1 (rough draft)
“You look a little green, Detective,” Banner said, much too jovial.
Detective Lindsay Fowler rested her face in her palms, her elbows on her desk. He was guessing, correctly. I can’t remember ever being this tired. I’m too old to be up all night. “It’s not often –”
“I heard.” Banner dropped on the chair at his desk, a desk facing and butted against Fowler’s desk. “I thought I’d die of boredom.”
She looked up, and around, seeing one in earshot. With a glare of judgment, she said: “Don’t be so entertained. If you wish to be amused by murders, go back to the city.”
He sat back, showing his palms. “I was half-kidding. Murder is never funny. I take that back. We had a clown murder that was pretty funny.”
Fowler gave him a long stare. “Where were you last night?”
“Battery died on my phone. Didn’t have it in the charger right.”
Again, more judgment, passing a file. “Rupert Whitman. Thirty-four. Part time bartender at The Crystal. Not a local. No family obvious. His apartment will hopefully turn up something.”
“Not a local, like you know everyone. Six witnesses and they all say the same thing?”
“No. Six people in the bar. Only one actual witness. The people in the bar said he was from out of town, new here.”
Banner scanned the handwritten notes. “He just collapsed?”
“He said a man patted him on the shoulder, and he collapsed.”
Banner nodded. “That’s when they called 9-11.”
“How’s it murder?”
“Jacks, the EMT, the statement’s in my notes, I wish you answered your phone, said his neck was snapped.”
“Battery was dead.” He flipped around the pages. “A guy reached across the bar and snapped his neck?”
“That’s how it appears.”
“That’s not easy to do.” Again, pages flipped. “Tall, dark trench coat and black derby? Could be white, could be black? Most likely a man? Six people in the bar and no one gave this guy a serious up-down?”
“I want you to follow up with all the witnesses, check out The Crystal again, clear it to open. There’s a form for that somewhere. The owner’s called me twice today, and it’s not even eight o’clock. Check Whitman’s apartment.”
“What do you want me to do after lunch?”
Fowler fiddled with her Nikon, then handed it across. “Take a look. When you get some time, print the series out for the file, save them on a thumb.”
“You act like you’re in charge.”
She shrugged. “I’ve never worked a murder. You have. I’m hoping to learn a thing or two from you.” She glanced a list. “I’m going to work what else is on our desk. Catch up at lunch.”
“We do have to eat.” He shuffled through the crime scene photos on the camera. “Rupert Whitman? I don’t think so. I don’t know who he is, but he looks familiar.” He rolled his eyes. “It’ll come to me.”
The night before, Fowler left work having a sandwich shop, Hunter’s, break-in to investigate, a service station robbery, likely the owner’s kid taking from the till, vandalism at the bank and look into a drug connection in the high school. With a phone call in the late in the evening, she had the first Edgewood murder, ever.
Fowler was comfortable with her appearance, a young forty-four, dark features with her chocolate hair often dancing on her shoulders. With a murderer in the neighborhood, she had her hair back in a high ponytail should she have to fight or chase.
She wore a dark blue JC Penny suit, white button-down with a dark blue striped tie. She liked the fit and durability of a man’s dress suit, plus she could more easily keep her cuffs and revolver out of sight. She didn’t like carrying a pistol, the less than a pound feeling like a fist in the small of her back.
Hunter’s, a small sandwich shop, sat twelve blocks from the high school and more popular with older people than children. The backdoor had been popped.
“Nothing was taken?” Fowler asked the much older man.
Ted Hunter, a large man, both in height and breadth, his chin spreading to his chest, his summer sky blue eyes beady glanced the entryway, which served as storage. “Nothing I can tell.”
Given the state of disarray, Fowler wasn’t surprised. “I recommend you put a deadbolt on the door, maybe reinforce the jam. Also, get a light installed outside the door.”
Hunter pulled at this chin. “You aren’t going to take fingerprints?”
“How many people use this door in any given week?”
He nodded, contemplating. “The wife told me the same thing last year about the outside light. This used to be such a good town to live in. Now, this.”
Fowler jotted the store’s complete address in her notebook. “I’ll write up an official report and drop off a copy for your insurance claim. If you discover anything missing, give me a call.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Not at all.” Ninety percent of my job is paper work.
Joe’s Service Center was a four bay garage with gas. The proprietor, Joe Barrack, greeted Fowler with a list, a long list. Like at Hunter’s, the rear door had been pushed in with little actual damage. Much on the list made sense, not all.
“Three stereos in the boxes?”
“Early Christmas shopping.”
Fowler entered Rib-it frustrated half the day was shot and all she had was paperwork. Her partner, at a table toward the back of the spacious restaurant, half standing, cut at the air.
Moron, she thought, waving him off. I can see you.
An unearthly, ethereal song invaded her world of broken doors, non-existent missing stereos, dead part time bartenders and mysterious people in trench coats, the vision of the young man unnaturally bent against the wall, his soft brown eyes staring at her, seeing nothing, seeing her soul even in death. Fowler was drawn to the song, the Siren’s call, which transcended back to the temporal in the guise of a giggle, a giggle-almost-a-laugh shared freely, unencumbered by flesh and matters of the world.
The child consumed Fowler’s attention, taking Fowler’s breath away, literally. Soft, gentle, surreal, like her giggle. Sucking deeply on the air, she retook control, then gasped from surprise to embarrassment.
The child sat with a boy, their heads close over a chocolate milkshake. His laugh danced with her giggle, his laugh, like his face, was corrupt, an insult to humanity.
Fowler was embarrassed at her judgment of the child and more embarrassed by her audible gasp drawing attention. She stepped to the table, looming, watching the girl’s delicate face, fighting not to be captured again.
“Why aren’t you in school?”
The child blinked repeatedly as if unsure of the question, brown eyes like tanned leather, like the eyes of the dead man, looking into Fowler’s soul. “Half day, ma’am. We go to The Region.”
“Edgewood Junior Senior Regional High School,” the boy bit with an impatience defying his handful of years.
The girl’s small hand floated like a feather on a breath of air, coming to rest on the boy’s forearm.
Impatience melted as he looked toward the table. “We call it The Region.”
“Very good, then. Sorry to intrude.”
“Not a problem, Detective,” the girl answered.
“How did you –”
“Assembly last month.” She smiled softly. “I’d not permit just any adult to give me a Q and A without knowing who they are.”
“Banner.” Fowler nodded, taking a chair.
Banner offered a chin bob. “What was that about?”
Fowler shrugged. “I asked why they weren’t in school.”
“You a truant officer now?”
“We don’t have truant officers and no.” She bit her lip, looking up at the waitress. “Large chicken soup, buttered roll, coffee, please.”
“You should just wave the usual at me when you come in, Lindsay.”
“I should.” Not that I’m here that often. Fowler twisted to see over her shoulder. “Odd kids.”
“How so?” Banner asked.
“Beauty and the Beast.” She shook her head. “The kid’s butter-won’t-melt-in-her-mouth gorgeous. Really spellbinding. I got caught staring so I had to do something. I asked why they weren’t in school.”
“My child goes there. I knew that. Anyway, what do you have?”
She rolled her eyes.
“Alcoholics, to a person. No wonder they didn’t see anything and the woman that did see something, now wonders if she did. Even sober under the best of conditions, eyewitness testimony sucks.” He flipped through his notepad. “I cleared the crime scene so the early drunks,” he said, checking his watch, “can get busy about now.”
“Right after we’re done here.” He made a note. “I’m putting his prints in the system. I’m sure he’s not who he says he was.”
“Check his I.D.?”
“What was in his pocket checked out, but better. I Googled.” He held up his phone. “Charged the battery. I think our Rupert Whitman may be infamous.”
“Let me chase the goose before putting you on its tail, too.”
“Fair enough.” She flipped through her notepad. “I think Hunter’s is a kid’s prank. Joe’s looks like insurance fraud.” Fowler looked up from the notes. “I’m going to write a report on the facts, maybe call the insurance company. My guess is the amount’s going to be so small, they’re not going to bother investigating.”
Banner shrugged. “We could chase it down.”
“For the fun of it? You have something better to do?”
“I’ll get Barrack to sign off, go on record, then we can decide from there.”
“What else do we have today?”
“I have to drop by The Region –”
“That’s what we call the high school. More interviews about drug traffic.”
He rolled his eyes.
“I know, big New York City boy, you don’t see any problem here. And, the Edgewood Saving and Loan. They had some kind of vandalism.”
Again, the rolled eyes.
“Okay, I get it.
“Murder is way more important than –”
“At the end of the day, all the reports need to be filed.”
Banner stood. “I’ll see you back in camp?”
Fowler checked her watch. “About 4PM.”
The hour and a half at the school was babysitting duty, Fowler an official presence while Principal Markus and Randi Sconce, guidance counselor, opened selected lockers. Paul Markus, like Banner, was a transplant, but from Dallas, Texas, not New York City. Paul Markus loomed large with dark features, his voice always in an overbearing harangue.
Fowler thought he should be wearing a cowboy hat.
Randi Sconce was a human praying mantas with angular features and sharp edges, always perched on four inch heels. Sconce and Markus were a perfect balance of yang and yin.
They worked from a list, excited with each new locker, excitement draining with the disappointment of failure.
“I guess your intelligence is faulty,” Fowler suggested at the main entrance.
Principal Markus leaned back, looking down his nose. “Or we have a leak! They were warned and cleaned out their lockers!”
Yes, a leak. That’s it. Fowler thought it more likely any children in the school with a pot habit would know the administration can search lockers at anytime, so they’d not keep anything in the lockers.
Edgewood Saving and Loan was the last of the independent banks in the region, all other banks having been gobbled up by the big banks. Fowler liked the independent nature of the bank. Vandalism at Edgewood Saving and Loan was regular, not quite as clockwork, but regular enough. Fowler suspected the big banks were behind the attacks, but Fowler couldn’t get herself to be that cynical.
The institute was located in an older structure, a row of concrete and brick buildings spanning a city block. Fowler had to park a half block away. The sun cut diagonal across the front window. The window had been tagged with FASCIST PIGS in red paint. The month before, two men on motorcycles put a trashcan through the front window.
The statement from Jackson Jones, the bank’s managing president, would be a technicality. The files from the newly installed exterior hidden cameras would be what she really needed. Pulling open the glass door, she entered, the bank oddly quiet, no one in motion.
Fowler froze, covering the entire room moving just her eyes. Beauty and the Beast caught her attention, in line at the counter. Beauty held Fowler’s eyes, the Beast looking at Beauty. Another child, late teens, stood uncomfortably behind, Beauty between him and Fowler. Twenty other people were in the room, but to Fowler, none of them mattered.
Fowler glanced Beauty’s teller, the teller nodded toward the teen. Fowler, twenty feet away, reached behind her back.
The teen produced a .45, comically large in his right hand, his left arm looping Beauty’s chest. Before the teen could make any demands, or repeat demands, Beast lunged, the .45 coming to Beast’s forehead, two loud blasts ripped through the air as the gun jumped, Beauty screamed, following Beast to the floor.
Fowler walked forward briskly, arm extended, emptying her revolver.