Judge David Johnson thinks DJ wears the coolest femme-suits.
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Who Shot Uncle Jesse?
The gunshot was loud. The muzzle flash lit up the darkened garage like a Roman Candle, and in that briefest of illumination, the shock of the victim was reflected—it was a facial expression that would be preserved in death, as he slumped over his custom motorcycle, his perfectly sculpted hair juxtaposed with the raw meat of his ruined chest.
The door opened and shut and that was the end of it. The garage fell dark and silent once more, the olfactory the only sense able to register that anything transpired; the biting stench of gunfire now overpowering the faint whiffs of brake fluid, rubber, and WD-40.
The body was found 10 hours later. Fifteen minutes after that, the Tanner house was flooded with police, the medical examiner, reporters, and, eventually the coroner. That look of surprise stayed etched on the victim's face, even as the coroner pulled the body bag over the sightless eyes of Jesse Katsopolis.
The stillness of the garage had been disrupted, but not just by the authorities.
The flies had beaten them to it.
Facts of the Case
It was one of those sticky San Francisco summer days, rife with the kind of humidity that slicks the skin after thirty seconds of exposure. I felt the heat penetrate my shirt and the pockets of perspiration already had begun to form in my armpits, and I had only just left the air conditioning of the car two minutes ago.
I ducked under the crime scene tape and was met by a uni with the name "Jackson" on his breast. He seemed anxious and I knew right then this was his first murder scene.
"Detective Franklin?" he asked.
"Yep," I replied. "What are we looking at, Officer Jackson?"
The patrolman removed a small notebook and began leafing through it. He tracked what he had written with a stubby pencil. "Call came in about 8 a.m. from a Mr. Joey Gladstone. Caller said he found the body of his friend in the garage. Dispatcher said he sounded pretty broken up. We arrived on the scene at approximately 8:15, secured it and called into homicide. M.E. and coroner are on the way."
I nodded. "Anything else?"
Jackson shook his head and said "That's about it," as he closed the notebook and tucked it into his front shirt pocket. "Nothing has been moved. The scene is exactly as we found it."
I nodded again. I liked the kid. A bit over-eager with the notebook and the cop-speak, but obviously competent. I wonder if he's puked yet. "Thank you, Officer Jackson. I'll let you know if I need anything else."
He left and I walked to the body. The vic was splayed out over his bike, bent backwards. His mouth was wide—like an "O"—and his eyes glassy. The wound in his chest was significant; a high-caliber pistol by the look of it.
"Hey, Jackson!" I shouted. "Did you find the shell casing?"
"No. But we haven't torn this place apart yet. Maybe we'll grab it when, uh, he is moved."
I already knew this was going to be a ball-buster. I knew it when I first got the call, without having set foot on the crime scene. "Murder at Danny Tanner's house" was what triggered the red flag for me. Any crime involving a celebrity—even one as minor as Tanner, the host of Wake Up San Francisco—would be like blood in the water for the press. Add to it, I heard from one of the guys at division that this Jesse guy was dating Tanner's co-host, Rebecca Donaldson.
This was going to get messy.
God was it hot out.
* * * *
We never found the shell casing. And canvassing turned up very little. Neighbors did acknowledge a loud sound that they thought was a car backfiring occurring around 10 at night. That appeared to be the time of the murder. That should help, but it was nothing the M.E. couldn't have given us.
I decided to head back to the office and start looking at motive. Katsopolis was close to many people, in my opinion all of whom were suspects, and the Tanner house was full of them. I called my partner, Jack Weigner, just recently returned from Vegas, after a long weekend getaway for his anniversary. The vacations don't last long around here. He picked up on the second ring.
"What's going on Jeff?"
"Homicide at Danny Tanner's house. You feel like doing some old-fashioned legwork?"
He grunted. "I guess it is my turn."
"You bet your ass it's your turn. But rules still apply—Arby's on me for a week."
"Music to my ears."
"I've got a list of potentials. Could you run through them find out as much you can?"
He shuffled on the other line. "Getting a pen. Okay, go."
I read off the list: "Rebecca Donaldson, Daniel Tanner, and Joseph Gladstone."
Jack had me a work-up by 2. I took a brief glance:
Under each heading detailed notes revealed the stories further:
Big things have been happening to the Tanner family. Danny continues to cope with his single parenting, forced to face the demands of raising three young girls and navigating the obstacles associated with it: rescuing D.J. from a nightmare babysitting venture, counseling Stephanie on her earthquake and abandonment fears, and generally spoiling Michelle as much as humanly possible. Joey questions his future as a stand-up comic, wondering if it's time to throw in the towel after a disappointing turn on Star Search. As for the kids: D.J. is in junior high, acquainting herself with the new environment of ruthless peers, spin-the-bottle, raging hormones, and underage drinking; Stephanie learns lessons about being mean to dorky-looking kids; Michelle gains yet another level in precociousness. The victim struggles with his music career and the temptation to return to his days of a motorcycle daredevil, but in the meantime has cultivated a successful advertising service with Gladstone, and a strengthened relationship with Donaldson. The family also gets a new dog named Comet.
Hope this helps. I'll have more to you soon.
This was excellent stuff. I called Jack on his cell.
"Jack, you've outdone yourself yet again? Do I even want to know how you got all this so soon?"
"No you don't," said. "I just hope you're ready to hold up your end of the bargain. After all the lobster and prime rib in the casino I'm ready to sink my teeth in a Southwest BBQ melt."
I hung up, rang the desk, and told them I was ready for questioning.
It was time to catch a killer.
I saw Danny Tanner first. He's taller in person, pushing 6'4," gangly like an awkward pre-teen just getting used to newly elongated limbs. He came into Interview Room 4, and managed to squeeze his ropy legs under the antiquated desk. I put down my manila folder.
"Mr. Tanner, thanks for coming in," I said in my non-threatening voice. "We just want to ask some questions."
"You don't actually think it was me, do you?" He asked. "Jesse was my dead wife's brother and one of my best friends! I could never—" His voice cracked. The emotion looked authentic.
I gave him a second, then continued. "Mr. Tanner, I've been doing some research and, frankly, I'm concerned by some things I've learned."
He lifted his eyebrows. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." I opened up my folder. "I have marked here, under 'The Greatest Birthday on Earth,' that you went through a lot of trouble for your youngest daughter's third birthday party. I see you dressed as a clown, blew up hundreds of balloons, even rented a live elephant."
"Do you remember what happened after that?"
"Let me help." I flipped over a page. "Says here your daughter Michelle never showed up. She was apparently locked in a garage with your other daughter Stephanie and Mr. Katsopolis."
"Look, that was a mistake. We cleared—"
I didn't let him finish. "We have eyewitness testimony form several preschoolers that you flew into a rage when you confronted Jesse. That you were angry about his irresponsibility and that you felt he was responsible for ruining Michelle's birthday. Does that sound right?"
"Yes, I was angry, but—"
I interrupted him again. "You even doubted his capability as an uncle. Is that right?"
"I said some things, but believe me, we worked it out." His eyes were bulging.
"I don't know Mr. Tanner. What I see here is a concerned, protective father, vulnerable since his wife died, willing to do anything to keep his children safe." I paused. He was staring at his hands. "And maybe that 'anything' includes murdering an uncle who could possibly endanger his children?"
Tanner's face turned a bright shade of crimson. "This is outrageous! I demand to see my lawyer!"
"Too late. You're free to go." He shot out of his chair, glared, and marched off. I shouted after him: "Don't be surprised if you hear from me soon!" Then, under my breath: "Real soon."
Joseph Gladstone was up next. He shuffled to the desk and took his seat quietly. His feathery blond hair had lost some of its structure and his eyes were sunken. He didn't say a word.
"You don't look so hot," I said.
"I had a late night last night, doing stand-up at the Chuckling Tortoise, plus I just found out my best friend was killed, so sorry if I'm not fit for a cover shoot." Sarcasm. Nice.
"Yeah, let's talk about that."
"Fine," he replied. "I opened with my 'What if Bluto and Popeye were gay lovers bit' and then did my Bullwinkle impression and—"
"No, a—hole," I interrupted. "Let's talk about the murder."
"A-waaa-gaa-gaa-gaa-gaaa," he said in a Popeye voice. "Excuse me!"
I slammed my palms on the table, leaned over, and breathed in his face. He held my stare for a few seconds then turned away. "What are you some kind of comedian?" I asked.
He smirked. "Well, actually, yes I am—"
I slapped him on the ears. "Ow! Damn it!" he shouted, cupping the side of his head. "What the hell was that for?!?"
"Start answering my questions or it's going to get a lot worse. Now why did you shoot Jesse Katsopolis?"
He looked at me as if I had, well, just boxed his ears. "What are you talking about? I didn't f***ing kill anyone!!! You need to cut. It. Out."
"Look Gladstone, it's no secret that you and Jesse had an uneven relationship. Take your business dealings. I know that you were angry with him over creative issues. He often discarded your ideas, and sometimes never even took them seriously. Does 'Joey and Stacy and…oh yeah Jesse' ring a bell?"
Gladstone said nothing, simmering.
"Yeah, yeah, I know all about that particular episode. How Jesse thought your comedy idea for dentures was stupid and how he grew increasingly hostile to your attractive girlfriend Stacy. Easy for him to be like that, right? He's got a girlfriend already."
"If you ask me, there's plenty of motives right there. Jealousy, betrayal, financial gain, sole ownership of the ad company, shall I go on?"
He erupted, like I knew he would. "I didn't kill him, you bastard!!!"
With that, he called his lawyer and our discussion was over.
The last person on my list was Rebecca Donaldson. Already this investigation was turning into a press free-for-all. Danny Tanner caused a bit of a stir, but he didn't compare to the frenzy that came with Donaldson. Easily the more beloved of the two hosts of Wake Up San Francisco, Donaldson was responsible for cramming the steps of the precinct with the most reporters—cable, local, and network news alike. Frankly, I can see the appeal. When she walked into the interview room, dressed in a form-fitting sweater, her cheeks flush with rouge, my heart stopped for a second.
"Let's get this over with," she snapped. "I'm in no mood to parade around as a suspect in my boyfriend's murder." She shot ice-picks at me through her eyes. Honeymoon's over I guess.
"And I'm in no mood to be talked to like I'm five years old," I shot back. Her mouth became a thin line and she held that deadly stare, but said nothing more. "I'm going to get right to it Ms. Donaldson. I have reliable, credible witnesses who say that you had frequent fights with Mr. Katsopolis, and that the most egregious of these fights—" I leafed through my notes—"happened during a poker game, when Danny Tanner had to leave and look after his daughter's 'Misadventures in Babysitting.' Care to comment?"
"Fine, then, I'll continue," I said. "The substance of the fight apparently had to do with him not liking how you bossed him around. Witnesses say he confronted you over this on the phone, then you stormed up to him a little later, screaming. Is that about right?"
"I want a lawyer."
"Yeah, I bet you do." I threw down my notes and left the interview room.
* * * *
Two days later and I had three suspects all lawyered up and no evidence. Which means I had nothing. I was sitting at my desk reading up some more on the Tanner family history, how Gladstone had messed up an audition for the "Mr. Egghead Show," how DJ has freaked out about playing spin the bottle, how Danny, Gladstone, and Katsopolis had a joint hallucination about living in the same house years in the future when they were old and overweight (should talk to Narcotics about that), even how Michelle, the youngest, alienated her preschool classmates by letting the class bird escape. It was saccharine reading, to be sure, and I could just imagine a cheesy instrumental playing over the heart-to-heart lesson-learning that would surely cap each of these stories. My eyelids grew heavy. Before I dozed, the phone rang. The voice was masked by a voice changer.
"There's an envelope underneath the green bench, on the north side of Oaks Park. It contains what you are looking for." Click.
I shook my head. What just happened?
Oaks Park is three minutes from the precinct. I found the bench and the envelope no problem. I opened it up and let the object fall into my hand. For some reason, I wasn't surprised.
It was the shell casing.
The guys in Ballistics had a match to me by that afternoon. The call came in at 2 p.m.
"Jeff, it's Paul. That casing came back a match to a .45 owned by a Mr. Duane Gibbler. Here's the address."
I jotted it down quickly. Finally, paydirt. I scrambled out of the office, strapped my holster on and jumped into my car. I was so excited I almost forgot to radio in backup; dispatch routed a couple of prowlers to the address.
I was there in 15 minutes. Four patrolmen were waiting for me. I gave them a quick run-through about the casing. They nodded, then circled around to cover the door. I slipped on my vest, took the porch steps two at a time and knocked on the door.
"Police! Open up!"
A gun blast rang out and a portion of the door just to the left of my stomach blew out. I hit the ground, screamed something to the officers (maybe "Get down?") and covered my head as another blast rang out, splintering the door. I rolled off of the porch, motioned the cops to circle the house and took out my weapon.
I crept up to one of the windows and peered inside—nothing. Wait! A leg disappearing through the back door. The shooter was running! I spun around and shouted as loud I could to the officers in back: "Shooter's comin—"
POW! Another blast echoed out and then a voice: "Officer down!" My radio squawked: "Detective, shooter headed in your direction!"
I didn't know which side of the house he was coming from and had no time to ask. I pitched right and ran as hard as I could, my legs pumping. As I approached the side of the house I heard feet crunching on leaves. I lowered my head and barreled forward, hoping my timing from my high school football days was intact.
With a monstrous CRUNCH I collided with the shooter, full-force. I heard a high-pitched squeal, saw the gun fly into the air and land harmlessly in a seedbed. I fell on top of the attacker, pointed my gun and growled: "Stay down, a—hole!!!"
Glowering up at me was the face of young, teenaged girl, her red hair matted with sweat and grime. "F*** you, pig," Kimmy Gibbler said.
"So it was the neighbor-girl, huh?" Jack said, before turning back to his roast beef sandwich.
I finished a curly fry and nodded. "Yeah. Shrinks say this Gibbler girl had harbored a serious crush on the vic. To the point of obsession. Guess they found a shrine and everything in her basement, candles, Polaroids, the whole thing. Even a few dead chipmunks." I sipped my soft drink. "Guess she couldn't take seeing him with a girlfriend."
"Damn." Jack took another bite. "Ever find out who gave you the casing?"
I shook my head. "No, never did."
At that moment a girl stopped at out table. I recognized her immediately: DJ Tanner. "Excuse me, Detective Franklin?" she said. I nodded. "My name's DJ."
"I know who you are."
"I just wanted to say thank you. Kimmy was my best friend, but I suspected for some time she was losing it." She paused, choking back tears. "I miss my Uncle Jesse so much. We had out arguments, like that time he didn't believe me when I said I wasn't drinking beer at the school dance. But he always tried to be there for me and my sisters. That's all I wanted to say." She turned around and walked toward the door.
"DJ!" I called after her. She stopped. "Did you send me that shell casing?"
She said nothing for a few seconds. Then: "I don't know what you're talking about. I have to get home. We're throwing Cirque du Soleil themed birthday party for Michelle."
And with that, she was gone.
Not guilty. The End.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Joey Impersonations"
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