Henry Hack

The Pipes Are Calling. The eighth, and final, novel in the Danny Boyland series will be available on July 1, 2024, in print and Kindle versions on Amazon.



The two burglars did not intend to kill anyone this night. As darkness fell on this cold February evening, the last day of the month, they had begun casing their residential targets. By ten-thirty they had selected the four homes, all within a six-block radius, and all unoccupied and un-alarmed, as best as their experienced criminal minds could determine. The two predators avoided occupied dwellings at all costs. The difference in punishment for a first-degree burglary – where the house was occupied at night and the intruder was armed – was vastly more than for a third-degree burglary where no one was at home. But they each carried snub-nosed revolvers – just in case.

They broke in via a side door or a rear window in each of the first three homes, looking for cash and jewelry. After the third burglary, they took a few moments to count their loot. “A couple of grand in cash,” Wes Evans said, “and we have a nice haul of gold and diamond jewelry to fence.”

“What do you think?” Jon Simms asked. “Skip the next one and get outta here?”

“Nah, let’s finish it up. No one knows we’re around.”

At 1:20 AM, Jon switched off the headlights and coasted the black, late-model Chevy to a stop, halfway down the block from 102 Oakley Street, between the two streetlights. Exiting the car and donning dark-brown ski masks, the twosome crept like crabs to the house, scuttling into the side yard, their boots crunching on the frost-covered manicured lawn. Crouched down, they watched and waited two minutes, their breathing slowing down, each puffing out small clouds of vapor. They continued to the rear of the house, and after another two-minute observation – to again be certain no one was inside – they made their move onto the small patio and to the rear door. Jon, wearing dark-gray surgical gloves over his strong brown hands, grasped the knob and turned it. It was amazing how many people left their doors unlocked despite the recent crime wave. However, this one was locked, but there was no dead bolt, making the entry much easier.

Wes, also wearing surgical gloves on his slim pale hands, tried to pop the lock with a credit card, but the clearance was too tight. He wrapped a piece of cloth around his fist and smashed a small window pane in the door, reached in, and unlocked the door. “Let’s go,” he whispered to Jon as they both withdrew small flashlights from the pockets of their jackets and entered the kitchen where they would begin their search.

Marla Webb, a slim, attractive, medium-brown-skinned woman in her mid-fifties, lightly sleeping in the upstairs bedroom, suddenly opened her eyes. Had she heard glass breaking? She poked her sleeping husband who didn’t budge, the alcohol he had recently consumed apparently having done its job. She poked him harder and whispered, “Virgil, wake up! I heard something!”


“Ssshh,” she whispered, putting her hand over his mouth.

Wide awake now, he said, “What’s up?”

“I heard glass break. In the kitchen.”

“Maybe a glass fell over, or a picture frame fell on the floor,” he said. “It’s happened before.”

“Let’s check it out,” she said.

“No,” the newly-retired detective said, reaching for his Glock 19 from the nightstand drawer. “We’ll wait and listen – five minutes. Then I’ll check.”

The Webbs sat up in the king bed, surrounded by darkness, and waited and listened. Spider, as Virgil was called by everyone he knew, cradled the gun in his lap and stared at the open bedroom door as a trickle of cold sweat worked its way down his back.

The quiet search of the kitchen by the burglars had been fruitless. There were no jewels or cash stored in the freezer, refrigerator, or cupboards in phony soup cans or packages of frozen shrimp.

“Spider,” Marla whispered, “I heard a door close. It sounded like the refrigerator.”

“I heard it too. Sit tight,” he said, gripping the gun tightly in his right hand.

 The room in the house most likely to contain valuables – the master bedroom – would be the next target for the burglars, and Jon and Wes headed stealthily towards the staircase leading to the second floor.

Spider started to get out of the bed when he heard the creak coming from the staircase. The squeaky fourth step up was a nuisance he had given up on finding and fixing. He whispered urgently to Marla, “Get under the bed!”

But the bedroom floor, even though carpeted, had a squeak of its own and Wes Evans stopped short on the top step of the staircase. “I heard a noise,” he whispered to Jon.

“No one’s home, Wes. What did you hear?”

“I don’t know. A squeak like we made a minute ago.”

“Want to get out?”

Wes Evans paused a moment, then withdrew his gun – a five-shot, .38-caliber revolver. “No, let’s finish this up,” he said as he thought once again that he did not intend to kill anyone that night. But what if someone intended to kill him?

With similar thoughts troubling his mind, Jon Simms withdrew his own revolver – point and shoot, no slides to rack back – and followed Wes up the stairs and to the hallway on the right leading to the master bedroom. With guns in one hand and their flashlights in the other, they stealthily approached the open bedroom door.

With Marla safely under the bed, Spider had gotten up and stood next to it, one hand holding his Glock and the other on the switch of the nightstand lamp. He took a deep breath and waited. One minute later, he saw a flash of light enter the bedroom. He switched on the lamp and shouted, “Freeze!”

In response to his command, a gunshot came from the vicinity of the light, and Spider heard the bullet whistle by his left ear and crash into the back wall of the room. He instantly returned fire and Wes Evans collapsed to the floor with two of Spider’s slugs in his center mass. Simms panicked and ran to the stairs. Spider stepped over Evans and chased after him. Simms went for the nearest exit, the locked front door. Fumbling with the deadbolt he heard Spider yell, “Stop! Police!”  He ignored that command as he finally managed to get the door open. Simms bolted down the four front steps and headed toward the car, with the fifty-seven-year-old ex-detective in hot pursuit, both men puffing out clouds of vapor in the freezing air.

Making it to the car, Simms reached into his left jacket pocket for the keys when he heard the voice, now much closer, shout, “Freeze! Police! Get your hand out of your pocket! Now!”

Jon now realized it would all be over unless he could get into the car and drive away. He withdrew his hand from his pocket, clutching the keys which were in a black leather key case. Spider Webb, seeing what he had reason to believe was a gun – having been shot at by the other guy – shot Simms twice, once in his right side, and once under his right eye. Jonathan Simms fell to the ground – dead.


                                                                                                                                         *  *  *


Earlier that evening in a Manhattan restaurant, Danny Boyland, his handsome Irish face sporting a distant look, wondered is it really all over? Were he and his wife Tara finally retired and out of police work forever? And Spider now too, having set his retirement date on this Friday, February 28, giving him and Marla the whole month of March to scout out their future home somewhere near their daughter, Shari, in Atlanta.

The few detectives in the soon-to-be disbanded Special Investigations Squad who stayed on the force, had been transferred to their new squad of choice, and the rest had announced their retirement dates. It was party time, and on February 28, the final day on the job for Lt. Ripp, Sgt. Alger, Spider, and five others, the whole squad, including the civilian aides, gathered in a local downtown restaurant to celebrate. Chief of Detectives Richard Ferraro announced he would pick up the bar tab for the thirty people in attendance and told the rest of them to chip in for the food.  The sixty-year-old chief said in his trademark deep, gruff voice, “You guys can afford it now with your termination pay and fat pensions, you know.”

They all laughed and Sgt. Alger said, “I thought you were smart, Boss. These guys can drink three times as much as they can eat. You picked the wrong tab to pay.”

After the laughter died down and the drinks began to flow, the detectives each got up to say a few words of parting. When the dinners had been consumed it was 9:30 and Chief Ferraro got up to speak the final words of the evening, thanking them all for their long years of service and praising their skills as the “best detectives he ever had the privilege of commanding.”

As the Webbs and Boylands walked to the parking garage, bundled up in the chill night air, Spider said, “That retirement party was nothing like the blasts we used to have at Mulvaney’s in the old days.”

“We were twenty-five years younger back then,” Danny said, “and it wasn’t our retirement happening, just one or two of our old timers.”

“This time,” Tara said, “three-quarters of the squad was leaving the job and everyone there looked so old.”

“We are old,” Danny said. “Remember?”

No one spoke for a few moments as they digested Danny’s words until Spider said, “But we all have at least twenty years left to enjoy our retirement years beginning tomorrow. And we’ll drink a nightcap toast to that when we get home.”


*  *  *


As the two couples drove toward the Queens Midtown Tunnel for the thirty-minute journey home to Long Island, another couple was mulling over their plans for that evening.  Jonathan Simms, male black, age 25, 5’11”, 190 pounds, and Wesley Evans, male white, age 26, 5’9”, 175 pounds, both with numerous felony crimes under their belts, had figured out how many homes, and in which community, to burglarize this evening.

Simms and Evans were not drug addicts, as most thieves of all stripes seemed to be these days. But they did have one addiction – living the good life – including high-stakes casino gambling, expensive female companionship, and twenty-year-old scotch and bourbon.

The high school dropouts’ efforts at making a living before their turn to crime consisted in laboring at menial jobs – store clerk, construction laborer, and grave digger – but the money they earned was insufficient to support their chosen lifestyle. Burglary and armed robbery were much better, and they were practiced and proficient at it. They prided themselves that they had been caught just once – for a third-degree burglary of a delicatessen. They had pled guilty, promised to go straight, and were sentenced to six months, suspended, and fined $500 each.

They were never caught again, and now figured they had committed close to 500 burglaries and 50 armed robberies over the course of seven years. And just once in those seven years did they have to shoot someone. The clerk in a Brooklyn liquor store had come up with a gun in his hand and they both blasted away at him. They had no choice, they reasoned, but they got lucky and the crime was never connected to them.

This Friday night, the duo planned on four residential burglaries. On Saturday night they would do three stickups and on Sunday night four commercial burglaries. With reasonable proceeds, they could party for three weeks before having to strike again. They chose the community of Westbury in Nassau County, Long Island, for their four targets of the night. They hadn’t been in this area for over two years, since they operated over a wide swath of territory, from northern Westchester County, down through the five boroughs of New York City, east on Long Island through Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and all the way out to the Hamptons.

Westbury was mostly middle-class, not like the ultra-rich village of Old Westbury nearby. But Old Westbury, and others like it, was strictly avoided by Simms and Evans. The homes within those communities had sophisticated alarm systems and CCTV cameras tied in to their local police stations. Some had vicious dogs and armed private security guards around the clock. The idiots who tried to burglarize those places were the gangs from Argentina, Bulgaria, or Somalia, who didn’t know better and were almost always apprehended.


*  *  *


The Webbs and Boylands arrived home at 10:45 PM and entered the Boylands’ modest, two-story Cape-Cod home in Carle Place for their desired nightcap. Danny made the drinks and they relaxed in the den discussing their plans for the future. “We know what we’re going to do,” Marla said. “When are you two making a move?”

“We are going to North Carolina, as you know,” Tara said, “but we’re not yet certain in what particular area of the state where we will put down roots.”

“You’ll get a lot of help and advice from our many friends down there, I’m sure,” Spider said.

“Yeah,” Danny said, “I’m looking forward to seeing them all.”

“Especially that attractive sheriff of Jesper County out in the mountains,” Tara said with an evil grin on her face, poking Danny in the ribs.

“Yes, Debbie Caldwell is quite a looker, but I didn’t ogle her like you did her deputy, Charlie Garvey. And although you are still my beautiful Halle Berry look-alike sweetheart, may I remind you that you are twice young Charlie’s age?”

“Ah, Charlie, a young Idris Elba for sure,” she said, ignoring Danny’s comments and fondly remembering the now chief investigator of the Jesper County Sheriff’s Department.

“But Debbie sure does look like the Dragon Lady, doesn’t she? She –”

“Spider,” Danny interrupted, “please don’t go there. You’re getting to be a pain in the ass with references to our past lately.”

“That’s all we got left, isn’t it? Our days of big cases and big arrests are over. We have no future doing that anymore.”

They all nodded and sipped their drinks silently. Spider glanced at his watch. “Fifteen minutes to midnight,” he said. “Let’s drink one more toast as the clock strikes twelve, and I am officially off the job.”

 “Just like Tara and I did a few weeks ago,” Danny said.

When they downed the last of their drinks, it was 12:15 AM, and Marla and Spider rose to leave. Spider stumbled a bit and Danny said, “You okay to drive home?”

“Sure, as I’ve done a thousand times in my life from here.”

“Give me the keys,” Marla said. “I’ll drive this newly-retired hotshot home and put his silly ass to bed.”