Dispatches from the Underworld


Conway Cooper arrives at the motel on north Garnett just past 10 PM to get the story for Dispatches from Tulsa Underworld, a Facebook and social media group of freelancers all under the tutelage of forced-into-retirement newshound Sonny Rowan, and finds a group of officers circled around a handcuffed young man commanded to sit on the sidewalk. Red and blue lights provide the only real lighting in this corner of the parking lot, making for dynamic HD photographs.

Conway notices a detective shining a light in a sports car backed into a parking space nearby. Officers and detectives, more than a simple shooting would warrant, walk in and out of the motel’s side door. Radios crackle with half heard snippets of information. Only a handful of crimes get this kind of police presence.

Only one always does—Murder.

So far, the night’s been good for Conway. The Tulsa Police Department’s been busy. A couple of shooting calls, always sexy fare for readers. Some domestics, not interesting unless someone’s dead. And a good fatality rollover, which will attract site traffic. A suburb just east of Tulsa released something about a possible murder earlier but Conway chose to stick it in town because the agency over there doesn’t talk to Conway or his group of part-time freelancers and his police scanner was squawking all evening.

On scene, the handcuffed male begins kneeling to sit, dropping his butt, but shoots back up, causing a detective holding him to tense. The detective looks like an easy-going dude, with slicked-back hair, a full mustache, and what appears to be a sniper rifle hanging around his neck. Conway snaps a photo.

“Can I sit over there?” The guy in cuffs nods toward a concrete flower planter, leaning his body that way.

Skeptical, the detective asks, “Why?”

“I don’t like sitting in handcuffs on the sidewalk. My hands always fall asleep.”

The detective repeats the complaint like he can’t believe it and mumbles something that sounds like “goddamn millennial.”

A uniform, taller than Conway, blocks his path and orders him to back up.

“Alright.” Conway complies, hands up, one holding a camera. “Alright, I gotcha.” He peers around the officer. “I was sitting across the street when I saw all the cars in the lot—what’s happening?”

The detective with the mustache leads the cuffed guy to the planter but the uniform shifts, obstructing Conway’s view, and gazes down at him.

Conway tries to solicit information. “My scanner activity told me something was happening here,”

But the officer remains silent and takes a step forward, forcing Conway back half a step in response.

Conway stalls. “Hey man, I’m just trying to get something for my readers.”

Conway snaps a quick picture of the handcuffed guy.

“I heard this has something to do with assisting another jurisdiction.” Conway avoids the word murder. He zooms in on the badge—b-roll—and pulls the camera from his eye. “This linked to that thing in the suburb?”

A dark figure, not mustache-detective, leans over the man sitting on the planter. “You killed that guy and shoved him in a bag. Where’s the knife?”

The uniform steamrolls forward, avoiding contact.

Conway stumbles backward, protesting. “Alright, man, I got it. How far back you want me?”

“Don’t care. Stand over there—bottomfeeder.”

Conway snaps off more pictures of cops, cars and the motel—building the narrative in his head before retrieving his laptop from his passenger seat and setting it up on the hood of his car. He calls his mentor, excited, can’t keep his voice down.

“Sonny—I got something—looks like an arrest for murder!”

Over at the planter, someone shouts “Gun!”

The handcuffed guy, gleaming revolver glimpsed in his hand, stands. The slicked back detective reacts, fires his rifle. The man screams something about his foot and falls back into the planter. Other cops dogpile him.

“Giddy up.” Conway drops the phone and abandons the computer. He barrels past the gawking perimeter officer to take as many photos as he can, screaming, “Yee-haw!”

The revolver fires, shattering the planter. The bullet strikes concrete in front of Conway, clinking off the ground. “Oh shit.”

Conway thinking, Sonny’s right: “Night time is the right time.”

~ fin ~


Mark Atley is the author of several novels, including the Tulsa Underworld Series and Bright Young Man, as well as a handful of short fiction. Mark works as a detective for a suburb of Tulsa, OK, and has dedicated his life to crime. Follow him on social media.