Posts Tagged With: short story

Murp Day – Zero Hour (September 8, 2012)

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The batter swung hard and connected clean, sending a shot through the gap between first and second base that yanked the stadium from a three inning stupor. They were primed by an early autumn chill, cold beer, and hot bratwurst, and briefly murmured their approval with a hum that rose through the ball park only to fizzle as the runner tagged first.

Nate glanced left and saw Cheryl still gazing at her phone, paging through texts for what seemed like the fifteenth time in the last hour. Bobby mentioned she’d been a little distracted lately, since her last boyfriend cheated on her. Of course he also mentioned that she was about as much fun as an ass full of carpet tacks even when she wasn’t distracted. It was one of those things that made him think twice about accepting, but of course that was the whole philosophical predicament of the wing man, wasn’t it? From the last few hours of personal experience, Bobby had been generous with his lackluster praise. It could have been worse. She could’ve tried to talk to him.

She sighed and glanced up at the game like a fourteen year old with a penchant for with theatrical disgust. When she didn’t see anything she liked she dropped her nose right back down. Bobby’s date, Emily, looked past him to shoot an ineffectual scowl at the side of her friends head, then refocused apologetically on him.

“So did you catch the guy?”

“Hmm?” Nate was so engaged with the right center field single, he’d forgotten he was in the middle of a story.

“The convenience store guy?”

He swallowed a molten chunk of bratwurst to clear his throat.

“Oh right. Rabbit fast. Luckily, Bobby’s got Antelope in him or something. He kept after him all the way, like a gazelle, while we were all driving around like it was a parade.”

He sipped his beer as the next batter connected. The ball popped straight into the air and briefly disappeared in the window of clear blue autumn sky between the edges of the retractable roof. He didn’t even need to see the pitcher and catcher below to know it would be an easy out.

“You caught him, Bobby?” She was pretty in an earnest, Midwestern, way – freckles, longish hair, just a little too much makeup artfully applied – but there was just something about her that told him she wasn’t really Bobby’s type. If you’d asked him, though, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you what that was. In fact, he really didn’t have any idea what Bobby’s type would be. If he had to guess he would have said A Cowgirl or Calamity Jane.

Bobby chuckled.

“Not exactly. I’m ninja fast and all but this guy was like an NFL running back and… Well…”

Bobby was not a big guy. Not by a long shot. In a different part of the country his height and temperament would have made him a great rodeo cowboy: short, wiry and tenacious as hell.

“What did you do?”

“Well my plan, such as it was,” Bobby continued. “was to run him until he fell down and then tase the shit out of him.”

He glanced at Nate with his crooked grin.

“The rest of us in the cars were supposed to help.”

“Supposed to.”

The guy in question robbed a 24 hour convenience store the night before. The first officers on the scene thought they had him but he split straight through them, stiff arming one into the parking lot before dashing into the neat rows of post-war bungalow houses behind the store. The stiff-armed cop sucked wind into his radio to call for backup. Bobby was the other one. He picked himself up and immediately gave chase.

Nate and his partner, Paris, pulled up only seconds later and caught the two of them in the headlights of their cruiser. For five blocks they watched the suspect juke like a pro, weaving through alleys, cutting the lanes between houses, hurtling gardens and garbage cans with only little Bobby Lester chasing him while they tried to maneuver into better position. The minute they thought they had it, the suspect would make a quick check and change direction like he was being operated by a bored child god playing a video game. The guy easily had a hundred pounds on Lester. From the view from the squad car it looked like a chihuahua chasing a Rottweiler. Once or twice Paris – who was driving – nearly hit little Bobby when they tried to cut them off but he was nimble in addition to being quick, and slid out of the way before becoming a good ornament.

Nate propped his door open to get ready for foot pursuit. Paris laughed gleefully.

“Look it im! Fast as a fucking cheetah!”

“Which one?”

“Our suspect. He’s like Ahman Green fast.”

“So what would that make Bobby?”

“Umm…” Paris yanked the wheel and sped to the next corner. “Willie Mays? Except he’s not black.”

The suspect and his uniformed blue shadow shot from a gap between the houses and flashed through the lights of the squad car.

“Guess it doesn’t quite fit then.” Nate watched them pass and shoved his door a little wider but the guy cut back and away, right in the direction he’d already come from. There wasn’t much else to do but slam shut again and get ready for next time.

“Robin Yount?”

Robin was a hall of fame shortstop for the local baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Nate grew up idolizing him. In the full summer of his youth, Robin was arguably the fastest guy he knew – and it was an argument he had often – sometimes ending with a playful but brutally serious brawl.

“Robin was a bit taller.” He said as they raced down the street till Paris could crank a quick u-turn. Nate leaned out of the car again. “But you’re getting closer. Same color hair at least.”

Paris hit the gas and bashed a garbage can out of the way with the front bumper. They were coming up again and both men flashed so quickly through their headlights they were like deer on a lonely midnight country road. The suspect swung his head around, checking the distance between him and the oncoming squad car, then hurdled a pile of trash at the side of a crumbling garage and was gone. Bobby was just two steps behind. He was grinning and laughing as the pale headlights caught him. Nate could hear him cackling through his open door, giddy like a kid on the first day of summer.

“But you did get him right?” Emily said, bringing him back to the present. She took two large gulps from her small but expensive beer. Her eyes were wide. The next batter took a hard swing and missed completely.

“Sort of.” Nate grinned.

“They had a little help.”

“They? But weren’t you?…”

“Mmm… That’s where it gets a little complicated. You have to remember, we’ve got three or four squads that took the call and this guy was just stupid fast. So the radio is lighting up with location reports of people coming in to the chase, where they are and all that. And of course you’re trying to keep your eyes on the guy, not hit anything and figure out where’s the best place to bail or cut him off. Meantime he’s cutting lightning through people’s backyards and Bobby’s the only one REALLY on his ass. If he slips or something this guy is gone. Anyway. In all the confusion no one caught this patrolman from district two coming in. He’s not even with our district. Just some guy heading to central who decides he’s in position to take up pursuit.”

“The human wall.” Bobby added as the batter swung on and missed again.

“Right. I didn’t catch his name though.”

“Me neither. But if you look close enough his name plate might still be etched into my forehead.”

“The guy was huge. We’re talking Sasquatch huge.”

“Not that big, Nate. Just about your height actually.”

“But like two of me across.”

“Maybe one and a half.”

“I’m trying to tell a story here. A little hyperbole goes a long way.”

“Now you’re just making up words.”

“Anyway. So me and Paris make another circuit around the houses, back to the block we’d just come from and we’re cruising pretty fast to catch up, thinking they’re going to pop through again. Just like they’d done five times before. And we pull up to the spot where we expect them to be coming from but they don’t. I look at Paris and he looks at me and we’re both just dumb. Goofy dumb. Like this.”

Nate made his best dribbling idiot face to illustrate. He’d been told by his ex-girlfriend that it was a pretty good likeness of his usual expression.

“So we both bail, lights and guns out… That whole thing. I’m radioing a broken pursuit and location when I hear this little squeaking coming from one of those gaps between the houses.”

“I don’t squeak…” Bobby grinned. “Usually.”

The batter swung a third time and got a healthy chunk of it. Nate watched it pop and sail away. From his angle it was hard to tell if it had the distance or not and he could feel the anticipation pulling him to the edge of his seat just a little. The rest of the crowd was snared in the same spell, holding their breath to see if the ball had enough. Their voices rose in a tuneless chorus like rain getting heavier on a tin roof. Outfielders drifted back, necks arched and eyes fixed on the sky. They backpedaled to the outfield track when one reached up casually and snatched the ball out of the sky where it seemed to be waiting for him. The crowd went quiet like someone pulled a switch.

“So now I’m thinking something is really wrong. I come running down the alley, gun drawn and see this huge wriggling shadow. The yard had one of those backyard motion sensitive light things so all I can see is this huge silhouette. I mean it looks like something out of nightmares. Like three or four big garbage bags full of live cats or something. I swap out the gun for the taser and I’m just about to zap when I see Bobby’s scrawny little hand shoot out of the pile and wave at me and he’s squeaking, literally squeaking ‘he’s a cop! He’s a cop!'”

“Frystack! That was the guys name. A beast. I should know. He was on top of me. All 800 pounds of him.”

“Yeah. So basically the moral of the story is we had a shrimp NFL kicker chasing a running back and both of them got squashed by a Defensive lineman. I swear, I thought we were going to have to requisition a spatula to scrape him off the sidewalk.”

“Me too. It’s not even funny. I thought I was going to die. Those dude’s were HEAVY. You ever have a whale on top of you?”

“Yes.” Emily said with a sly grin. Bobby’s eyes got wider and a smile crawled across his face. “Remember Eddie Carlton?”

“Fast Eddie? Really? I? Em…? Really?” Bobby stammered, grinning and shaking his head.

“Hey. He was sweet.”

“He was a guy, Em. That was high school. Sweetness was all he had going for him.”

“Well it worked. We dated for like a year after school.”

“Ugh. Fast Eddie. That sly, massive shit.”

“Well… he was that.” Emily’s smile died with the obvious ending of the memory that she didn’t need to share.

“We found out later that the guy only got two packages of twinkles.” Nate inserted awkwardly.

“Yeah. We found out because they were still in his sweatshirt. They exploded all over my uniform. We get the guy cuffed and this Frystack guy comes up and scoops some of the filling off my shirt and he gives me this huge grin, winks at me and says “evidence”. Then he pops it in his mouth.”

Bobby mimicked the whole thing, including the grin. Nate didn’t see it at the time but he figured it was a pretty good likeness. He even pulled his head into his neck a little to simulate the huge cops thick neck.

Emily cackled. Her laugh was startlingly sharp and jagged and it cut the nice stadium hum, making him jump a little. He flicked a glance past her at Bobby who grinned and rolled his eyes behind her back. Nate couldn’t help but laugh. Luckily, Emily seemed to think he was just laughing with her at his own story.

The next batter dug into the dirt and Nate felt one of those terrible gaps of quiet opening between strangers. Emily seemed to wait for one of them to say something else but they were both clearly at a loss. It nervously obligated him to fill it. He looked down at the batter for something clever to say but the Batter wasn’t obliging.

Of all people, Cheryl stepped in to help.

“Hey Em. I gotta go to the bathroom.” She didn’t pry her dull eyes from the cell phone when she said it. It didn’t take a genius to figure out who she was texting and why it required a bathroom consultation.

“So go then.” Emily shot back feigning distraction with a sudden interest in baseball. It won points from the guys. Most women they knew took those sorts of bathroom calls as duty.

“Come with me.”

Nate didn’t have to see it to know that she’d bounced a disdainful expression off his cheek. He was well past the point of caring about it.

“We can go at the end of the inning. I don’t have to go yet.”

“Don’t be a bitch. You don’t even like baseball.”

“Now who’s being the bitch? For fucks sake, Cheryl. Have some class.” She shoved herself from her seat, and glared again at her friend who still hadn’t extracted her attention from the device. “Pardon me, Bobby, but I have to go drown my shitty friend in a toilet. Could you get me another beer?”

“Sure.”

“Get me one too?” Cheryl shoved past them, not glancing up.

“Fat chance.” Bobby muttered after they’d gotten out of earshot.

“Ain’t she a piece of work?” Nate sighed.

“Which one?”

“Emily doesn’t seem so bad.”

“Nah. She’s okay. We swung from different trees in school. But still… I don’t know. There’s just something about her… She seems to like you though. We could always swap – I could murder Cheryl and you could date Emily.”

“Ehn. Not my type either, Bobby.”

“Well… At least we get a game out of it I suppose. When was the last time we were at the ball park?”

“Last week.”

“When was the last time we were at the ball park NOT in uniform?”

The batter swung wide and the ball socked home in the catchers glove. He always loved that sound, even the feel of it. Back in the long ago, Nate had been a pretty decent ball player – nothing outstanding – but he put his heart into it and connected on some deep spiritual level with all of it: the smell of hot dogs in brine, the crack of the bat, the quiet of the field, the way the ball felt when it found leather. He’d blown out an ankle in college which ended his playing, though he still managed a spot on the District Softball team when time allowed it.

The pitcher sank into his stance, checked the runner at first who was itchy with all of the waiting. He took a long lead off, more than he should have given his speed – but the pitcher didn’t worry over it. The guy was taking more than he could chew, practically offering himself up as the next out even if the batter hit it. The pitcher shook off a few signals before nodding and starting his wind up. Just before he finished the arc the runner committed. Nate watched, and on some level felt, the spray of dirt fly from the runners cleats. It was still stored somewhere in his muscle memory. He felt his legs tense up and the toes of his feet crunch harder into the concrete. To him, there was nothing like baseball. The only thing that came close was the scent of the city through a squad car window in the summer time, the distant thumping chaos of one of the many lakefront music festivals or the lurking foot patrol on the lake shore as the fourth of July fireworks lit up the skyline.

The batter connected again. He could tell by the tinny sound that it wasn’t solid – an easy pop fly. The outfielders meandered under it, not even giving enough respect to make the effort and the infielders were already heading in to the dug out.

That was the moment Nate thought he’d gone blind.

The ball was still in flight. Much much later, when finally turning into the precinct for some badly needed rack time, he would have the opportunity to discuss it and they would all collectively come up with much the same thing: a sound like an overloaded transformer followed by a bright flash. But it wasn’t a single bright flash. It was hundreds of brilliant, eye searing flashes all at the exact same instant, as if hooked to a timer.

Unfortunately for Nate, and most of the ballpark, one of those bright flashes came from the outfielder just under the ball. They were staring right at him when he seemed to turninto white hot light.

He got his hands up to his face only after the flash subsided. He shut his eyes tight but ghost images of the flashes were leopard spotted everywhere on the inside of his eyelids. There were so many he was afraid of opening them for fear there would be nothing to see – just never ending blankness.

“Jesus! What the hell was that?” He yelled. Already the sound of the crowd was increasing. They weren’t panicked yet. He hoped they wouldn’t be – maybe it was just some sort of electrical malfunction – but something was telling him that wasn’t the case at all.

“Can’t see, Nate.” Bobby said. “Don’t know. Wasn’t a bomb. Flashbangs maybe? Can you see?”

“No bang, Bobby. Sounded like a transformer blowing.”

He blinked a few times, trying to soften the spots. Then he heard the first scream. It hooked his attention automatically even though the great blind spot obliterated whatever was directly in front of him. There was another scream, and then another. Out of his periphery he could see movement on the far side of the stadium.

“This doesn’t sound good, Nate. Can you see?” Bobby said again.

“Still mostly spots. Every time I try to look all I see is spots.”

“Me too. Try using your periphery. Look away.”

He could see it – it was as though someone had thrown stones into a calm stream of people. They were rippling away from each other evenly, some ripples crashing into others and rising up, all rushing away from central spots in the stands. It almost looked like a new form of cheer, an adaptation of the old tried and true ‘wave’ only with much more panic and screaming.

Someone reeled back into him. He shoved back reflexively but his brain was already telling him it wouldn’t help. If he didn’t do something quick or join the crowd he would be quickly crushed. He’d done crowd control before and knew that crowds were organisms. They responded to stimuli but they responded in unison, without thought or consideration. Fear spread like a virus and resisted all rationality. He felt it creep into him, clutching at his heart and stopping up his thought as thoroughly as a clogged artery stops blood.

Far out on the other side of the field, another ripple went out. At first it was almost pretty: slow and concerned and almost rhythmic. But then it got faster, frantic. He saw people jammed up onto the backs of others, arms up, legs churning. He saw one person fall and get devoured by the gnashing legs of those behind them, desperate, unknowing. The trampled obstacle only serving to trip others who spilled down the sides of the great bowl of the stands like ghastly, tiny, people-shaped grains of sand.

“Pull your legs up, Bobby!” He yelled against the stampede which was already pushing against him. “Pull up and hold tight! Don’t move! Cover up!”

He didn’t know if Bobby could hear him or not. He didn’t even know if it was the right thing to do, but it seemed right plus it would let him get at the ankle pistol he carried.

“Did you bring a piece?” He yelled.

Already, the stream had started to shove past him. It was like being in a lane between herds of passing buffalo. They hammered him repeatedly in the shoulder.

“Got it!” Bobby yelled.

They crammed past him but he didn’t look up. He kept tucked, and tried to prop his feet up onto the seat but it wasn’t much use. Nothing he did would get them to stop hitting him. They grunted and yelled unintelligibly at each other but no one could hear – they were beyond the capacity for listening. The sounds of panic was in him too, chipping away at his sense and rationality. The only thing that helped was keeping his head down and his eyes shut firmly against it.

I’m going to die. I’m going to die. His brain whimpered. Get up and run. Get up and run.

But there was a cooler, almost malicious voice in there too and it told him he’d already made his choice. Whatever came he would live or die right where he was. He’d survive or he wouldn’t.

And that part was right. Whatever happened, he was not getting up. The force of the crowd was too strong. They’d become a solid string of heavy, churning bodies: a single destructive entity without no mind guiding it. They pounded like crashing surf towards what they hoped was the exit. Away from danger. A mob didn’t need to see or know danger to know it was present. It just abided by the will of it’s own sustaining fury and used terror as fuel until it was exhausted in rage, distance or death. Nate made a decision to oppose the mob. He hoped to live through it and see the other side of it, but hope was all he had left.

He vaguely heard Bobby yell something but he couldn’t make out what it was.

“See it?” He heard. But there was more to it than that. Moments ago he thought he was going blind but now going deaf seemed more likely. The crowd bellowed like cattle. ‘Move’ and ‘go’ were frantic mantra’s that sounded more like animals in a herd than any language he remembered. Someone stepped on his back, and then another. It would have kicked him into the stream of people in front had there been any space. As it was it just put his head in position to be bludgeoned by knees and desperate fists, unaware he was even there. He felt himself teetering on the seat sideways and threw his arm out to the armrest to steady himself. One more good pop to the side of the head or a boot to his neck would be all it would take. Any second now.

In the seat Cheryl vacated he heard a solid crack, almost like – but entirely unlike – the crack of a baseball bat against a ball when it gets all of it. Someone in Cheryl’s seat screamed helplessly into his ear but he couldn’t risk picking his head up from his knees to look. Then there was another crack, this one much more sickly and wet sounding. From a bad memory of a bad accident he remembered the sound. It was the sound his brothers arm made when it hit the tree while they were sledding. He’d never wanted to feel that helpless again but here it was, and it was somehow even worse.

“Bobby! Gun! We’ve got to get them off of us!”

Bobby must have heard because the gun went off. At this point it didn’t even matter if Bobby hit anyone. They could fix all of that later, when – and if – they were still alive. The gun went off again. And then again. And instantly there was a break in the stream. He poked his head up and opened his eyes a little, in time to see shocked people tumbling over the metal tombstone teeth of the seats away from him. He didn’t spend a second worrying about them. He knew they would be broken, limbs off kilter, shattered, but he could only do something about that if he was still alive.

He glanced left to where the scream came from. The crowd was thinning, leaving he and Bobby in it’s wake but there was also a woman, in her early fifties maybe, at a strange angle in Cheryl’s seat. She was staring at him with horror, fear and pain, her face upside down. She was crying and she could see the waning panic being slowly replaced with unbelievable pain. He looked down at her. Her leg had been swept along by the crowd and was at a horrible angle with bright bone poking through a horrendous gash.

He watched her lips move.

“Help. Me.” She choked.

In his right ear he could still hear the thunder of the stampede, finally making it to the exit and getting clogged there. People would die in there. He was sure of it. But there was almost nothing he could do about it right now. His brain was rapidly shifting to triage mode.

“We’re going to get you out of here, ma’am. Just sit tight. Try to keep calm.”

“Help.” She mouthed again.

“Bobby?” He glanced right. Bobby was already standing. He looked almost unharmed. Maybe a little tussled but he figured his own much larger form had shielded his friend from much of the abuse. Bobby had his cell phone and was trying to dial with the gun still in his hand. He was staring at the crush of people trying to get into the exit tunnel.

“Can’t get through, Nate. Got no signal. What are we going to do about them?” He pointed at the crush.

“Nothing we can do, Bobby. Not from here and here is where we stay. We’ve got to help the people we can help. You get me? Keep trying the station. When you get through tell them there’s been an incident at the stadium and we need support.”

“Got it.”

“You see any security anywhere?”

They both looked around the stadium. Down below, on the field, ball players from both teams seemed to be cautiously converging on something in the outfield. Many of them had bats in hand. He scanned around and spotted a few of the yellow shirted event security standing around, pointing and yelling at each other.

“There’s a few. Go talk to them. Get them organized.” He told Bobby.

“Got it.”

The woman clenched his arm hard, her nails digging in, unconscious in her sense of pain. He glanced at her again, wincing and noticing a thin stream of blood trickle down his arm. He grabbed her hand to pry it loose.

“We’re going to get you out of here. Just stay…”

But his voice trailed off as he saw something beyond her in the stands.

It was a good thirty feet away.

At first, he thought it was a bear. Insofar as that made no sense whatsoever, it made perfect sense. What else could so completely panic a whole baseball stadium? It was easily as big as a bear, huge in the shoulders, and seemed to be trying to crawl up the stadium seats by grappling the back rests with it’s feet on the seats. But it was the feet that gave him pause. They were in boots.

Nate blinked, unsure of what he was seeing. Maybe they were still stung from the flash, or maybe he’d gotten hit or something. What he was seeing was clearly not a bear. Not unless bears had somehow become a strange shade of turquoise and wore shoes and… a shirt? That was a shirt wasn’t it? It couldn’t be.

He closed his eyes and shook his head out, like they do in cartoons when someone’s taken a particularly nasty jolt to the head. The way his brother did when he thought he was being funny. When he opened them again the blue, shirt wearing bear was still there. It clambered up another row, gazing around, it’s huge head swiveling on an ursine neck. It turned, glaring at him. It’s expression was oddly human – snarling and bear-like – but somehow human. It’s eyes locked on his in fear, rage, and confusion.

Nate reached for his gun.

The thing stood up on the seat, ripping out the seat back as though tearing a sheet of paper from a book, then flung it out behind him where it sailed out onto the baseball diamond like a strangely shaped frisbee. It curled its huge head back till it was pointing at the retractable roof and howled into the open mouth of the perfect blue autumn sky.

Nate had never heard a more mournful sound in his whole life. It was the sound hearts make when they’re breaking.

Categories: Fiction, Mystery, The Stonemaidens Cup Series, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Too Much Peace of Mind – A Meg Brown Mystery

Something about the interior of the plane to Phoenix reminded her of images she once saw of an indian bus clinging precariously to the thinnest possible ribbon of remaining road above a beautiful river chasm. It made for a lovely view, particularly when it was destined to be your last. But then again, the desperately impassive faces of her co-passengers were not a lovely image.

Meg had never felt right about planes. She’d never been able to get over the feeling that they were little more than distended Campbell’s Soup Cans with creatively dissembled labels that made up the wings. She couldn’t get over the speed of them, skipping rapidly over millions of sedentary ordinary lives. In the time it took to listen to a fragment of a song on an ipod you’d skipped blissfully over the commutes that those below would be bitching about hours later. In the time it took to type a quick message on twitter you’d blasted past thousands of people heading in the same direction.

And yet she’d done worse. She’d flown to Iraq and back twice. She’d ridden in Armored Personnel carriers under fire with small arms fire pinging against the side. She’d clung to sandbags as artillery rounds stole the air from her chest. She’d taken a shotgun blast in her vest at close range. But in the end it was planes she feared. Planes which horrified her straight down to some untapped icy core under her ribs.

As the plane lurched again she raised a hand at the stewardess. She was pretty in the way that make men brutal, stupid and dangerous and women much the same but for different reasons. She had blond hair capping a gorgeous but severe face that was perched atop long legs whose shape could be, and were, appraised by most of the male coach passengers in spite of the unattractive uniform she sported. She was also, very clearly, a sadist in the way her eyes grazed vapidly over Meg’s desperate, outstretched arm. She would have liked to say she’d shot people for less, but it wouldn’t have been true. Every person she’d shot, and there really hadn’t been that many, had completely deserved it.

“Have you looked over the case file yet?” Nudged her partner, Albert Riggins. The nudge made her jump a little which made her feel foolish. She brought her arm down quickly with a curse that settled gently over the entire situation.

“What’s to look at?” She snapped as she shoved the proffered file back at him with her elbow. “We’re not going to crack it. It’s already cracked. Just like this stewardesses head is going to be if she doesn’t take my drink order.” The stewardess turned again in her direction toting a minuscule pillow that she seemed to have pulled from the stale air. She handed the pillow to a man in the second row who fought to get it adequately behind his neck. Meg’s arm shot up again. The plane lurched again and again the stewardesses fluttering lashes fell on Meg’s outstretched hand and fluttered away.

“Flight Attendant.” Riggin’s corrected. He had no excuse to correct her – being twenty years her elder and of an age where stewardesses still wore skirts.

“Can I shoot her?” She snatched the file from him.

“No.”

“What if I said I thought she was a terrorist?”

“I don’t think you’re even allowed to say terrorist much less call her a stewardess.”

Meg blew her hair from her face in disgust which only made it settle more completely in her eye.

“It was just the once.” She said, opening the file. “I didn’t know they were so touchy. I hope her boyfriend dismembered her cabbage patch kid before he was locked up. And what’s more I bet I could make a drug bust out of her. She’s clearly carrying some coke somewhere.”

“How do you figure her boyfriends in jail?”

“Well covered bruise on her wrist and another older one above her right temple. Tattoo on her left arm.”

“You can’t even see her tattoos. If she has any.”

“She raised her arm to get the pillow. I just caught a little glimpse of it. Bad quality. Looked homemade – prison ink style. She’s a tagged woman.”

Riggins was used to this sort of thing. His eyes followed the Flight Attendant as she disappeared behind the curtain into the first class compartment. They’d followed her there before but now they were looking for something else though he knew he would never see what Meg saw as quickly. He never would admit it but Meg Brown was the best thing to happen to his homicide squad in the entire time he’d been there but it hadn’t been easy. She was contentious, adamant, opinionated, direct, and worse – usually right. She’d seen more action than anyone else, knew more about seemingly everything, and drew connections between things the way a master draws a line, or an expert bluegrass fiddler plays a bridge. For the first time in almost ten years he saw the scope of his impending retirement with a panoramic and restful view that only came with a near perfect peace of mind.

Meg turned the pages to the pictures of the homicide and laid it open on the anemic fold out table that the airline provided to make a mockery of function. Across the aisle she heard a gasp.

“Nasty isn’t it?” She said to the woman who gasped. Under typical circumstances it would have been easy to imagine the forty year old woman with a pleasant, though simple laugh but here her kind and florid face gaped open and goggled at the crime scene photos. The woman’s tiny eyes zipped from the picture to Meg’s face and back again like some fast insect uncertain of the safety of it’s landing zone.

“Oh yeah. Head bashed in.” Meg added. “I’ve seen worse of course. Hell, I’ve done worse. But this one’s special.”

She pushed the pictures as close to the edge of the fold out as she could so the horrified passenger could get a better look at what she pretended not to want to.

“You know what the killer used? This will make you laugh. You won’t believe it. Guess.”

“I don’t… I can’t imagine…” The woman spluttered.

“Come on. Guess.”

“A baseball bat?” She whispered.

“No no no. Everybody uses a baseball bat. A cucumber. A frozen fucking cucumber. Do you believe it? I mean I’ve seen everything – Bat’s, axes. Axes make a big mess. Brains and bone everywhere. Pipes, concrete, stop signs. You name it but I have never seen anyone killed with a vegetable before. It takes a special kind of weird to think up the homicidal uses for produce.”

The woman looked at her. All the shock of seeing a body drained out of her with the unmistakable sensation that she was being made fun of.

“I’m totally serious. You don’t believe me. Okay. I’m partially lying. The cucumber was used to knock him out. It was one of those big kind with the big bulb at the end. They must have sapped him just right. See? You can see it in the picture.”

She pointed at the vegetable in the close up photo. It was taken not long after the first responder showed up so there was still a pretty rind of white frost covering it like fine fur mixed with a sharp dark stain of blood.

“Then they stabbed him twenty three times.”

“With a cucumber?”

“No. Standard kitchen knife. Which was a bitch and a half I’ll tell you. You know the thing about kitchen knives? They get slippery when you stab someone with them. So when you’re investigating and you see a kitchen knife you sort of cheer because whoever did it cut the royal shit out of themselves while they were doing it. So at first I gave a nice ‘yippee’. But that’s the pisser of it. Nothing. Stabbed twenty three times in twenty seconds or so and didn’t so much as knick a finger. And of course didn’t leave any prints. But then they almost never do.”

The woman seemed better knowing that a knife had been used. Order, in her world, was restored for the moment. She leaned in closer to Meg on one of her thick, porcine arms and smiled at her conspiratorially. Meg decided that she liked her. She was a good midwestern girl looking forward to turning pink in the much hyped Arizona sun.

“Did you catch them?”

Megan cracked her brightest farm girl grin and pushed more of her wayward hair out of her face.

“Well… yes and no.”

From behind the first class curtain the stewardess revealed herself like the conniving understudy in a broadway musical. Megan launched her arm again but this time her enthusiasm caused a sudden waterfall of gory images to pour from the folder and onto the floor. The stewardess saw the spill and Megan saw her rosy lips peel back into a satisfied smirk. It was probably the closest approximation she could make to a genuine smile.

“Terrorist.” She muttered as the smirk sank back behind the curtain. “The DA had us arrest someone. Prints found at the scene. Motive. Opportunity. You know – the usual bullshit they like. But he didn’t do it.”

“I thought you said they didn’t find any prints?”

“They didn’t find any on the knife. But there are always prints around.”

“But he didn’t do it?”

“Nope. It was one of those things you probably see on the TV all the time. Discovered the cucumber. That sort of thing.”

“But you arrested him?”

“Had to. The DA had his guy. Dead to rights too. I mean it’s really the perfect thing for a DA. The whole story, laid out like an episode of TV. Easiest thing to sell to any jury.”

“But then… who did it? Do you know?”

Meg smiled at her.

“Girlfriend. But of course she has an ironclad alibi. Made of the sort of iron you could blow your nose into or wipe your ass with. She said she was playing ‘hostess’ at an illegal poker game. 10 disreputable lying jackasses have her giving out lap dances that night. And to make matters worse we have a logged witness statement from her regarding a weapons charge 10 minutes after the body was discovered. It’s all garbage of course. She killed him. I know it. She knows it. The guy she was sleeping with knows it. She knows I know it and she knows I know she knows.”

Meg sighed at the drink she should have been holding but wasn’t and looked up at the woman smiling brightly.

“She’ll snap someday. Probably sooner than later. When she does I’ll be there to break her smug little jaw and enjoy the lamentation of the woman.”

The older woman stared at her vacantly. At first the expression was endearing, even amusing, but Meg was beginning to wonder if it was the only one in her repertoire. She blinked at her from above her silly grin. When the first blink failed to provoke the change she tried it again. It took a few seconds for the blinks to take effect.

“But…But…what about the guy who got arrested. Isn’t he going to Jail?”

“Of course. But I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s a scumbag anyway. And he’ll eventually be released, probably sue the city, win, and then you’ll hear all about the prosecutorial misconduct and blah blah blah all the while this fuckjob will be spending your tax money on a new supply of dope.”

“But he’s innocent!” The woman protested, her cheeks flushing brightly with the indignity of it.

“He’s not innocent. Trust me. Not by a long shot. He’s just innocent of this.”

“So how do you know it was the girlfriend, I mean, for sure?”

“The more complete the story, the bigger the lie. Like I said this one is perfect. It even has a cop on her side. And it’s just vague enough on certain details to be barely credible. Which is how I know it’s complete junk.”

The plane lurched yet again. In the Marines this would be the time in the flight she would stare around at all the pleasant sleeping faces of her platoon and think seriously about trying to knock herself out with the pommel of her Ka-Bar. Knives weren’t permitted on domestic flights, however and she was left with throwing her arm in the air at the suddenly reappearing stewardess.

Once again she peered around the cabin like a long neck, leggy periscope but this time her disinterested eyes clicked on her outstretched hand – it being the only one up. The expression she gave it was not one to inspire a budding friendship and the speed she explored the aisle with could have been measured only by rock strata in desert canyons. Meg made sure she had on her friendliest smile when she finally came up.

“Oh, Thank you thank you Miss Stewardess.” She said and then nearly choked on it. “Could I get a whiskey sour tall, please?”

“We don’t do talls, Miss.”

Meg almost corrected her with ‘missus’ but then mentally squirmed with the all too recent memory. It was enough discomfort that it didn’t go unnoticed in the Flight Attendant whose rosy lips perked at one corner.

“Fine.” Meg relented sullenly. “A short one will do if you double it.”

The hateful woman took her crooked grin with her back up the aisle she’d come from, stopping to smile more brightly at the business man in the very nice suit who sat alone in his row. He adjusted the collar of his suit coat a little which had been ruffled by the tiny pillow. The sunlight from the open porthole window glinted off of his very expensive watch which he was trying to impress her with. They smiled pleasantly at each other for a moment and laughed at something she couldn’t quite hear. Negotiations concluded, he fished in his inside breast pocket for the money he owed her for whatever he was drinking. She took it meaningfully, her thumb stroking his as it exchanged hands. It was the kind of thing that lately had Meg either wanting to puke or unleash bullets.

“I’m not a good flyer either.” The woman smiled at her. It was a smile with no lips – the smile of a frog. Meg pulled herself away from her revulsion to address it.

“So. Do you want to know who the Air Marshall on the flight is?”

“I thought they were supposed to be secret?”

“Supposed to be, but I’m good like that.”

“What do you mean?”

Meg sat up straight and turned slightly to the woman giving her a quick once over.

“You’re what jackasses dismiss as a Soccer mom. You’re taking a trip to visit your sister in Arizona who you haven’t seen in five or six years. But it isn’t a strained sort of relationship. It’s just sort of the way life carries you. Your mother died recently or some other close female relative – I’d guess mother though. And you’re unhappily happily married – worried that your husband is on the prowl for a fling but oddly hopeful that if he does it it will cure him of whatever it is that’s been ailing him lately. Oh and one of your kids is a juvenile delinquent.”

The woman listened, and then lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. Apparently her expression could change. It went from vacant and attentive to vaguely motherly with a soupcon of tired bemusement. Something about it made Meg think of a lump of anxiously expectant unused clay. After a little while her mouth dropped open and said the expected thing.

“How?”

“Of course. You have several layers of grass stains on your shoes and they’re nice shoes. Work shoes. Not the sort of thing you’d wear in the garden – which means you work and pick up the kids from practice. Your necklace has a broach or locket at the end. I saw it earlier when you helped me pick up the pictures earlier when that evil ayatollah bitch ignored me.”

As if on cue the understudy appeared from behind the curtain, pushing the drink cart before her like Sisyphus, stopping first at the gentleman with the suit. They exchanged much less pleasantries but the gentleman must have forgotten something as he dipped again into his breast pocket for money, which she happily took without saying anything.

“Then there’s the bracelet.” Meg said, watching the slow progress her drink made through the aisle. “It’s old too. Like the necklace. An heirloom type thing. I figured one or the other was meant to be a gift for a sister.”

The stewardess had lodged the freighter of drinks conveniently between them. Meg looked at it – laden with sodas and little bottles of alcohol and peanuts and the kind of food you chewed once and forgot about it. Her drink, at least the one she presumed was hers, was sloshing about on top next to another. The Flight Attendant handed it to her with a superficial salesman’s smile.

“That’ll be ten dollars, miss.”

“Not only are you a Nazi sadist, you’re a fricking money grubbing whore to boot.” Meg said icily.

“Do you want me to report you?”

“To who?” Meg was careful to show her badge as she got her money out of her jacket. “The police?”

The flight attendant made a sudden face that drifted uncertainly between disgust and something else unpleasant which was followed by a noise from somewhere in her throat that  stood in for something worse. She looked away and pushed the drink freighter past them and down the aisle.

“God what a whore.” She exclaimed when she was a little more out of earshot. “Where was I? Oh yeah. Your wedding ring. Is well worn. Older. The design suggests something that was made in the eighties or early 90s. You know how they were always overdoing it back then. No offense. The stone looks real and expensive, which suggests your husband puts more value on what he can get quick without a lot of consideration. Now I can’t tell you if he’s actually cheating but I’d put odds on him thinking about it more than once because, well, what guy hasn’t?”

“I haven’t.” Riggins said suddenly. She hadn’t thought he’d been listening.

“You don’t count. You’re a cop. Cops aren’t real men.”

“How do you figure that? That’s not right.” He replied.

“Well, most guys live in a constant state of neurosis, evaluating and reevaluating personal priorities in relation to preconceived constructions of self which are based off of static cultural stereotypes they’ve adopted. To most guys this is a vague, personal understanding of their subjective identity in terms of their masculinity. But cops are different. There is a static identity of ‘cop’ that provides a much more solid foundation to their psyches. It’s a lot like being a Marine. Once you’re a Marine you’re always going to be a Marine in one way or another even if it was a big mistake. Once you’re a cop you’re always going to be a cop. Guys have to constantly check with themselves that their still guys and they’re neurotic about it. Constantly.”

“Cops cheat on their wives all the time.” Riggins insisted. “I’ve seen it.”

“Yeah but that’s BECAUSE they’re cops. Not because they’re men. Men cheat to prove to themselves that they’re still men. Cops cheat because of other reasons – a dynamic relation with the criminality of cheating. But, that’s not… You know… What we’re talking about.”

Riggins turned towards the back of the chair in front of him. One of his thin shoulders wiggled up and down thoughtfully, suggesting that he was at least partially convinced, which was pretty good in her book – particularly when she’d made it all up on the spot.

“And what about the Juvenile delinquent?” Said the woman in a voice that told Meg she’d nailed it.

“Oh. That’s easy. Most families have at least one juvenile delinquent of some sort or another so it could have just been a guess. But in this case… I don’t know how to say this… But you have a little bit of bud stuck to your sock. I wouldn’t worry about it though. No one gives a shit about weed any more.”

“How do you know it’s not mine?” The woman said, her lips thinning and her eyes darkening.

“Well… To be honest I couldn’t tell until just now. If it had been yours you wouldn’t have gotten pissed. You would have gotten defensive. You probably would have plucked it off your sock.”

“That little shit. I’m going to fucking kill him.”

“Oh. Don’t worry about it. You should just be happy there weren’t drug dogs at the airport. You’d be shocked at how prevalent it is. Your conservative neighbor with all the Viking flags, the conservative bumper stickers, etcetera – your local pastor, your kids history teacher, it’s really not that big of a deal.”

“It’s against the law.” She said with venom, as if trying to butter the cop with her moral rectitude.

“Come on. I’m going to guess you chiefed a few times in the good old days, am I right? There’s just a little part of you, even now, curious about how the new stuff stacks up against the old days. There’s a piece of you that wants to be baked out of your gourd when your wayward husband comes home late one night looking for his bottle of beer and the remote control after you’ve corralled the kids into the van, listened to the tales of shoes you can’t afford but your daughter needs for some unearthly reason. But instead you have wine. You buy it because your husband wouldn’t know a decent wine if it bit him on the ass. He’d buy top shelf expensive swill that tasted like it was brewed in a french garbage can.”

The woman looked at her suspiciously. It was a look Meg knew well and it generally meant she’d done her job. Here it just meant she’d been a bit of an ass to someone who didn’t deserve it. Meg looked at her drink and swished it around in it’s glass a little.

“Alright.” The woman said finally. “My turn.”

Meg’s eyebrows shot up on their own.

“Nuh uh. No way.”

“Oh come on, Brown. Give her a chance.” Riggin’s said, enjoying himself. “What are you afraid of? Except that she might be right?”

Meg looked at him balefully, or she thought balefully. She never knew for sure if she was getting the look right or not.

“Alright.” She said, carefully expelling the air from her lungs. “I’m ready. Go.”

The large womans face shaded red in spots again getting more vibrant as she concentrated. Meg sat still and patient, considering the drink.

“Okay. Umm…You’re not married and never have been because you’re committed to your job. Other cops don’t like you much because you’re too good at it and make them look foolish. You don’t take much time for socializing. You love what you do but there’s an artistic bent of some sort. I would guess drawing. You have no kids and don’t want any. You take great pride in your shoe collection even though you don’t think of yourself as very fashionable. You don’t get along with your father and your mother is dead – recently I think. Like me. Because you have a certain sadness that you try to hide but it still comes out in your eyes. You grew up in the city and you’re a city girl through and through and you’re father is some sort of academic, thats why you don’t like him. An academic with a penchant for younger women. Right? I’m so sorry about your mother, though…”

Meg brushed the air casually with one hand then used it to perch her chin on.

“And you’re a dog person. How did I do?”

“Well, judge?” Meg turned to Riggins. He leaned over to the woman with a large and pleasant smile that tried to suggest she’d done well. It was a variant of his ‘breaking bad news’ look but it usually had much worse information to impart.

“What’s your name, Misses?” He said.

“Monica.”

“Let’s just be polite and say whatever you do for a living you should stick to that.”

“Did I get anything right?”

“My mom is dead. But it wasn’t recent. I was eleven. See what you did wasn’t deduction. It was projection and as such it actually tells me a lot more about you, none of which I’ll bore you with now.”

“Why not?”

“Well, earlier I offered to point out the air marshall on the flight. Not every flight has one you know.” She looked carefully around the cabin as if searching for him. Of course she and Riggins had been introduced to him prior to boarding but she was having some fun enhancing the mystique. She made it a point to look as though she was scrutinizing the faces.

Just at the point she was about to call him out the gentleman in question breezed between them very quickly – moving towards the first class area.

“Well…” Meg said slowly. “That was him.”

“Oh dear.” Said Monica, watching him go. “I hope there isn’t something wrong.”

Megan turned to Riggins, who had seen it too. He had a look of mild curiosity, but not much more.

“Would you excuse me for a moment?” She asked both of them as the cabin intercom came to life.

“This is your captain speaking. At this point in our flight we would like to ask the passengers if there is a registered physician on board. We assure you that there is nothing to be alarmed about. One of the passengers in First class seems to be experiencing a medical emergency which may require rerouting the flight to Denver. If there is a physician on board, I’d appreciate it if you’d offer your services to one of our flight attendants or simply proceed directly to first class.”

No one in Coach moved. Which made sense to Meg. What would a registered physician be doing slumming it in coach? Which also meant that there wasn’t one in First Class and therefore none on the plane and therefore the guy in question was screwed, if he was even still alive. Which she doubted.

She pushed herself out of her seat.

“Brown…” Riggins muttered at her. “It’s none of our business.” She couldn’t help herself around corpses though. She turned and raised her drink at him in a toast, complete with goofy mischievous grin. The only thing missing was the tarnished halo and the dingy wings.

But Megan didn’t push through the curtains into First Class with her badge raised as he expected. Instead she swung into an open seat next to a guy in a nice suit, careful not to spill a drop of her drink.

“Hi. I’m Meg Brown, and you are?”

“Excuse me?” Said the man in the suit. “I’m afraid that seat is spoken for.”

“Yes. It is. By me.” She fished around in the breast pocket of her jacket. It was sometimes astounding to her just what she could discover in her own pockets.

“Miss, am I going to have to report you?” He said a little more sternly. “I know that seat is taken.”

Another thing that occasionally astounded her was the lack of observational skills in people. She would have figured that, by now, almost everyone on the flight knew she was a cop but apparently this one didn’t as it still took him by surprise when she started reading him his rights. When she finished she looked at him with just a little resigned disappointment.

“Come on, man. Didn’t your friend tell you I was a cop?” She watched his crystal blue iris narrow on her but the muscles around his eyes didn’t flex at all. It was the sort of expression guilty men used to express their guilt when they thought they were doing the opposite. “Well she wouldn’t would she? She doesn’t trust you, which figures, really, with the way you jammed up her boyfriend. Still, I guess it would have worked out for him in the end if things had gone alright. But that’s why she wanted half payment up front. Big mistake really. Who pays for drinks on a plane before the cart’s even rolled out?”

She put her drink on his open tray table, right next to the one he’d been having which was almost empty.

“How much was it by the way?” She tapped the side of his drink while staring into his dead looking eyes. They hadn’t yet fluttered once. “Ooh! Let me guess. You used a twenty to blind three thousand. Kind of tricky getting those kinds of bills which would make you a banker. Tricky – but stupid. But then if murderers weren’t so stupid I wouldn’t be so danged good at what I do.”

“Someone was murdered? On this plane?” He tried shock this time. It was like ticking off a list of guilty facial expressions.

“Now you’re just being insulting.” She said kindly. “No need to be rude.”

“Alright then.” He settled as easily as possible into his seat, mistaking it for the First Class seat he was used to. It didn’t work and he became annoyed at it. Meg had to stifle a giggle at his expense. It wouldn’t have gone over well. Misunderstandings between arresting officers and the arrested could sometimes lead to trouble as she well knew and had been recently acquainted with. But, of course, that had been a little different. In that case the guy never had any intention of going quietly, in this he’d never had any intention of getting caught.

“Who do you suppose I murdered?”

“Well that remains to be seen. It’s not often I catch the killer before I even see the victim, but if I were to guess I’d have to say business partner, co-worker, something like that. All I can say for certain is that they didn’t much care for your relationship with drug dealers. I guess we’ll find out in a little bit.”

“Exactly how am I supposed to have killed anyone? I haven’t gotten out of my seat for the entire flight and it’s a little difficult to manuever that sort of thing. I mean it’s not like it’s easy to bring a weapon on board.”

She smiled and swatted at his arm like a lady sharing the neighborhood gossip.

“Oh I know. You wouldn’t believe what I had to go through just to bring my badge and gun on board. There’s a couple of things I need your help on before we land though. Why would a guy with a three thousand dollar wristwatch buy up two seats in Coach instead of just getting a seat in First Class – or better yet, why would you even get on the same plane as your victim? I mean – I can understand not getting a seat in first class because you don’t want him to see you but shit, man. Make something up. Or is it really that bad? Are you really in so deep that this is the last move? But, being honest? Seriously? Getting two seats is just stupid. I mean really stupid. I suppose you can get on and off and not be seen, right?”

He grinned at her. Finally. It was the smile of the guilty man who thought he’d been clever. Like the kid who rigged up the Rube Goldberg device to filch cookies without being noticed only to be amused when it all goes wrong.

“Alright. Fine. We’ll play it that way. It’ll come out, you know. But here’s the thing. You got the extra seat because you didn’t want to worry about anyone seeing your little secret. The way you passed the money to the stewardess, the way you fluffed your pillow to get the poison out from under your jacket collar. It took you two times to get it. Made you sweat a little, didn’t it? It’s funny how the little things throw you off. It made you fuck up the dosage. Which is why we’re now heading to Denver and not Phoenix. He was supposed to die on the ground. Not on the plane. But you panicked. You altered the plan because it had to happen. You had to know it happened. Like getting two seats. It was peace of mind. And yet, if you’d stuck to the one tab we’d be on our way to Phoenix. Your partner would be just as dead but wouldn’t know it yet and I wouldn’t be sitting here. I still would have been suspicious but there would be nothing I could do about it.”

The grin, the stoicism, the calm arrogance all had been removed and replaced with a cool rage she could see darkening his fine blue eyes. She supposed it would have been a good time to stop smiling smugly at him but she found it impossible. She pulled her handcuffs from her front jacket pocket and handed them to him. They sat on the tray table in front of him along with his finished drink and her untouched one. He looked at the cuffs with a lot of fight left in him but when he finally put them on it was all gone, drained out as if it had been tapped.

“I’m not saying anything else until I speak with my lawyer.”

“You didn’t say much to begin with. But I’d stick with that plan. It’s a good one. Just one question: did that conniving bitch poison my drink too?”

He didn’t say anything. He just turned to stare glumly at the back of the seat in front of him. Every now and then he stared out at the open sky and the miles and miles of ground seen majestically from the window of the plane. Eventually the plane descended into Denver and the expanse of ground became smaller and smaller until they came to a stop. When it did she thought he might be sick.

Meg sighed deeply as she turned the Flight Attendant and the Man With The Nice Watch – whose name turned out to be Robert – over to the Air Marshall and the Denver Police Department. They took charge of the remaining tabs of poison she’d taken from under his collar. She saw Monica only once again, as she climbed off the plane and into the arms of her sister who looked a lot like her, only thinner and browner. She watched them cry at each other and hug and then Monica started talking animatedly as the sister led her away. Something about the scene made her miss her dog.

Categories: Meg Brown Mysteries | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Short Man

A perfect warm autumn breeze blew over the still idling car where the body of the parking checker was found. A few birds circled happily overhead, enjoying the last gasp of a waning summer. Pretty young girls and boys wandered around the grounds of the midwestern college campus, book bags full of life yet to be grasped. They looked to the police cars, the meandering directionless patrol officers, the detectives with their notepads and found nothing they needed to concern themselves with and moved on. Life was short for other people. Theirs would be brilliant and long and successful and certainly not end with a gunshot to the temple while employed as a parking checker.

Megan Brown looked down from the extended arm of the corpse to the pool of blood gathered under the door of the tiny vehicle. Prancing away from the pool were the distinct bloody footprints of a squirrel, bounding off in the direction of a robins egg blue house with a brilliant and impeccable green lawn, as if it were groomed constantly to keep out the predations of the brilliantly colored leaves that swirled around it. It was the sort of house that you could easily picture the welcome mat – cheery, with faux grass and a picture of a grass skirted girl from Borneo providing welcome.

She looked to one of the nearby officers who didn’t seem to know quite what to do with themselves.

“Officer?” He was a young lad – a rookie with a bright and eager to please but inattentive face.

“Yes, ma’am?” At 37 she truly hated it being called ‘ma’am’. She smiled pleasantly at him.

“I’d like you to track down that squirrel and arrest him.” He blinked stupidly at her. “Chop chop! Pronto! Get a move on. Fugitive on the loose!”

“Better do it, kid.” Her partner, Detective Riggins chimed in. “She is a superior officer.”

The unlit cigarette in Riggins mouth bobbed as he said it. He was older by almost twenty years and had just managed to quit smoking three weeks before. Brown’s clothes still hadn’t been washed enough to get rid of the smell, but then she didn’t quite clean them with the necessary regularity either.

The boy was cute. He looked around to his partner with a puzzled and hurt expression but his partner was trying too hard not to crack up. The older one managed to pull it together just long enough to offer a shrug at him.

“Are you serious ma’am?”

“Yep.” She waved a dismissive hand off in the direction of the perfect lawn. “Stick to this side of the street though. Those squirrels over there are simply bystanders.” She pointed at the wide wooded expanse in front of the University Art building where hundreds of the little gray things bounded aimlessly around searching for their winter war chest.

“And look for the red pawed one. If nothing else we can get him on fleeing the scene.”

The young officer looked one more time to help from his partner. But the partner was wandering off to direct traffic – pretending to pay no attention. He walked off slowly, shoulders slumped, head to the ground tracking the bloody footprints. When he was far enough away the Partner started to laugh as hard as he dared.

Megan shrugged.

“He might need smaller cuffs.” She said.

“Do we have the owner of the other car yet?” Riggins asked no one in particular which made the non-response he got understandable. The parking checker had been leaning out to issue a ticket when the bullet got him which meant that the car he was ticketing was now parked in and would remain so for a while. Megan glanced at the other car and then went back to circling the parking checker without saying anything.

“What are you thinking?” Riggins asked. Technically, he was her superior. A thirty year decorated officer with twelve in homicide to her three, but he’d been happy to take a back seat to her instincts for a while now.

“I’m thinking heart attack.” She said, straightening up and trying to put a serious expression on. The inside of the car was a nightmarish painting of red. Three chunks of something pinkish sat on a stack of unwritten tickets. Part of the man was out the window, arm outstretched with the computer generated ticket still pinched in his thick and short sausage fingers. The rest of him – and there was a lot – seemed to have been poured into the drivers seat like a thickened cake batter.

Megan pointed to a box of donuts underneath the stack of unprinted tickets. Underneath the viscera coagulating down his front appeared to be the remains of yet another donut – what would prove to be his last meal.

“The driver of the car got pissed because he had a heart attack and couldn’t move.” She continued. “So he shot him. And now he still can’t move. It’s that or I was right the first time. The squirrel did it.”

“I like your first theory, Brown. If junior can’t catch him I’ll put out an APB on a small furry rodent, bloody paws, bushy tail.” Riggins added.

“May have stolen some nuts. Very dangerous. Carrying a flash suppressed .308. ”

“Any distinguishing characteristics?”

“Tattoo of an acorn on his left shoulder.”

“You really think it was a .308?”

She nodded.

“Blood spatter is pretty wide. Maybe a hollow point. Took off most of his head. It looks like a regular sniper round or hunting rifle. And whoever did this was doing him a favor.”

“How do you figure?”

“He was diabetic. You can tell by the marks on the finger from where he did his testing. I bet if we dug around we’d find some insulin but he’s also had a heart attack, maybe more than one.” She pointed at a bottle of regular aspirin sitting on the dashboard.

“He couldn’t just use that for headaches?”

“When was the last time you took regular aspirin for a hangover, Rig?”

“Anything else there, Sherlock?”

Brown squeezed between the two parked cars and peeked her head carefully through what would have been the passenger side window of the parking enforcement vehicle. She reached in and turned the key, finally shutting the car off. She turned the dead mans hands over.

“Victim was an aficionado of some stringed instrument – either stand up bass or Banjo. I’m leaning towards Banjo. He was recently divorced, has an older child – daughter – who he hasn’t seen in a while.”

She pulled herself out and looked into the window of the other parked car whose window was open a crack so that the car would keep cool in the warm autumn sun. She stuck her nose to the crack in the window, pulling out a second later.

“Owner of this car isn’t a student. He’s probably a teacher, more likely a full professor.”

“How do you know it’s a he? The car’s pretty clean.”

“Recently clean.” She said. “No scent. Gals would have a scent – makeup, prolonged use of perfume, hair spray. He’s tall and probably works in literature, archaeology or philosophy. More likely archaeology. He’s probably also divorced and it was a bad one. This car is a recently purchased used POS. Those paper mud mats are still in the back. I’m guessing he’s paying out of his ass in alimony which is why he’s driving this hunk of shit. Which also leads me to believe that he has a wandering eye and wandering fingers. Whoever he is though he had nothing to do with it.”

Riggins stared vacantly at her and rolled his unlit cigarette around in his mouth. He’d long ago gotten used to Brown’s ridiculous powers of observation but even in spite of his experience he still couldn’t twist as much of what he saw into the conclusions she did.

“Alright.” He said. “I’ll bite. How are you reaching these magical conclusions this time?”

Brown pointed at the three story Art Building and started walking across the busy street to it.

“I’ll talk while we walk. In addition to the pinpricks for the diabetic testing, the victim had callouses. On both hands. If he’d played guitar the callouses would be more pronounced on his fret hand. Also, because of the way the callouses were on his fingers I figured it was a banjo. Not that that matters at all. He’s divorced – the usual ring finger mark but it’s pretty old – more like an impression than the customary tan line which some people – particularly large people – get when they’ve been wearing a ring for a very long time. I’d bet he had to have the ring cut off his finger when it went.”

The front of the building looked old and academic with two large double doors at the top of cracking and neglected concrete steps that had probably been initially poured when Megans mom was young. She looked at the empty space on her own ring finger as she grabbed for the polished brass bar of the door. She panicked for a careless moment, thinking that she’d lost it and then remembered the truth with a pain in her chest she could actually feel.

The wind kicked her hair into her face again and she pulled it behind an ear for a moment as they walked in. It wouldn’t stay there. It never did.

The inside of the building was oddly quiet for being so cavernous. Tall ceilings echoed their footfalls. Sunlight from the large windows made reflections of wall notices on the polished composite marble floor. Sound from a class for african dance bounced off the walls and down stairwells from one of the floors above them.

“As for the other driver. Who cares?” She lowered her voice to reflect the acoustics of the building.

“You don’t actually know, do you?” He liked to challenge her, even though he was certain she did.

“Alright. Fine. There were some rock chunks on the back seat that seemed to have been worked chert pieces. As for his divorce and the other stuff… well… he’s a college professor. It just sort of goes without saying.”

“What exactly are chert pieces?”

“Its a type of rock good for making arrowheads and spearpoints.”

“And how do you know this?”

Her eyes narrowed at him which reshuffled the landscape of her forehead into something less than pleased. It was the sort of expression that told him everything he needed to know while keeping it all a well guarded secret.

“So what are we doing here?”

“We need roof access. Got to find a janitor.”

“Custodial engineer.” He corrected. “The shooter could have fired from one of the windows.”

“In the middle of the day? During classes? Come on. You’re not old enough to be getting soft in the skull on me.”

Riggins shrugged a bit. Old enough or not he certainly felt old in comparison with her energy and quick brain.

It wasn’t easy finding a janitor. The building was pretty large to begin with. Three stories formed into a vast square. In some ways it was deceptively vast. From the outside it was big but inside it seemed even larger and designed in some obscure academic era where getting lost in the halls was part of the education. They checked each available bathroom and janitors closet and came up with nothing. Once Riggins thought he heard a lugubrious voice intoning some personal janitorial tragedy through the medium of a walkie talkie but – with the bizarre sound characteristics of the architecture – by the time he thought he found the source it was long gone.

When they finally made it to the roof it was under the care and guidance of a harry and half drunk maintenance technician whose terrible cloying cologne smelled of apples long left to rot mixed with turpentine and vodka. Both Riggins and Brown caught the wild burning sage undercurrent of recently smoked weed that seemed to have been soaked into the mans clothes. He made a quick exit after unlocking the door to the roof.

Megan strode directly to the edge of the roof, her dishwater blond strands freeing themselves in the breeze.

“Well our shooter is short.” She said. “Real short.”

“How do you figure that?” She pointed at the little half wall at the edge of the rooftop. It was no larger than a foot and a half tall. If anyone had tried to use it as a rest for a rifle it would have been very problematic – too tall to lie prone but still too small to kneel, unless you were very short.

“There’s also the footprints.” She said pointing them out. It was hard to tell what they were from his perspective. Just impressions in the drainage gravel. “I’d figure about 5 foot, maybe five – two.”

“So a dwarf?”

“Not a dwarf. Or little person seeing as we’re in the mood to correct people. Someone with dwarfism would have a different and wider gait. This is normal. So just a really short man. And he’s calm. Confident. There’s no marks on the edge from a rifle tripod and no sign of skipping when the gun went off so he was holding it steady freehand when he fired.”

“He could have used a photographers tripod. We are in the art building.”

“There would be marks in the gravel for that.”

Megan took a few steps toward the stairs to the third floor from which they’d just come. The rooftop continued a long way to the north pointing at the tall building that was devoted to the humanities – english, history, philosophy. Beyond that was the communications building. At the far end was another access point to the rooftop. She walked a little ways in that direction and then stopped suddenly and bent over something.

“He’s a flashy guy. He’s got money and likes to show it off. What you or I would generally refer to as a dick.” She called back to him. “He likes to be thought of as a big man even though he isn’t so he’ll be driving something nice. Something really special.” She looked over the rooftop to the line of parked cars across the street that ended in the double parked tragedy now ringed in yellow police tape. “It would be expensive and expensive looking. I’m guessing a sports coupe or a nice sedan like an audi or BMW.”

But there was nothing parked on the street of that description. It was a commuter college with serious parking issues so there were tons of cars parked on the street, but none of them of the sort that screamed ‘rob me’ as the shooter’s most certainly would. The only thing close was a bright shiny yellow Hummer or ‘Hate Vehicle’ as she liked to call them.

“Now you’re just making shit up.”

Meg gave him her patented patient and innocent look that suggested she knew exactly what she was talking about but there was a distinct possibility she was full of shit. It was often confused for her long suffering partner look because it was basically the same except for the emotion behind it.

Riggins nodded and looked at the parked cars.

“There’s the nice Hummer.”

“You would think it’s nice because your a fascist. No. This is a guy who likes to be taken seriously, remember? Anything ginormous like that would make him look ridiculous. His car would be a symbol of himself. You know how guys get. Well it’s like that only serious. Like a personal totem. It represents what he thinks about himself. My guess is the shooter took offense to the Checker getting between him and his totem.”

“Oh. You think?” Riggins asked sarcastically as his phone rang.

“Shut up. Sarcasm isn’t your thing. It’s not something simple. It’s not just a parking ticket.”

Meg’s hand radio crackled to life from her jacket pocket and she snatched at it.

‘…Report of a parking enforcement vehicle stalled on the north end of campus near the dorms…” it said.

“That’s not our car.” She said.

“No.” He said, the lines of his face merging to become serious. Riggins keyed the button on his own radio and spoke into it. “This is Detective Sergeant Riggins on top of the Arts building. Repeat last.”

“Copy.” Crackled the dispatch voice. “Report of a stalled and idling parking enforcement vehicle near the corner of Maryland and Edgewood near the campus dormitories. Campus police are responding. Over.”

“Dispatch. Confirm location of call. Over.”

“Vicinity of Edgewood and Maryland near the dorms. Over.”

“Roger. Relay radio traffic from Campus Police to this device. Over.” Riggins looked at her quickly. “You don’t think it could be another one?”

“Oh yeah.” Meg grinned. “Didn’t I mention he’s not done?”

“I’m going to try to get Parking Enforcement out of here and get Swat down here.”

“Good luck.” Meg said, rubbing her finger where her ring once was. “Tell Garvey I said…” Just the mention of SWAT filled her fond memories of laughing and post raid gambling debts she still owed, the weight of gear, the sound of flashbangs, her old MP5 she’d named Curtis. She wondered if Curtis missed her. She wondered if he fired as true, if the new guy that replaced her had altered the sights. It made her nauseous to think she’d given that up. And for what? Still… Homicide was good. It could have been worse. She could have been transferred to Narcotics or Vice.

Riggins waited for her to finish her sentence but she chewed on it instead.

“Don’t tell him anything. In fact, don’t mention I’m here. In fact, if he shows up, hide me. I think I owe him fifty bucks on the superbowl.”

“Garvey says hi!” Riggins said behind her as she passed through the open door of the roof access.

She passed into the aura of the same janitor’s oderific toxicity at the bottom of the narrow stairs. His eyes were bloodshot and the smile he gave her didn’t meet them. There was a mop in his hands attached to an empty bucket on wheels and he leaned against it as if to do otherwise would cause him to puddle on the ground. Her eyes drifted over his name tag before coming back to the smile.

“All done up there, officer?” He leered, scratching a blurry and indistinct tattoo that crawled out of the neck of his work shirt.

“Almost. Detective Riggins is on his way down. But leave it open. We’re going to need to come back.”

“You bet.” He replied in the traditional stoner inflection that made it unclear whether anything she said had been heard. The custodian gazed away over her head down the much more busy hallway. Doors swung open emitting streams of students but no bell had rung. In seconds it was full of noisy kids flinging book bags over their shoulders, rushing quickly to make it to the next class.

Meg joined the stream. Most of the students headed south out of their classes, flowing quickly around a sharp corner and on to the west, then down a flight of stairs then another to the bottom floor then again to the west. Small tributaries of traffic flowed into other rooms or out the great double doors to the southern exit but most continued west. Emboldened by other joining streams of students they surged through the western exit and outside into a common area where they were joined by more currents from other buildings all of which meandered towards the Student Union.

Few, if any, of the students seemed to know about the double tragedies that just occurred on either end of the campus. Some seemed wary and huddled against buildings but for the most part the world carried on as it always had. Blissfully unaware students wandered casually past her, careless nomadic academics sped to the next lecture, the next piece of useless knowledge. Girls, like the one she once was, smiled happily and fetchingly at the pretty and confident boys who they hoped to grow tired of before the reverse happened. It was a universe buzzing with the potential energy of heartbreak – academic, artistic, romantic, economic, spiritual, political.

She pushed on in the energy of this stream, into the food court of the commons with it’s artificial stink of artificial sizzle mingling with perfumes, colognes, hairsprays, books, computers. The stream made a quick route into the Union where all the streams from across the academic universe went to pool collectively, but here she followed a tributary out into the large open air common area outside.

It was a large central square between several buildings and further bounded by some raised gardens and planters upon which dreamy undergraduates struck romantic studious tableaus, books in hand, cigarettes in mouth. She stopped halfway through the commons. Directly before her was the giant, shapeless brick sprawl of the university library. Once the glue that drew all the disparate segments of scholastics together, now the tomb where books went to be ignored and mourned. It was very tall and divided the campus from the more rustic student residences situated across a street on its other side. At the far end of those residential dorms was their second victim.

The library was actually two large buildings connected by a third at the top. It was five or six stories with a terrific view of the dormitories and the long expanse of walkway that led towards the school and it had a great unobstructed view of the commons. Through the archway formed by the third building she watched an african american pilot her small Parking Enforcement vehicle nervously down the street to the west. Hopefully she was heading home.

Meg looked around. It had only been a few minutes since leaving the Art building but already the sudden surge of students had trickled to just a few stragglers who had no where to go quickly. She checked her watch and looked up and around.

A tallish frizzy haired boy drifted by, enjoying the last of the warmish weather in a light colored checkered short sleeved shirt which she just managed to grab with her fingertips before he completely passed by. With her other hand she grabbed the radio from her coat pocket. The boy swung back as if on a rubber band.

“What the fuck lady?” He said before his eyes went wider at the sight of her sidearm and badge. The look of instant panic that came over him told her if she looked hard enough she’d find a small, well wrapped bag of herbs on him.

“Does your mother pay you to use that mouth at school?” He didn’t try to shake her off. Another good indicator that he wanted to be cooperative and give her no reason to search. “What’s that building right there?” She pointed to her left which was a long, squat two story thing made in the middle of the past century of brick and windows.

“Criminal Justice, Poli Sci, shit like that.” He said much more brightly. She let him go but he stood there a moment, curious.

“Got any weed on you?” He turned his body away a little to the right, towards the library. Right pocket then, she thought.

“No.”

“Right front jeans pocket.” She said smiling. He gave her a resigned and terrified look as though he would shortly release whatever was in his bladder and then he started to put his hand in his pocket as though he about to hand it over but she managed to stop him. “Christ kid. Don’t show it to me. I’d have to arrest you. Get the hell out of here and don’t be stupid. Put it in your shoe next time.”

She keyed the button on the radio.

“What the fuck Meg?” She heard Riggins say. He didn’t sound happy.

“Open radio, Rig.” She warned. “Is Garvey on?” She waited a second.

“Go for Garvey.” Her old boss had a much higher voice than one would expect for a SWAT officer for which he got an enormous amount of shit.

“You need to get a sniper team up on top of that big white building on the north side of the Library.”

“Roger that. Got Tim and Cheshire heading there now.”

“Put your team on the south side of that building, facing the library.”

“But the north side has a cleaner line of sight on the road, longer time on target. And what about the other building? The LIberal Arts building?”

“He’s not going to go for that one. If he gets up there at all it will be on the library. Trust me. And Rig? You’re going to want to have some plainclothes guys covering the roof access to the library.”

“Roger. What are you going to do?”

“Try to make sure he never gets there.” She said. “I’m going radio silent for a bit. Out.”

“Negative, Brown. Stay on this channel. Over.”

She turned left towards the Poli Sci building. It seemed to fit. She pushed through the glass doors into the two story building. It was quiet and darker than she expected but that was only because the school was raining gold and treasure on the chancellor’s staff and the business school that it could no longer afford to repair the light fixtures on the ‘lesser’ colleges. The sounds of muffled lectures behind thick doors came out to her from all sides but she checked the doorways anyway, one hand resting on the butt of her pistol.

When she got to the end of the hall she found what she was looking for: a building directory. She scanned the list quickly and jabbed the nearby ‘up’ button on the elevator which proved as efficient in operation as the light fixtures. The button lit up but no elevator appeared and no motors for it sparked to life.

She took the stairs.

The upstairs hallway was a long racetrack lined inside and outside with faculty offices and department offices. A beautiful, subtle scent of books, sharpened pencils and learning wafted pleasantly through the cool and darkened hallway, mingling here and there with more pungent odors, burning coffee, rancid fruit or incense.

She made her way to the department offices of the Criminal Justice department, passing the closed doors of the faculty. Once or twice one of the doors was open allowing her a quick look inside. They were tiny things. Barely enough room for a desk and a chair and some of them were shockingly spartan – like something that would serve better as an interrogation room than an office. Some, however, were very creative. They crammed high utilitarian bookshelves, posters, ornaments, knickknacks. Through the open window of one she saw a huge rattan wall partition dividing a few feet inside the door from what must have been just a few feet on the other side, colored light like a tiki lounge could be made out on the other side. At another office door she stooped to look through the plain vertical blinds at an interior that was silhouetted against the sunlight outside. From what she could see of it it was upscale, nice. An expensive leather executive chair sat behind a mahogany, well ordered desk upon which a very nice laptop computer sat open. She checked the name on the door and moved on.

She’d turned down the radio to barely a whisper but in the relative silence of the nearly monastic setting she heard it just fine. It was Garvey again.

“Brown. Got the team on the History building, north of the library. Copy?”

She keyed the button on the radio to confirm receipt. The next voice she heard was Riggins.

“Two detectives inside the library and officers covering roof access. And we’re at the second scene. Male victim. 36 years of age. Parking enforcement. Looks like he took the shot from one of the dorm rooms. I’m there now. No casings. No perch like the last. Clear footprint in what looks like a puddle of beer. Copy?”

She keyed the button again.

“Brown. Give location. Over.” She didn’t respond to that. Instead she turned into the department office and smiled brightly at the receptionist behind the desk who smiled brightly back. When the smiling was over she shot a quick check of her watch. She had less than fifteen minutes left.

Ten minutes later, map and class schedule in hand, she pushed through the heavy double doors into a large lecture hall in the history building. The kids were already starting to get restless, stowing pens and notebooks into their back packs. The lecturer stopped in mid sentence at the sound of the door opening. The last thing he said was some disparaging comment about Ptolemy and his inaccurate conclusions about the solar system in it’s relation to deductive reasoning in investigations. Meg had a special place in her heart for Ptolemy – she liked the wonderful simplicity of putting humanity at the center of the universe. Somehow, in spite of all scientific evidence to the contrary, humanity had never quite understood the error and still did it constantly. And somehow it was perversely fitting under these circumstances.

“Can I help you miss?” he asked with a pronounced tone of irritation. The rustling of the students took on a different rhythm as they turned to look at her, some shooting her the scathing look of people who had actually been paying attention, some looking with total disinterest.

“I believe we had an appointment.” She said simply, standing in the aisle between the seats. The professor looked down regretfully at the lectern before him. From her vantage point he seemed like a groomed and primped chimpanzee behind it.

“I’m afraid I don’t have anything in my schedule…” He said as if he were actually looking at his itinerary. She took a few steps down the aisle. He flipped pages of the book in front of him with one hand.

“It’s a recent appointment Professor Gardiner. I believe your office requested it about two hours ago? They must have forgotten to inform you.”

“And your name?” He asked cautiously and with a slight grin.

“I think you know who I am.”

He slowly flipped another page of the notebook on the lectern. He had an almost perfectly square head with what once had been called a lantern jaw. The part of that jaw that contained his mouth peeled back even more into a smile. The rest of the jaw was covered with stubble so uniform in length and consistency it looked like it was airbrushed on. His hand left the lectern and brushed back what appeared to be highly polished hair from his temple, though not a single hair was or even could have been out of place. Even from this distance she could see the thick knuckles of his phalanges. They were like dockworker hands.

“So” He said slowly. “How did you find me?”

All around her she could feel the temper of the room change from annoyance to curiosity. People who had been one step from leaving suddenly found something interesting going on and settled back into their seats to see how it all turned out. Of course there were only two people out of the whole bunch of them that knew this was exactly the wrong attitude to take. But those same two people knew it was too late for anything else.

“I’m not here to give a free lecture on observation in theory and practice, professor. We had an appointment and I expect you’ll honor that.” She said a little more firmly. The game was over. It’s time to take the last step, was what she meant.

“Of course.” He tried pleasantly. “Class is almost over. I’ll be with you in…”

He pulled the gun very fast but she’d been expecting it since she walked through the door. He went out like an angel. Arms outstretched as though plaintively begging for standing in heaven or cursing his onrushing placement in hell. Pistol in one hand. She was surprised to find him left handed. Interesting. The casings would eject into his face. She hadn’t expected that with the way he’d been turning the pages with his right. But of course he couldn’t go out alone. It had been part of his plan the whole time so he fired at the crowd that now pooled out like an extension of the explosions from her gun. Only one of the students fell. Six more bullets followed the first before that happened.

He was still breathing when she climbed up on top of the podium to kick away his pistol. His breath was coming ragged like a tattered flag and he knew it was immanent.

He looked up at her, blood bubbling from his smiling simian lips.

“Thanks for keeping our appointment.” He said before the ragged choking noise in his chest stopped.

Meg looked up. The room was silent except for the groans of the one student who’d been shot. A few huddled uselessly into corners that couldn’t have protected them. She saw one crawl from behind a theatre chair. Another had tried to use the folding writing surface as cover and was still trying to figure it out. Outside she could hear the yelling, the running, the screaming.

She sat down easily on the podium next to the short, dead man and sighed easily.

“Fuck.” She said to the lecture room. The lecture room agreed in it’s own silent way.

The worst thing she could think of was not that he had killed two people but that he’d made her shoot. She’d be off the street for at least a week after that. That meant a weeks worth of terrible jokes she’d have to make about the quality of the coffee, a weeks worth of uncomfortable pats on the back she’d have to endure, a weeks worth of psychological counseling, paperwork, paper shuffling, pencil sharpening, internet searching, email answering, facebook updating, online games playing. Her Farmville farm had died ages ago and she hated knowing it was from neglect, but it was somehow okay as long as she didn’t have to face it.

“Fuck.” She said again and again the room agreed.

She found the rifle in his briefcase before SWAT showed up. She found the spent casings in his pants pocket just after Riggins showed up. In his office she’d found the keys to his Audi along with the sickly sweet smell of rotting apples, turpentine and vodka. It came from a bottle of aftershave and it looked expensive. It smelled worse than death. She’d made a mental note to shoot any guy she dated who wore the stuff.

“Alright.” Riggins said. “How did you figure this one out?”

“Take a whiff.”

Riggins did but his face gave only the slightest recognition. The connection wasn’t fully made.

“He needed access to the roofs. Professors don’t have that.”

“But professor? Was that a guess?”

“Professor, middle management, junior politician, something like that. It fit the profile.”

“Your profile.”

She shrugged.

“Add that to the location. That says professor. I figured criminal Justice or sociology. Criminal Justice was closer and also fit the nests he already used. Its conveniently located between the first and second victims, and as you can see the walk to what would have been the third nest was right across the street.”

“Alright. How did you figure this guy in particular. You couldn’t have searched every faculty office in the Criminal Justice department.”

“The blinds on his door.” She said simply, shrugging again. “They’d been cracked open a little bit to look out and I had to bend down to look inside, which meant the occupant wasn’t tall, and the stuff inside looked all swank and shit. Not professorial, which leads me to the next thing. There’s no way he could afford the stuff he has on his Faculty pay. He’s a drug dealer. When you find his car on the impound lot my guess is the trunk will be well stocked with goodies.”

“Impound lot.” Riggins nodded. “It fits. Do you know it’s on the impound lot or is that just a guess?”

“Just a guess.” She shrugged. “But it fits. And that’s how he got the janitors keys. He hooked him up. Apparently they share a taste for godawful aftershave too. That should be a good enough reason to arrest him.”

“But why? I mean, really – cause this seems a little excessive a response for getting your car towed.”

Meg shrugged again. Publicly she didn’t give a crap about motives. Privately she thought it was because the little man was affronted at the audacity of being tripped up by a parking checker. The guy fancied himself as being altogether, someone to be respected. Towing his totem away with the supply of his drugs in it was the ultimate disrespect and in his mind it demanded satisfaction. Where he could have just gone and paid his fine and gotten his car back had he been normal, in his mind it required an endgame – to go out on top. Whatever it was it would have required a bit of explaining and she’d lost the mood for such longueur.

“It doesn’t really matter does it?” She said.

“I…” Riggins started. He looked around at the podium covered in blood. Every shot had hit home. “I guess not.”

Megan pulled her pistol for the second time that day and handed it over to her partner who took it carefully. They would have to match ballistics from it to the bullets in the professors body so she wouldn’t see it for a while. That was alright. She had more where that came from.

“What?” Riggins started again as she hoisted herself to her feet. “No quips? No comedy?”

She thought for a second and pulled her sunglasses from her inside coat pocket.

“I guess he wanted to be a master criminal.” She paused dramatically. “But came up a little short.” She threw the sunglasses on with a dramatic flourish that backfired badly when she stabbed herself in the eye with the stem.

“Nice one.” Riggins laughed. He had no idea how much it actually hurt.

She wrote it up at headquarters. Boring. She got pats on the back. Boring. The lieutenant congratulated her. She stuck her tongue out at him.

That night she stopped at a bar and picked up the beginning of a wicked hangover and a man she would inaccurately remember as Colin. In all respects he was passable but in some ways, just barely. She kicked him out without ceremony by 1 AM and slept the rest of the night alone in her oversized post divorce bed. She had terrible sad dreams about a wonderful smile she hoped never to see again.

When she woke up she was still crying.

Categories: Meg Brown Mysteries | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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