A A young blonde woman in a skimpy top, very short jeans and high-heeled shoes stood in the street, looking north and south. … It wasn’t long before she spotted Joe and rushed to the Palace Tavern, a neighborhood bar on Front Street. …Joe followed her and saw her disappear down a staircase to the basement and lost her there.
He noticed an old cupboard door ajar, so he looked inside and saw that it hid the entrance to a tunnel. There were disturbed cobwebs inside the tunnel entrance and Joe suspected that the girl had entered the tunnel.
The tunnels were forbidden because the sergeant had declared them too dangerous to enter. Joe thought he heard a noise coming from the tunnel but wasn’t sure.
This passage is part of author Vic Kusske’s debut novel, “Criminal Prosecutor: The Fight for Yakima.”
Released in December Kusske’s detective story is historical fiction heavily based on real events – including his years walking downtown from 1972. The former foot patrol officer, traffic investigator and detective retired from the police department of Yakima in 1996.
Kusske knew the tunnel entrance in real life after chasing a prostitute to a tough South Front Street bar. The historic tunnels, located mostly under the sections of downtown Yakima known as Japan Town and China Town, are among the city’s most fascinating features. They hold many secrets, unlike the network of tunnels of utility steam pipes leading from a steam heating plant.
“I’m in this basement looking around and she just left,” Vic said recently as he and his wife, Linda, joined friends at Schab’s Bier Den in the same downtown neighborhood. city that was his rhythm years ago. Linda brought a box of paperbacks from Vic to sell. They held an official book launch there on February 5.
“I thought we were going to run out of books, which we did,” she said of the event in early February. “It was a packed house. It lasted three hours. It was just amazing.
“I’m proud of him,” she said.
The more informal gathering in March still drew a crowd interested in the self-published 263-page paperback, available on Amazon. It’s a gripping read, especially for those who remember the very different scene in downtown Yakima in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Among the biggest players in Kusske’s book is Stockman’s Bar and Grill, “visited by just about every pimp, prostitute, drug dealer, robber, robber, and pervert that prowled the savage country.” Stockman’s was also the unofficial compound of Foot Patrol Officer Joe Creed,” notes the description of the book on Amazon.
“It was just half a block from the Alaska Corral Topless Bar, the second most visited place for thugs and murderers. Vice, extortion, theft, mafia scams and murder, combined with a maze of old Chinese tunnels, make downtown a challenging and interesting place.
Kusske’s book presents two main scenarios. One is the experience of fictional officer Joe Creed as he patrols the city’s rugged downtown. The other is a dramatization of a 1975 Yakima County murder case that Kusske eagerly followed. Throughout, the story’s hero learns about the corruption that plagues the highest levels of city and county governments.
“You’ll see where the two story paths come together in the end,” Vic said. “At the end, a bad guy runs away and goes to Mexico. In my second book, we’re going to find him. In the third book, we go back to Yakima. I sort of clean things up.
A different city center
In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, downtown Yakima was a very different place. “At the time, there were forces in Yakima that were pretty negative,” Vic said.
In October 1989, the Associated Press published an article by Luis Cabrera. Cabrera focused on the Blue Banjo, located at 22 N. First St. – now the upscale Crafted restaurant and bar. “At the Tough Bar, even dead men go unnoticed” said the title of his story about two men whose bodies lay near the back steps of the Blue Banjo for several hours before anyone noticed they weren’t sleeping.
Kusske remembers those days very well. When the Oregon native started with the Yakima Police Department in 1972 after two years with the Sunnyside Police Department, downtown was already becoming increasingly dangerous as the battle for control of traffic in hardcore drugs – heroin and cocaine – escalated as these and other illegal substances flooded the area.
Even with so much real-life inspiration, crafting a novel requires dedication. Kusske has an office upstairs in the house that he shares with Linda, his wife of over 35 years.
“He gets up early – he gets up around 6 a.m.,” Linda said, adding that Vic typically spends five to seven hours a day writing.
“If I’m not writing, I’m researching,” he said.
Vic had wanted to write for years, Linda said. It had to wait a bit; after Vic retired from the city police agency, he worked for two years investigating fraudulent insurance claims, then for Washington State, handling child support cases, locating and seizing assets, as its author bio notes.
Both are also busy with family, recreation, and their church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (which appears in the book, along with the mysterious Congdon Castle on the western side of town).
However, this novel has been in his head for years. He started working there in 1975 when a local woman was murdered.
Donna Marilyn Howard was found dead in a horse shed on her Galloway Drive property on January 10, 1975. Investigators say one of her horses kicked her in the head. But Howard was an accomplished horsewoman, and her sister and her family insisted on further consideration.
When her body was exhumed, further investigation indicated that she had been struck on the head by a hammer. Nine years after her death, her husband, Noyes Russell “Russ” Howard, was arrested at his home in Yakima. He was convicted of murder in 1986 and died in 2002.
Some of the characters in her book “are pretty close to real life,” Vic said, smiling and standing there. He admitted that Linda is a real inspiration. “There’s a character in the book that kind of looks like her,” he said.
Readers will learn about the main character’s work with other city, county, state and federal authorities, good and bad, as well as the people who lived and worked in the area. This includes some who have tried to help people get back on their feet. Once in a while, a prostitute would want to quit the business, Vic said. Much like Creed, Vic had connections that could support them in this.
Rocky Stone, a former Alaska Corral bouncer, said Vic captured the gritty scene well, praising his efforts in the comments on the book’s back cover.
“Without incriminating myself, I would say that what Officer Kusske writes is as close to what was happening on the streets at the time… His book is good because he understood what was really going on “, wrote Stone.
In 2016 Vic and Linda went to Mexico and bought a boat. Linda returned home as Vic spent the next five years sailing the Sea of Cortez, inspired by John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Sea of Cortez Diary.”
“I’ve been to some of these same bays and estuaries, mostly self-navigating,” Vic said. “I came back last spring, sold the boat and started writing in July.”
His next book is out in a month, with the last book due out in early summer.
Like the first, the second and third books will be around 240 pages, Vic said. He got a lot of help, he said, and singled out Linda for special praise.
“Linda has been invaluable. She was a huge help,” he said. Vic encouraged Linda to write her own book with recipes from Malta, where she still has many relatives.
Although the book is inspired by real events, “they are entirely different from the fictional events, people, places, and things written in this work of fiction,” a note in the book reads. For example, “The real county attorney in the 1970s and 1980s was an honest, church-going family man who looked nothing like the bad guy in that job.”
It’s not perfect, Vic said, but he had a lot of fun writing it and he met a lot of people, he said. “The people of Yakima are absolutely wonderful people,” he said.