Today’s snippet is from Quicksand by C. S. Laurel. This is the second book in the Quick mystery series. The first, B. Quick, is currently available as a free download on Amazon or for sale at NRP’s webstore as well as Barnes & Noble. As a reminder, these snippets are from the ARC versions of the books, so there may be a few errors that will not appear when the final version is published. Look for Quicksand late next week. Enjoy!
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Bye Bye Baby
The doorbell rang at eight a.m..
I was already twenty minutes late for my first lecture of the day, stark naked and in the laundry room, rummaging through the hamper for a less than dirty pair of socks I might wear again.
I yelled “Brian,” as loudly as I could but without much hope. “Brian, will you get the door?”
Our bedroom was right next to the laundry room, but I got no answer. Then again, I didn’t expect one because the love of my life could easily have slept through a seven forty seven landing on the bed.
The doorbell rang and rang, as though the caller, tired of waiting, had decided to glue his finger to the button.
I tried to ignore it till I’d found socks, but the two pairs I unearthed — one liver-pill-yellow, one shrieking red — were obviously Brian’s, bought at bargain sales and unsuitable for a conservative lecturer in an old-fashioned college. What the man did with my socks was beyond guessing. Last time I’d asked him, he said he ground them and sold them to the health food store as gourmet cheese. I hoped he was joking.
I yelled again over the ringing din, “Brian,” before giving up and walking down the hallway. On the way I grabbed a robe and ran my fingers through my short dark hair in an attempt at looking knowledgeable and respectable, the type of scholar who would have spent the night poring over the most obscure Elizabethan Literature instead of blond ex-students. You never know when the dean might decide to come calling.
Okay, yes. It had never happened. But that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen.
It didn’t help to look in the bedroom and see Brian, sprawled cater-corner on our king size waterbed, his expression one of absolute bliss. Like a cat, he can take up all available space on any bed. I pulled the door to — just in case our impromptu visitor got this far — and arrived at the front door ready to play decency incarnate.
I should have saved myself the trouble. The man leaning against the doorbell didn’t even see me. The knife was stuck below his ribs, the blood pouring out to soak his striped blue and white flannel pajamas.
Murder, my mind said, helpfully. Murder most foul.
While having Shakespeare quotes run through my mind might be a professional deformation as a professor of Shakespeare, that one was hard to argue with. I looked at the blood pouring out onto the marble floor of the hallway.
Murder, definitely. Unless this man had decided to perform surgery on himself on my doorstep, and that seemed too bizarre, even for a college town.
Police. I should call the police. The police would know what to do, right? It was their job, wasn’t it? But I couldn’t close the door and leave the man here, bleeding, could I?
Why not? I hate it when my mind waxes sarcastic, but the whole point of the dead is that they are somewhat mobility challenged. So it should be okay to leave him right here. I started backing away and pushing the door closed.
My supposed dead man opened his pale blue eyes.
I must have jumped three feet back and the only reason I didn’t slam the door shut is that my hands were otherwise occupied, covering my mouth.
The dea– wounded man looked at me slowly, with a sort of wondering expression, then frowned, as if he were trying to recall something very difficult. “Bill?” he rasped. And then he fell sideways.
He’d called me by name. I surged forward, broke his fall, pulled him into the house and banged the door behind me. All too late, I realized I was trying to render assistance. This, given my knowledge of first aid, was not unlike trying to grow a pair of wings.
I couldn’t find his heart beat. As for his pulse, though I had a vague idea of how to feel for it, I could never locate a beat on anyone. In health class, back in tenth grade, I’d gone from classmate to classmate, lying about counting their heart beats, all the while wondering by what luck I’d landed in the zombie class.
Assuming that the man might still be alive, I grabbed the handle of the knife — a smooth, wooden handle, much like our own kitchen knives — and pulled it once, hard. I remember thinking I had to pull straight up, so as not to make the cut worse.
Listen, I’m not a medical doctor. I’m a doctor of English and literature. If a split infinitive ever comes to the house with a knife stuck in its middle, I’ll know exactly what to do. With a wounded man, I acted on impulse.
The result was much the same as if the proverbial Dutch kid had taken his finger from the rhetorical dam. Blood spurted everywhere, including my face, my white robe and my brand new white carpet.
My voice must have crossed all boundaries of normal speech.
A miracle occurred. Brian awoke.
I heard him turn in bed. “In the third drawer,” he called out, sleepily. “Your dresser.” The waterbed sloshed with his settling down again.
“Brian. Get up. Getup, getup, getup, getupnow!” This was murder. I’d imprinted the murder weapon with my fingerprints. I didn’t recognize the man’s features, but he had whispered my name. I should save taxpayers a lot of money by sticking my finger in the nearest socket.
“I told you where your socks are,” Brian said, sounding befuddled.
“Get up NOW! Call the police,” the shriek was at least two octaves higher than my normal voice.
The bed sproinged with the suddenness of Brian’s rising. His feet hit the floor with a thump. The door to the hallway opened.
Brian peered out, his hair rumpled by sleep, his green eyes only half-open. “What?” he asked. “The police because you can’t find your–” he stopped. “What–” he started, but couldn’t finish. “Oh, no, Bill… Who–?” His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed.
I dropped the knife. “Call the police,” I told him, in a belated attempt at calm rationality. Surely Brian couldn’t think I was a murderer. We’d lived together for almost three years now. Surely, he knew I’d be more likely to pummel a man with words than to hack him with a kitchen knife.
Brian took one step back, then another.
“I didn’t do it! This man rang our door bell,” I yelled, sounding to my own ears like a raving maniac. “He had a knife sticking out of him. I pulled it out. I–.”
I don’t know if Brian heard or understood my explanation. He continued stepping backwards, away from me, staring with wide-open green eyes, until he disappeared into our room.
I heard him lift the phone, then his voice, sounding hoarser than normal, said, “I want to report a homicide. Three twenty five Lockmaster. The high rise. Just outside Bile campus. I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know. No, I don’t know that either. I’m Brian Quick. No, Quick is my last name. Q-u-i-c-k. Quick, as in fast. Yes, I’ll be here.”
This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, my mind said, having come a long way down in classical quotes. I closed my eyes and tried to wake up. This had to be a nightmare. Brian could not be on the phone, spelling Quick for some idiot while I knelt in my entrance hallway with blood all over me and a dead man on the immaculate white carpet that Brian and I had chosen less than two years ago.
I heard the phone slammed down, then the door to the bathroom opened and closed. I was fairly sure Brian was throwing up. Well, either that or barricading himself in the bathroom till the police arrived to protect him from me in knife-wielding maniac mode.
Holding off to report the murder first was very much like Brian in either case. Half-Norwegian, half-Italian, he had the instincts of a berserker and the mind of a Roman jurist. I suspected the jurist had reported the crime, and now the Viking was holed up in the bathroom, probably holding my safety razor in one hand and a hairbrush in the other, just in case I came after him with the kitchen knives.
At length, I heard the toilet being flushed. The door to the bathroom opened, closed again which might mean Brian had decided I wasn’t dangerous, or else he was coming out to kill me in preemptive self defense.
But he didn’t seem to be running or giving out with a war cry. In fact, his steps were slow, almost hesitant.
I looked back over my shoulder. Brian stood in the hallway, in his blue jockey shorts. Unarmed. He looked at least ten years younger than his twenty one, when one accounted for the fact that there were no six foot six inch tall twelve year olds. His hair was rumpled, his eyes wide, his normally golden skin a bit pale, and his lower lip protruded just a little, as if it might at any moment start to tremble.
“Are you going to wash?” he asked me in a thread of voice, running his left hand through his short, unruly, blond curls. “Or just stay there, covered in blood until the police arrive?”
“Won’t it look worse? If I wash? Won’t it look as if I’m trying to hide something?”
“What for instance? Blood type? Look, we’ll keep the robe for them to see. Or do you think they need a picture?”
“Don’t be sarcastic, Bambi. It doesn’t become you.”
“Don’t call me Bambi,” he growled, turning his jaw line to sharp corners, a trick that fascinated me because I’d never figured out how he did it.
The fact that he still reacted to his nickname as normal made me feel better. I almost smiled at him. He’d live. He might be shocked, he might be green around the gills, but he’d live. I wish I were so sure about myself.
I stood up finding my legs unaccountably rubbery. Stepping over the body, I made the fatal mistake of looking down. The full effect of the wide-open, glazed eyes, the blood-filled mouth, the waxy pallor, hit me square in the stomach. I barely made it to the bathroom in time.
After further emptying my still empty stomach, I undressed and stepped into the shower. The water had almost stopped running red, when Brian called in, “There’s your grey pants, green shirt and green pullover on the bed. Socks and underwear too.”
The doorbell rang and Brian closed the bedroom door. I hoped that he had had the good sense of slipping into something more decent than his jockey shorts. After all, though the police chief was his high school friend and as straight as the man might be, I wasn’t all that anxious to test the principle. In a competition between me and Tony I-am-a-Greek-god Marsano, I knew who’d lose.
I finished washing, drying, and dressing in record time. I slipped my black wingtips on, looked at myself in the full-length mirror in the bedroom. Thirty, looking forty-five, with my black hair fast turning grey at the temples, I flattered myself that I appeared dignified and staid. Perhaps not quite like a good match for Brian’s youthful exuberance, but certainly not like a maniacal murderer. I hoped. I adjusted my green silk tie and, on impulse, grabbed my reading glasses. Protective camouflage.
I stepped out of the bedroom and almost tripped over a thin man in Salvation-Army-mark-down clothes, who sagged tiredly over our hallway phone. He didn’t even see me. “About forty five, blue eyes, black hair, around 5’7″. I’d guess on two hundred pounds. Striped pajamas,” he said, confidentially, into the phone. “No ID on him. Dead as last week’s mackerel.”
Detective Ram. One of Lythia Springs finest. Which could be considered damning with faint praise.
Sidestepping him and deliberately not looking towards the corpse, I walked the other way towards the largest, innermost room of my condo. It faced south, which meant we got plenty of light through the doors that led to the glassed-in balcony. Other than a small kitchenette in a corner, this space lacked any definition. It was one of those living room/dining room/rec room things. Until Brian had convinced me to enclose the balcony five months ago, this room had been used for pretty much everything.
Now the balcony, outfitted with mini blinds and wicker furniture, functioned as de-facto dining room, overlooking the verdant treetops of Lythia Park. All three of them. The freed space had been taken over by a massive circular coffee table in carved walnut, a long sectional covered in canvas, a pine cabinet that harbored the stereo — in which I was occasionally allowed to play Billie Holiday. The corner was taken up by an elaborate cabinet bar, hung with stem glasses we rarely used since I was on the wagon and Brian preferred his liquor from a bottle on the rare occasions he drank. Also known as when one of his stories go rejected.
Bookcases stood against every inch of wall, because both Brian and I were compulsive bibliophiles and, if e-books didn’t save us from ourselves, we would eventually end up two old men living in an ever-narrowing labyrinth amid piles of books.
The smell of coffee overhung the room. I set my briefcase on the coffee table and looked towards the kitchenette, where Brian, dressed — as opposed to naked, all gods be praised — in faded jeans and T-shirt, banged dishes around with the look of intense concentration the rest of the world reserves for higher mathematics.
He set a tall cup of coffee, large glass of orange juice, and two vitamin pills on the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. I sat on one of the two white wicker barstools to sip my coffee.
“Strong,” I told him.
He nodded. “Thought we’d need it.” He sipped coffee from his cup, the one that he’d bought at B-con. Its decoration, the face of a mustachioed Victorian gentleman that turned into a dead-head on contact with hot liquids, seemed all-too-appropriate today.
I wondered that Brian wasn’t running around excitedly, jumping for joy. For a budding mystery writer, this should be a gift from heaven, a chance to watch police procedure first-hand. Uhm… Would Brian have killed for research?
“Mister … Quick?” the policeman asked, behind me.
“Yes?” Brian answered, looking over my shoulder, from the vantage point of his 6’6″ height.
“Not you, sir,” the man said. “This gentleman. Your father?”
“His roommate,” I interposed hastily, turning to face the man, desperately attempting to distract him from Brian’s smirk. Brian looked devilishly amused at the familiar mistake. That I was only ten years older than him made the joke that much funnier. For him, that is.. “Yates. William Yates. I’m a professor of Literature and Writing at Bile college down the road.”
The man nodded. “Officer Teutonius Ram, Mr. Yates,” he said. “Or should that be Doctor Yates?”
“Mister is fine. We have met, remember? About three years ago?”
Ram looked painstakingly blank.
“The murder case,” Brian put in. “The ax murder. My roommate–”
Ram stood straighter. His gaze sharpened in recognition. “Oh, yeah.” He pointed the stub of a much-chewed pencil at Brian. “You’re the smart alec mystery writer kid, aren’t you?”
Brian cleared his throat and looked noticeably cooler. He opened his mouth, closed it.
“So, how goes the writing?”
“How may I help you, Officer?” I said, before Brian had time to explain he wasn’t published yet, or something of the sort, and then explain he wasn’t good enough which he enjoyed saying in the same way that monks in the middle ages enjoyed self-flagellation.
Ram’s attention shifted to me. “I just wanted to let you know the meat wagon will be coming for that,” he made a head gesture towards our uninvited guest. “And that the chief will come with them, to start the investigation.”
“Chief Marsano?” I said. It wasn’t quite a question. Tony Marsano had grown up with Brian in Cleveland. Well, for a given value of growing up, since Tony was about my age. He’d been Brian’s first crush. Which had done neither of them any good. He disapproved of our relationship, or at least seemed to think that but for my having “seduced” Brian, Brian would be growing out his chest hair, practicing his war cries and looking for a nice woman to marry.
Ram nodded. Brian seemed absorbed in thoughts of his own, frowning at his cup of coffee as if it had done him an injury. I looked at my watch. I’d already missed the eight o’clock lecture and hadn’t even called in to warn them. Glad I had tenure. “I have a lecture at ten thirty,” I said. “Afterwards, I have office hours till one, then two other lectures till four thirty. I should be home by five.”
Officer Ram scrutinized me, while lazily withdrawing a greasy notebook and a stubby pencil from his back pocket. “You’re intending on going to work, sir?” His eyes narrowed to slits.
I’d never even considered not going. There was nothing I could do here. Aloud, I said, “I must. You see, my assistant hasn’t had time to prepare a lecture.” It wouldn’t do to mention that my assistant — Daphne Mallard, who wanted to be called Daphy — didn’t have the mental capacity of dryer lint and couldn’t prepare a recitation of Mother Goose given all the time in the world.
“But you’re not supposed to leave the scene of the crime, sir,” Ram protested, in the best style of the mysteries that Brian devoured. He looked earnestly at me, an undercurrent of disappointment in his eyes censoring me for depriving his work of seriousness. “I’m here to… uh…” he flipped frantically through his notebook. “To secure the scene,” he finally said, in the satisfied tone of an elementary school student given the leading role in the class play.
The words made me think of theater. I had a quick mental picture of Ram drawing velvet curtains across our living room while stage-whispering The scene is mine, yes, all mine. “Secure the–”
“The scene, sir,” he said, patiently, as though I suffered from a mental handicap that he was trying hard to ignore. “Of the crime, sir.”
“He means to make sure we don’t play fast and loose with the evidence,” Brian put in, over his coffee cup. “Abscond with the corpse, that sort of thing.”
“Why would we do that?” I asked. Was there a trading market for corpses? Did the police think we’d sell them to science? Or just that we collected them in a storage room to show our friends on Halloween? “We don’t even know who this is, much less–”
“They’re the rules,” Ram said. He sighed heavily. “Chief Marsano, he has gone to all these fancy schools and he is a devil for rules and he told me to come secure the scene and make sure the corpse isn’t moved.”
“Why would we move it?” I asked, turning to Brian this time, because I wasn’t interested in a recital of the police manual. Brian knew — or at least should have an inkling — that I was not a necrophiliac. He should be able to give me a more rational answer than this idea that corpses were irresistible and everyone would want to at least move one, preferably steal one for his very own.
Brian rolled his eyes fourth-floor-ward, where he’s convinced God resides. “He means that, if this case should come to court, they need to be able to prove that the evidence hasn’t been tampered with, intentionally or not, and that no possible suspect was allowed to leave the scene of the crime.”
“I’m not a suspect,” I protested.
“Until they find the perp, everyone is a suspect,” Brian answered sounding somewhere between aggravated and amused.
“He means the one who did it,” Ram put in, helpfully. He looked enviously at Brian. “Our chief talks like that, too.”
I felt like I’d been caught between two stand-up comedians doing a routine in newspeak.
Ram licked the tip of his pencil, opened his notebook. “I understand you found the corpse?”
“If you could call it finding him. He wasn’t exactly hidden. Just leaning against our doorbell,” I said. “With a knife sticking out of him. I pulled him inside and removed the knife. Of course, that might have killed him.”
Officer Ram looked up at me, scratched his chin with the eraser top of his pencil. “Of course, it might,” he said. “Only the autopsy will tell us for sure, but he bled halfway across the park. Chances are he was a goner anyway.”
“Halfway across the park?”
“Yeah. I walked here that way, parked on the other side, since there were no spaces in front of the building, and I noticed these blood stains. So I kept an eye on them, just out of curiosity, you see. Darned if they didn’t end right at your door.”
Darned indeed. I’d add knit, embroidered, crocheted, and tatted, just for good measure. “Well, he still seemed to have a lot of blood left,” I said, looking at my splattered walls. Brian had painted them just last spring. Ragged in pale greyish-blue. I remembered how long it had taken him and wondered if the mess could be washed off.
Ram nodded. “Yeah. When you pulled the knife out his lungs still flapped, his heart still beat a while. It would go everywhere.”
Brian gulped and almost dropped his coffee cup.
“Anything else?” I asked Ram.
“Yes, sir. Where were you when this happened?”
“The stabbing, you mean?”
“When did it happen?”
“Don’t know. Anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, I’d say. Maybe more. Some last longer than others. There once was a guy who got shot in the–”
Brian turned greenish.
“I was asleep until seven forty five,” I said hastily.
“Any proof of that?” Ram asked, his gaze resentful, probably at not getting to give us more gory details.
I almost said, actually yes, because Brian is always able to tell when I get up from bed or lay down on it. It’s the only thing guaranteed to wake him for a few seconds. Making sure I’m not leaving and slipping my evil twin on him, I suppose. I should never have encouraged him to read Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch.
But discretion dictated not mentioning that I lay down in bed with Brian, so I shook my head and said, “Unfortunately no.” I added sheepishly, “I sleep alone.”
“Mr. Quick?” Ram asked.
“No,” Brian replied, I wasn’t sure to what. He rubbed his hand against the blond stubble on his chin with a grating sound. His beard is almost invisible, but grows faster than kudzu and has the feel of rough sandpaper. “I was also asleep in my room. It’s one door down from Bill’s. I am a deep sleeper. I didn’t hear anything until the doorbell rang.”
“You heard the doorbell ring?” Ram asked, perking up. If he’d been a dog, his ears would have stood upright.
“Oh, yeah,” Brian lied with an ease that made me wonder about what lies he might have been telling me. “And I heard Bill trudging down the hallway saying something or other about being late.”
“You heard Mr. Yates walk down the hallway?”
“Yes,” Brian answered with that round-eyed, innocent-angel look that, combined with his excessively long legs, had made me nickname him after the animated character.
He should have taken drama.
The policeman shrugged, closed his notebook. “I guess that lets you off,” he told me. He shook his head regretfully. “Couldn’t very well have been out there ringing the bell or dragging the guy and walking down the hallway at the same time, could you?”
I hate faulty reasoning. “I could have stabbed him beforehand. He might have followed me home. Alternately, I could have propped him against the doorbell, sneaked in then made a big show of walking down the hallway.”
Brian’s eyes widened impossibly with an I give up on you look. He covered them with his right hand while shaking his head.
Ram took it for a joke. He chuckled. “Well, our chief will take care of all that, later. Once the guy is identified we’ll have a better idea, too. This is just a–” His note book reappeared. “Preliminary inquiry.”
Having said this, he plainly considered the better part of his duty done. He put his hands behind his back and stood, looking around with the satisfied expression of a man watching a parade.
Brian and I exchanged glances.
Brian’s gaze returned to Ram, with the fascinated look of a ninth-grader dissecting an earthworm. Somehow, I knew Ram would eventually make a not-entirely-disguised appearance in one of Brian’s books.
Suddenly Ram perked up. His metaphoric ears stood straight in the air. For a moment I thought he was about to pull a Holmes, and reveal how I’d committed the crime then forgotten all about it.
Instead, he smiled and said brightly, “Well, there he is.”
He was Mr. Tony I-am-filling-in-for-Apollo-on-his-day-off Marsano who stalked through our door with the élan of a victor liberating a city.
He had curly dark-hair, olive skin, features that looked as though he’d just stepped out of the most upscale fashion magazines. His wool trousers had a precise crease down each leg, several sheep had stood in line for hours for the privilege of donating wool to the red sweater he wore, and his silk tie shamed mine into looking like nylon. He walked in burdened with cameras and a huge black bag of the type country doctors used to carry.
Setting the black bag down at the entrance, nodded to Ram. He gave Brian and I a cursory glance and a tight-lipped nod. “Brian,” he said, as if he’d forgotten Brian’s name and needed to reassure himself of it.
“Tony,” Brian said and tightened his lips in turn and somehow drew himself up, so that if this were a Victorian melodrama, he’d have said “Ah, the villain who despoiled me.” Only, to my knowledge, not only had Tony not despoiled Brian – much to Brian’s chagrin – but his greatest crime was that he’d made no effort to stay in contact with Brian since Brian had moved in with me. The thing was, I suspected that Brian hadn’t been in contact with him, either.
If necks were any stiffer than Brian’s, people would drown when it rained.
I took a sip of my coffee and felt a desire for popcorn.
Tony advanced on Brian, “How come you… Another murder?” He looked at the corpse. His gaze came back to us. “Anyone you know?” he asked Brian.
Brian shook his head.
“And you,” Tony said, turning towards me. For a moment I thought he was going to resort to a notebook, like his subaltern, but he didn’t. “Doctor William Shakespeare Yates. Brian’s… roommate.” He frowned, as though my name were a joke. It was, of course, just not my joke. “Do you know the deceased, Doctor Yates?” he asked, undaunted by my scholarly status.
I shrugged. “No,” I said. I cleared my throat again because my voice had got unaccountably tiny. “No, I don’t believe I do.”
The policeman nodded. “Any idea why he would want to come die on your doorstep?” he asked.
I shook my head. I felt like saying that this happened all the time, that our doorstep was the fatal doorstep of choice for multitudes, the secret cemetery of urban America, and that we had considered going into the funeral business. But I knew this policeman could be startlingly humorless.
Tony started something like the dance of the seven veils with camera cases and small shoulder bags instead of clothes. I watched fascinated, as he pulled the strap of one camera over his head, pulled the other down from one shoulder, then the other one from the other shoulder. Some clubs would pay a lot for such an act. If he were wearing nothing but cameras and shoulder bags, that is. An interesting idea in itself.
“Did he say anything before he died?” Tony asked, as he divested himself of equipment.
I shook my head. It didn’t seem like a smart thing to tell him he’d whispered “Bill.” Bill was not exactly a rare name. It was about as good as if he’d whispered John Smith. For all I knew, Bill was his name.
Tony loaded a camera, went back to the hallway and started shooting pictures of the corpse from every possible angle.
I resisted a madcap impulse to yell, “Say cheese.” A malignant humor always followed shock, in me. You should have seen me at my father’s funeral. Or maybe not, considering some of my relatives had decided never to see me again.
“So, Brian,” he asked, while clicking pictures. “How is life after college?”
Tony looked up for a moment and smiled. “Well… good. So what are you doing these days?”
“Writing,” Brian said.
“Oh, and for a day job?” Tony asked.
I clenched my teeth because it had taken me forever to convince Brian he should devote himself to writing full time and never mind making money. I hoped the policeman wouldn’t undo it all.
“I’m just trying to write,” Brian said, blushing.
This was better than the movies. Brian doesn’t get discomfited that easily. But Tony seemed to be completely oblivious to what would push Brian’s buttons. How long before Brian decked Tony? I’m the sort of person who, faced with a bad situation, can’t help but find a way to make it worse. “What about you?” I said. “How are you getting on in Lythia Springs?”
Tony glanced at me over his shoulder. “Oh, pretty well. I’m married now and… Hey, Brian, Gina says you should come over to dinner one of these days.”
“And when,” Brian asked, crossing his arms on his chest. “Did Gina tell you this?”
“Oh, I was at home when the call came, and I recognized the address. She said she hoped you weren’t mad at me – well…” He looked at Brian and flashed a disarming smile. “She said she hoped I hadn’t been stupid enough to make you mad at me, actually. And said you should come to dinner one of these days.”
“You often ask murder suspects for dinner?” Brian asked.
“Someone just got killed at my house. Do you mean to tell me you don’t suspect me?”
“What?” Tony said again. Then mumbled. “It’s not really your house… I mean, it’s more likely…” He petered out.
Brian didn’t say anything. He glared at Tony in a way that made my heart warm. After all, Brian didn’t suspect me of being a murderer. And he wouldn’t tolerate aspersions on my character. Not even from back-in-the-old-neighborhood, first-crush Tony Marsano.
If looks could kill Tony would have dropped dead next to the corpse. Tony, himself, stared at Brian with a puzzled look, as though not sure what he had said wrong. Brian arumphed.
For reasons best known to him and his psychiatrist, Tony started the handvac and cleaned the carpet around the corpse, as though a little dust might make a big difference when the place was plastered with blood.
Ram withdrew into a corner, where he started reading his notes. His lips moved slowly, forming words that I suspected only Brian and Tony would understand.
I edged sideways to the liquor cabinet to pour myself a glass of liquid corn. I thought with people in the house there wasn’t much Brian could say. And I needed that drink. Had needed it since I’d first seen the corpse.
I was wrong. About Brian, I mean. Like the saints of old, he’d not let himself be distracted from the correct path. Neither police in the house, nor dead men in the hallway, nor my possibly having killed someone, would keep Brian from holding me fast onto the temperance wagon.
“Bill,” he said, warningly.
“What?” I asked.
He looked pained. “Do you really need that?”
I frowned. “Oh, stow it, Bambi. If ever a man needed a drink–” I realized what I had said and stopped, but it was too late.
Tony looked up, with a startled expression. I noted with some relief that Ram still stared down at his notes and moved his lips laboriously, oblivious to us. Tony, on the other hand looked puzzled, then embarrassed. He stared at Brian, looked at me, mouthed, silently, “Bambi?” He gave Brian a sharp, sidewise glance. “Bambi?” he echoed, in a whisper.
Brian had turned the color of his friend’s sweater. “He calls me that.”
I’ll never know what Tony-the-wonder-policeman would have said to this, because at that moment a beeping sound cut the conversation.
Tony pulled up his sweater, allowing me a brief glimpse of a washboard stomach. He got a cellphone from his belt, stared at it for a second, then turned it on and took it to his ear.
Tony’s end of the conversation was about as informative as a blank wall. “Yes?” he asked. “Oh. Is that it? All right. Uhm. Uhm. Uhm. Fine.” He put the phone down, whirled around. “We still need to do some more checking, but we’ve had a missing-persons report that matches this guy. Does the name Joseph Lupus ring any bells?”
I choked on a mouthful of whiskey, and started coughing and sputtering uncontrollably. The glass slipped from my fingers to the floor. Not Lupi. Not Lupi, middle aged, seedy, and fat. Dead. In my front hall.
I closed my eyes. If they found out what tied me to Lupi, those bells would ring, all right. My funeral dirge.