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Episode 3: Cue the Corpse
"Hello, anybody home?" I knocked loudly. No invitation to come on in. "Hello."
No answer. I wanted to draw my .32 but if you enter someone's home with an iron in hand you deserve to be shot. But no way I wasn't going in. Call it a hunch; my instincts told me something wasn't right in that house.
With my ink pen I jiggled open the pull handle of the screen door. I wanted neither to disturb fingerprints nor leave any of mine.
The front door stood ajar.
I pushed on it with a knuckle, it swung back on its hinges and I peered inside. No foyer, the door opened into a living room. Davenport, a TV, chairs, unoccupied. Dead silence. That's what I was afraid of. I moved through the living room into the kitchen. A chair from the dinette lay on its side on the linoleum. A man lay face down in a pool of blood, his hands clutched under him holding his stomach. Crimson was everywhere, splattered on the table and the wall. Judging from the hole in his back a large caliber gun had taken the guy out. Smears and small round spots of blood led toward the living room in a dwindling pattern.
Beyond the chair and the corpse, another man stood facing me.
He looked surprised yet calm. He surveyed the gruesome corpse without blowing his breakfast. In his WWII days he'd seen dozens of dead bodies. In Guadalcanal it was part of the scenery.
"What are you doing here, Bobby?" I wanted to know.
"I was about to ask you the same thing, man."
"I'm on a case you hired me for! Remember?"
"There's no need to yell, Felix."
I disregarded him. "Did you ice this guy?"
He told me, no. Profanely.
I surveyed the kitchen. "Who killed him?"
"Don't know, just got here myself." Next to the stove, a door to the backyard was open.
"You know who this guy is?"
"Did you see anyone?"
With reluctance he muttered, "I can't say, man, I can't say."
I got a little profane myself. "Are you covering for Alena?"
His head jerked up when I said her name but he shrugged. I asked, "Did she kill him?"
"I can't say. But I didn't."
Totally exasperated, I growled, "Dammit, Bobby, you're putting me in the middle of something I don't want to be in."
I made a disgusted sound: "Is anybody else in the house?"
"I don't know, I told you I just got here."
I made another disgusted sound.
"What're you gonna do, Felix?"
"Answer some questions, why don't you, Bobby." I looked at the bloody corpse. "Who blew that hole in this slob?"
"How would I know? I came in here and found the guy croaked, just like you."
"Did Alena see you while she was here?"
"She was here?"
"Don't hand me a line, Bobby; you'd lie to protect her. What are you doing here?"
He shook his head back and forth. At any time I thought he might gibber or drool.
"Bobby, do you or don't you know this guy on the floor?"
"We can talk later, amigo, let's blow!"
"I'm going to have to call the cops."
"Screw that, I'm lamming!" He almost made it to the back door before I clamped a big hand on his shoulder. Bobby stood about half a foot shorter than my six one; he stopped moving when I put the grab on him. I patted down his pockets. Nothing. Nothing in his waistband either. The heater that put our boy on the floor down would be too big for Bobby to stow in his sock.
"Who do you think you are, frisking me?"
"Shut up. Where's the gun?"
He got indignant: "I'm not heeled!"
"Don't try to bulldoze the bulldozer."
"Are you accusing me?"
"I'm asking a question." I was as mad as Bobby. Obviously the knucklehead wasn't going to answer any questions about guns, so I tried a different tack: "What have you touched inside the house?"
He thought a second: "The door handle -- coming in."
"Are you sure that's all?"
He gave me a dirty look.
"Don't touch anything else and make sure not to step in any blood. Just stay put, I'm going to see if anybody else is in this dump."
I tiptoed around all the blood. A hallway led to a bathroom and three bedrooms, one with an unmade bed. The second contained a loveseat and a portable bar, a thicket of empty beer cans. On top of the bar I saw several typewritten scripts, each fastened together in the left margin with brads. I was glad to see none named A Hint Of Vermillion. The third room served as a junk room: boxes piled up; an old bicycle; a defunct couch leaning badly to the right; a litter box that needed emptying.
I headed back for the kitchen saying to Bobby, "It's just you, me and the deceased."
But I was wrong -- only the deceased and I remained. Bobby had decamped. Well, I'd given him enough time. Maybe I viewed it as a minor atonement for my secret sin with Alena. Maybe he was more of a friend of mine than I'd thought. Besides, I'd talked to him long enough to know he wasn't going to tell me the truth.
I wanted to exit too but needed to know the identity of the dead man. The corpse wore only a pair of boxer shorts. I ducked back into the room with the bed. In a pants pocket, tossed into a chair, I found a wallet. The driver's license indicated the man on the kitchen floor to be Walter Hobbs of that address in Pasadena. Speaking of licenses, I needed to get in touch with the cops or be in danger of losing mine.
But I had somewhere to go first...
Back to Episode 2 : Cut to the Chase
On to Episode 4 : Angle on Robin
Murder's Accomplice is copyright by Darryl Crawford. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)