the good old days of New Rhodes.

Burris picked his phone up and answered it. Must have been on vibrate.

“He is? Okay, got it,” he said. “Just keep him in room one till we get there. Let him stew a bit.” He hit end call with his thumb.

“They got our guy?”

“Yup’. He’s in Interview One.”

Jack took a gulp of his coffee. Burris slid his plate forward, but Jack slid it back.

“Let’s take our time. He’s not going anywhere.”

“Let’s not dawdle too much. Interrogation or no, Captain Harken finds out we’re not there and our perp is, you know we’ll hear it the next time we’re on second shift.”

Jack nodded as he chewed his pancakes carefully, letting the steam in his mouth spread out evenly. He didn’t know how Ginny could make pancakes that stayed hot on the plate. Some of that South End sorcery.

“What the fuck is wrong with these kids, Burr’?”

Burris cleared his throat. “They don’t have Jesus.”

“Oh, this again…”

“They don’t have the fear of God in them. I try to keep my kids around their faith.” Burris popped a sausage link in his mouth and chewed it down. “Kids need something bigger than just themselves, and a community of like-minded folk. You either find them a community that’s trying to live right, or they find themselves one that’s trying to live easy.”

“Don’t think bashing someone’s head in with a baseball bat is easy.”

“Sometimes it’s easier than not bashing someone’s head in with a baseball bat, else we’d be out of work.” Burris sipped his coffee. “Long story short, kid don’t have Jesus. That’s what I’m going with.”

Jack sighed. “Well, if there’s a heaven, someone just found Jesus.”

“What’s with you, Jack? You okay?”

“I hate it when it’s a kid.”

“If you didn’t, I’d say retire.”

“And our perp is a damn kid too. We’re lucky he’s seventeen, or we’d have to wake up his parents.”

Jack stirred the leftover bits of his pancakes in the syrup, but he had no intention of eating them. In the center city, in a room designed to be the epitome of discomfort, a kid probably had his arms folded, acting tough, like he’d just paid his dues and he was a card-carrying badass. A scared kid whose mom and dad probably sent him to their dealer’s house to score heroin when he wasn’t out of grade school yet. A kid under the weight of his new body count.

“Whelp,” Burris whipped out his wallet. “You got it yesterday, so, my turn.”

“And I’ll grab the tip.”

Jack flagged Ginny down and had her scribble out their bill. The coffee was always on the house, but Jack made her promise long ago not to give them any law enforcement discount. It would’ve spoiled the working-class ambiance.

Burris got up and put on his coat. Jack pulled out his phone to check the weather app. Nine degrees with a steady wind.

“We hit single digits in the time we’ve been in here.”

Burris tucked a twenty-dollar bill under his plate. “Look on the bright side,” he said. “Interview One’s probably ninety degrees by now.”




They blew through the alleyway between Fourth and Fifth Streets, carried, in part, by a wind that dropped the outside air into frostbite country. If their victim had managed to survive the braining, he’d no doubt have wandered off to die of hypothermia in the alley behind the bodega. Jack thought back on the number of scenes they worked in the alleys, and how many of their victims only wandered there to die, like animals crawling out of sight, curling up to die alone.

“I have both of their Facebook profiles up,” Burris said. “They’re friends. I’m not seeing any open beefs between them. Kevin Daniels goes to New Rhodes High too.”

“Did he pull up in the juvenile database?”

“Yeah, he’s got a couple petit larcenies, couple vandalisms, an underage drinking citation. A lot of CPS involvement in the house.”

“I had a feeling we’d be seeing a CPS presence in this kid’s life.”

They turned the corner to the back lot of the station. Jack itched for a cigarette, the cold no obstacle.

“Are you sure we should interview this kid cold?” Burris said. “Maybe we can get a little more background by the morning. There’s a lot we don’t know.”

“No disagreement here, about not knowing everything, but this kid murdered someone, and went home to his parents’ house. He’s not thinking. He’s in shock, and I’m sure he’s wiped. I just don’t want the gravity of what he did to fall on him yet.” Jack fished out a cigarette as he pulled in to park. “We may not get another chance like this.”

“Or we may not get another bite of the apple.”

Jack flipped his Zippo against his slacks. “Well, we can’t just send the kid home. We have to talk to him either way. The apple’s not going back in the cart.”

Burris sighed. “Touché.”

They got out of the car. The wind blew Jack’s topcoat out open, and he pressed his arms together as he lit up.

“Smoke two,” Burris said. “I’ll be up in the warmth, digging.”


Jack sat at his desk, the initial report in his hand, trying to find his zen before he walked into Interview One. The kid had been in there for two hours, but the officers that brought him in had checked on him periodically. That would work for him. He was hit with the smell of burnt plastic as two guys from downstairs walked over.

“You guys dumpster dive tonight?”

“Funny, Jack,” Jack looked up to see that one of them was his brother-in-law, Tony.

“I was the one that picked him up. Just dropping off my report.”

“What’s with the smell, though?”

“Kid was in his bathroom, trying to burn his coat. We stopped him, and I know why he tried to burn it. Spattered in blood.”

“That’s a break,” Burris said.

“Makes up for the weak video. Thanks, Tony.”

“Is sis making coffee in a couple hours, or is she gonna be sleeping?”

“Probably coffee,” Jack said. “She needs to get up early in the cold. No idea why, you’d think it’d be the opposite.”

Tony rapped Jack on the shoulder. “Maybe if the kid cracks, I’ll see you there,” he said as he walked off.

Jack went back into his zen. Burris looked over the report Tony gave them.

“We’ll have him dead to rights once the blood comes back,” he said. “But that could be months. All the other evidence; video is shoddy, witnesses were high, and prostitutes. Gloria was telling the truth, apparently, but how’s she gonna look on the witness stand?”

Jack took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m ready. I think I can get this kid to talk.”

“You want me in there?”

“In the observation room. If I flounder, or if you think of something, come on in. I mean, I’m winging it anyway.”

“I’m asking again, you sure we want to wing it?”

“This is going to hit the news tomorrow, two high school kids? People will be coming out of the woodwork. I don’t think we’ll get a better chance come tomorrow.”




Kevin Daniels rested his head in his folded arms. He looked like he was sleeping. Two soda cans were next to him, the tab from one of them torn off and used to make scratches in the stainless-steel surface. Jack walked into Interview One from the observation room toting two coffees. Kevin lifted his head and rubbed his eyes. The adrenaline surge was wearing off, but the hypervigilance was still there.

Working in homicide prepared Jack for juggling coffees, sodas, sandwiches, pieces of damning evidence and, of course, folders as he entered the interview rooms. He was famous for his ‘bumbling detective’ routine, designed to throw hard-cases off their guard. Tonight, he was going to do a version of ‘trusty advocate.’

“Bet you might want some of this.” Jack slid one of the coffees over. “I don’t know if you drink it, or how you take it, but at this hour, you can’t beat black. I’m Detective LeClere.”

“You trying to get me to piss, with these sodas and coffee and what-not?”

“I don’t keep people from taking a piss break. I’ve had to mop this room up enough to know that people won’t even ask to piss if they have to. So, you need a piss break, you let me know.”

“You’re Jack LeClere. You’re that cop that stopped Jeffrey Bowman.”

“Yup’, that’s me.”

“Blew him up in the Agora, right?”

“Well, he blew the Agora up. I just, well, made sure he was in it when it came down.”

Kevin turned his eyes down to stare at the scratches he made in the table.

Jack reached into his folder and pulled out a Miranda card. “I’m going to have you read this to me and sign it before we talk. They’re your rights. Can you read this back to me?” Kevin squinted his eyes, and read it back slowly, sounding things out. How Kevin managed to make it to the same grade as his son baffled Jack. He had Kevin sign the card.

“So, Kevin, why are we here?”

“You tell me.”

“Something happened in front of the Mini-Mart on Second Street tonight. Want to tell me about it?”

“I was home. I don’t know anything.”

“That’s it? Kid, you’ve been in here for an hour. That’s all you could come up with?”

“It’s the truth.”

“We both know it’s not.”

“So what’s next, you’re gonna try and tell me you’re here to help?”

Jack sighed. “Look, Kevin, every detective with a suspect on that side of the table says ‘I’m trying to help you.’ It’s bullshit. You know it, I know it.” Jack lifted the folder up and shuffled the papers around.

“I’m here because I saw a kid stuck to the pavement with his brain in a few different places, and it’s my job to find out who did it,” he said. “And if, if, I can find out why, and that reason compels me, I can feel sympathy and maybe, just maybe, I can try to help you.”

Kevin yawned. “Ain’t nobody gonna feel sympathy for me.”

“Nobody can,” Jack said. “I have enough evidence to put you away for this. You were trying to burn a coat that has Justin Bennett’s bloodstains on it.”

Kevin cringed when he heard Justin’s name.

“What did Justin do?” Jack said.

“I don’t want to hear his name.”

“You’re going to hear his name non-stop over the next few months. What did he do to you?”

“Nothing,” Kevin said. “Nothing to me.”

“Then he did something to someone you know.”

Kevin planted a thumb on one side of his face and scratched the stubble on the other side with his fingers.

“Look, Kevin, so far as I, or anybody knows, Justin Bennett was the sweet and innocent kid that got brutally murdered by the juvenile delinquent, Kevin Daniels.”

“That ain’t right, man.”

“What do you think the papers are going to say then? And the TV news?” Jack took a sip of his coffee. “They’ll say what they know. And if they don’t know any better, they’ll praise the victim and demonize the killer. That’s what they do. Now, is Justin Bennett an innocent victim?”

Kevin took the coffee cup, huddled around it. His eyes darted to the two-way mirror, and back to Jack. Then off to the opposite corner, a place Jack noticed most suspects stared at when they were about to talk real shit.

“He fucked my mom,” Kevin said. “My junkie whore mom.”

“So, literally, you mean.”

“Yeah, literally. He was helping tutor me with English, cause otherwise I’d fail this year. I guess it don’t matter now, but I paid him in weed.” His eyes glossed over. “I come home the other day, and I hear mom going at it, and like I said, she’s a whore, so I went to go in my room, and this motherfucker comes out with a towel on him. They’re both high as fuck and they laugh.” Kevin pointed at Jack. “Almost killed them both right then and there.”

“But you didn’t,” Jack said. “So what happened?”

“He called me yesterday, needed an ounce of weed. I told him to go fuck himself. He tells me he got cellphone video of my mom sucking him off, and he was going to make it go viral at the high school. So I told him I’d meet him at the Mini-Mart on Second.”

“And then what happened?”

“You know what happened.”

“C’mon, Kevin, I need you to say it.”

“Why? Ain’t I going to jail already?”

“Until you can own up to the act, everything you just told me is just words. No one will ever hear what a piece of shit Justin was.”

Kevin’s brow furrowed. His eyes darted around the room. He drank half of his coffee in one gulp.

“I met him there,” he said. “I found the bat in the alley. I was just going to scare him into giving up his cell. But he laughed that fucking laugh again, laughed in my face and I lost it.”

“What did you do?”

Kevin pointed to his right temple. “Three times, hard as I could, right here.”

“I need you to say that, Kevin.”

“I hit him three times in the head,” Kevin said. “With the bat. I didn’t know if he was dead when I ran, but I hoped he was. Write that down, too.”

Jack finished off his coffee. “Okay, Kevin. I just gotta type up what you said, and have you sign it. Do you want a sandwich? Need a piss break?”

Kevin Daniels, a kid who brutally destroyed another kid’s life, shook his head no with tears streaming down his cheek.


Jack lit up a cigarette by the back door. It was quarter-to-six, and the Rhodes County Sheriff’s Department had just picked up Kevin Daniels. He’d have breakfast at intake in the county jail. His parents may- or may not be at arraignment, and Jack could tell just by his neighborhood that he’d have a public defender, be tried as an adult, and would be much older than Jack by the time he got out.

Burris hopped outside, bundled up in his wool pinstriped overcoat.

“The paperwork is mostly done, Jack. I left a couple of things for you.”

“Thank God for the three a.m. grounder.”

“We got lucky.”

“I know. Getting a confession out of a pissed-off teenager doesn’t really net the blue ribbon of detective work.”

Burris blew into his hands. “So were you compelled to feel sympathy? You going to try to help him?”

“Don’t know yet. No doubt he got a bad break, but assholes can get bad breaks too.”

“Guess we’ll never know.”

“I will,” Jack said. “My son’s about to be a juror in the court of public high school.”

Burris patted him on the back and walked out to his car. Jack wondered if he could get Mary to make pancakes when he got home.




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