I realize I’ve been a bit quiet for a while. Apologies. I’m extremely busy in both work and personal life. In lieu of the usual rants and brain squeezings, here’s the first chapter of a story I’m working on:
I woke up slowly. My mouth felt like a stray dog had relieved itself in it, and my head felt like an army of Cossacks were marching through it, complete with a marching band. I’d been waking up this way a lot lately.
The pounding on the front door that had dug me out of bed started again. I looked at the alarm clock on the headboard through eyes that felt bloodshot. 8:30 in the morning. I assumed it was morning. Groaning, I crawled out of bed and staggered to the bathroom.
The doorbell started ringing. I threw on a pair of shorts and headed downstairs, carefully not looking at the empty left side of the bed. I noticed that the living room was still a wreck. Another day probably wouldn’t hurt it. I looked through the window at the stranger on my front porch. Dark suit, black tie. Nice haircut. Professional mustache. “Gotta be a cop.” I said to myself. “Now what?”
I opened the door. The Suit stood right in the center of the doorway. Another Suit stood by the plain blue sedan at the end of the driveway. I looked left. I could see the nose of another sedan was parked on Second. I wondered again what the hell was going on.
I looked back at the first Suit. He was a bit taller than me, which seemed to please him as he looked down. He had that grayish sort of blond hair that most of the major Hollywood stars had been sporting the last couple of years. Since his moustache matched the hair, I figured it was hair coloring. He produced a wallet with the special flap on it for the badge and ID, and held it in front of my face.
“Mr. MacKenzie, I am Detective Sergeant Whittaker of the Corpus Christi Police Department.” I could hear the capital letters as he spoke. “With me is Patrolman Thompson of the Ingleside Police Department.”
I looked around. No sign of Tom. I looked back at the Suit. A little frown briefly crossed his face. He turned his head to the Suit at the end of the driveway, who gestured off to the right, around the corner of the house. At about that moment, Tom came around the corner. He wasn’t wearing a suit, just his green and brown uniform. Tom was about Whittaker’s height, but his chest and shoulders made him look huge by comparison. The body armor under his uniform made him seem even bigger. He smiled.
“Hey, Bar! How’s it going?” His voice was the usual hoarse bray it always was. It was almost more than I could stand with a hangover. “Goddamn! You look like you were ate by a coyote and shit off a cliff.”
The Suits all stiffened a little at that. I kept my smile inside. Horace Jeremiah “Tom” Thompson, one of Ingleside’s finest, was doing his “Hayseed Cop” routine. He didn’t like Suits any more than I did.
Whittaker gestured impatiently at Tom. “Let’s get on with this,” he said with controlled politeness. Tom looked at me and shook his head. It was a small shake, and very fast. He wasn’t part of this- whatever this was- but he had to do it. I wondered again what was going on. Tom pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket, and handed it to me. As I started to open it, he said, “Bar, that there is a Search Warrant. These gentlemen are going to search your house.”
I opened the paper. It was a search warrant all right. I looked back at Tom. “What for?” I asked in what I hoped was a reasonable tone of voice.
Whittaker got to it before Tom could. “A murder weapon, Mr. McKenzie.” He tried to push past me into the house. I don’t push easily at the best of times, and my hangover made this a long way from a good day. I was minded to be stubborn. Whittaker was a big lad- around six feet, and probably in pretty good shape. I’m only about five-ten, but my 190 pounds hadn’t been going soft in a suit. He bounced back. Tom got between us before he could try again.
“Now, Bar, don’t be that way.” he said. “These gentlemen have the legal right to enter your house and search for a murder weapon.” Tom was blocking Whittaker away from me while he talked me out of being stupid. Whittaker had as much chance of moving the house unassisted as he had of moving Tom. “Now, you quit being a damned fool and let these people do what they came here for.”
With that, Tom poked me in the chest with his finger and moved me out of the way. I walked back into the kitchen and picked up the phone. Several suits came in with Whittaker, whose red face and white lips made him out to be furious or a candidate for a coronary. Probably both. As I dialed the phone, one of the Suits followed me into the kitchen and hit the disconnect button.
I grabbed the Suit’s hand and twisted it in one of the ways the human wrist is not supposed to go. He yelped a bit and backed into the living room. I let him go and started in his direction. Tom got to him before I could do something really stupid. One of his big paws grabbed the Suit by the collar and yanked him into the center of the living room. Staring at him from about four inches away, he asked, “What in the Hell do you think you’re doing?”
The Suit mumbled something I couldn’t make out. All the rest of the Suits were alternately looking at Tom and Whittaker. Whittaker nodded for them to start working and stepped up to Tom. “Officer Thompson…” he started.
Tom cut him off and tapped the Suit on the chest. “If Bar, here, ain’t under arrest, then what business do you have stopping him from using the phone? Do you think maybe he has a weapon hidden in there?” He spun the Suit toward the stairs with a quick shove. “Go search and get it over with.”
Tom winked at me as he turned around. I don’t think Whittaker noticed. While the Suits began destroying the living room, I dialed Sam Arbanez, my attorney. I didn’t have his number on speed-dial, but I did have it memorized. It had been that kind of year. Sam’s service answered. I gave the girl the message, and she said she’d call Sam right away.
I thanked her and hung up. I started to walk into the living room. One of the Suits tried to block me with his body. He wasn’t very good at it. I glided past him without contact. Three Suits were in the process of tossing the room. This, they were reasonably competent at. Tom walked up beside me, and we watched for a while. Judging by the way they were searching, I guessed aloud that the weapon they were after must be about two or three inches long. Tom stifled a chuckle.
“Why else would they be looking in the remote control?” I asked. The Suits paid no attention, although I think one of the younger ones reddened a bit. Whittaker didn’t do any searching. He stood by the stairs and watched, his arms folded across his chest.
After they finished the living room, they went into the kitchen. The phone rang. One of the Suits got to it before me. He said, “Hello?” and listened. By the time I got to it, he was holding the phone out to me with a dazed expression on his face, and Sam’s voice was coming out of the receiver in rapid-fire legalese. I waited for a bit, then shouted, “Sam! It’s me!”
Sam calmed down instantly. “Did they give you a warrant? If they did, keep it. If they try to take anything before I get there, stall them. If they don’t stall, get a receipt. Don’t answer any questions until I get there. And, whatever else happens, don’t lose your temper! 20 minutes!” He hung up. I hung up, with a slightly dazed expression on my face. Sam always has that effect on me.
Hurricane Sam arrived as the Suits were finishing the guest room downstairs. He smiled and waved to Tom. “Hello, Tom! How’re the girls?” Tom started to answer, but Sam blew right past him. “Morning, Bar. Do you have the warrant?” From long experience, I knew better than to try answering. I just handed the warrant to him, and followed the Suits into the sewing room.
I hadn’t even looked in the sewing room for months. The sewing room had been Helen’s getaway from the world. I didn’t want them in there. The memories of the last six months tried clawing their way out of the hole in my head I’d dropped them into. I was having trouble breathing. My throat was so dry I couldn’t swallow, and my vision was starting to blur at the edges. Tom grabbed me by the arm and pulled me around to face him. “Pull yourself together, Bar!” he said, speaking softly. He shook me, and pulled me a little bit down the hall. “Bar!” His voice was getting a little concerned.
I took several deep breaths, then nodded. My sight was going back to normal, and I had the normal amount of saliva, again. “Thanks, Tom.” I whispered. “Keep an eye on these idiots in there, will you?”
Tom clapped me on the shoulder and went down the hall into the sewing room. I sat down at the kitchen table and practiced breathing for a while. Sam came into the kitchen, and I pointed down the hall. He nodded, and headed down to the sewing room. I sat in the kitchen and reflected on the last six months, and wondered again what this was all about.
Nothing much happened until they hit the den upstairs. One of the Suits went straight up to the rack above the desk and started to reach for my katana. Helen had bought the sword for me as a surprise, special order from Japan. It had arrived by mail, with a note, about two weeks after my world went to shit. To me, the sword was slightly more valuable and personal than an equal weight in diamonds. Tom grabbed me as I started for the little twit, and Sam gave me a sharp look and shook his head. I raised my hands in mute surrender, and stood back and let the Suits work. They took a couple of pictures with the sword in place, then bagged it and set it aside.
The search of the den took awhile. The Suits were extremely thorough. The search of the bedroom, by contrast, was almost cursory. They went through the room quickly, and hit all the obvious places, but they seemed discouraged. It didn’t take long for them to finish. I stood in the doorway with Tom the whole time, refusing to look at the left side of the bed.
After finishing the bedroom, the junior Suits started down the stairs. Whittaker spoke briefly to Sam, then came over to me.
“Mr. McKenzie,” he said. “Our records show that you have a Concealed Weapons Permit for both Revolver and Automatic.”
“Yes, sir. That would seem to indicate the presence of at least one firearm in the house.”
“We didn’t find any. Neither did we find any cleaning kits, ammunition, or even a weapons locker.”
“Maybe your boys were less than thorough.”
“Mr. McKenzie, you are not under any obligation to help us with our search. But we can take this house apart- nail by nail if necessary- to search for what we believe to be a murder weapon. If you have a hidden weapons locker on the premises, it is in your best interest to open it for us. Otherwise, we bring in the wrecking crew.”
I looked at Sam as Whittaker finished. He had the tight, satisfied smile on his face that meant he had somebody’s balls in a vise. I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Whittaker. But only a bit.
Sam nodded. I looked at Whittaker. “Okay.” I sighed. “Lemme get my keys.”
I went into the bedroom and fished my keys off of the nightstand. Back in the den, I moved the brass ornament that concealed the keyhole on the bookcase, and unlocked the safe. I hadn’t opened the bookcase for almost a year. It moved stiffly away from the wall. Hanging on the back were my two handguns. Several boxes of ammo were stacked next to the speed loaders and magazines at the bottom of the hollow in the wall between the den and the upstairs bathroom. The shoulder holster hung next to the guns on the back of the bookcase.
Whittaker looked disappointed. He called the Suit with the camera to come up and take a few pics of the locker, then bagged both guns and ammo. He waved for me to close the safe, and headed downstairs. Still grinning, Sam followed him. I relocked the safe, and went downstairs, too, Tom walking behind me.
There was a brief dispute in progress about whether or not the Suits could legitimately take the floppies from my computer, followed by another dispute over the seizure of my guns and the katana. One of Whittaker’s flunkies wrote receipts for everything they had taken. The assembled Suits left the house, looking disappointed in unison. They piled into their nondescript sedans, and left in a huff.
After they had gone, I asked Tom. “What the HELL was all that about?”
Tom looked a bit sheepish. “Sorry, Bar. It wasn’t my idea.”
“I know that, Tom. I just want to know who I’m supposed to have killed.”
Tom looked me right in the eye. “Josh Burger.”
“Burger? When did that happen? What’s going on?” I asked. Sam was suspiciously quiet, so he must have heard something about it. I decided to try getting that out of him later.
“Last night, around eight. Someone popped him with what looks like a 30.06 round in the head as he was leaving his lawyer’s office.”
“What the hell was he doing out of jail? And why would anyone- let alone a weasel like that Whittaker- think that I did it?”
Tom said, “He was out on bond during the trial. As for why Whittaker has you in his sights, well…it looks like he was done at long range. The bullet went in above the left eyebrow, down through the skull, and came out through the neck below and behind the right ear. They still haven’t found the bullet. But the hole above the eyebrow is consistent with a 30.06.”
“I’m still waiting to hear how this ties in with me.”
“Bar, the nearest building where the shot could have come from, judging by where the body was found, was almost a thousand yards away. Whittaker read your file, and knows you used to be a dead shot with a rifle.”
“Sure. With a stabilized, special-built military sniper rifle, complete with recoil compensator and military-grade optics, I’m a fair shot. But there are probably dozens of people in the Corpus area with that kind of skill. Aside from the obvious, what would convince a judge to issue a warrant with circumstantial evidence that thin?”
Sam spoke up. “Bar, the police found a witness who gave a description and license plate number of a vehicle registered to you leaving the area about that time last night.”
I looked at both of them. “Which vehicle?” I asked, in what I hoped were normal tones.
Tom looked thoughtful. “That’s the part I can’t figure, Bar.” He said. “The plate and the description match- a red, ’97 Ford Taurus. ZGY 49L. And the plate and vehicle are registered to you, at this address.”
“WHAT?” I walked out the back door and looked in the garage. Silver Ford pickup, gray Chevy Sedan, Black Honda motorcycle. No Ford sedan.
Tom and Sam had followed me out. Tom looked uncomfortable. He said, “I checked already, Bar. No one has ever seen that car around here. I don’t know what’s going on, but the suits convinced a judge to issue a search warrant on the basis of motive and the witness statement.”
I was starting to get pissed off. Sam headed me off at the pass before I said anything.
“That’s all right, Tom.” He soothed. “You’re just doing your job. Let me ask you something. Do you think Bar did it?”
Tom looked me in the eyes and said, “No. If Bar was gonna ice Burger, he’d have done it imediately with his hands, not a gun.”
I relaxed. “Thanks, Tom.” I held out my hand and shook his. “This is just hitting me a little hard- and me with a hangover.” Tom grinned at me, and all was well with the world again.
Sam and Tom stayed a while longer, trying to see if I had a valid alibi. I didn’t really have one. I was home all night, alone. The Swensons- my neighbors across the street- had seen the lights go on around six. None of the cars had been driven last night, as far as any of the other neighbors knew. Tom went and made a few inquiries around the block, then went back to work. Sam said something about tearing a strip out of Whittaker’s hide, and left to see the judge who’d issued the warrant.
Brian Swenson came over to ask what was going on. Mrs. Garibaldi, from next door, also came over to join the festivities. I gave them the story in a few short words. Brian was thoughtful as he went back across the street, but Lisa Garibaldi was thrilled. “Wow!” she gushed. “A real, live murder investigation!” She scuttled back to her house down the street, obviously all aquiver with the anticipation of dialing up everyone she knew to tell them all about it. I went back in the house, and took a shower.
After about a half-hour of alternately scalding and freezing myself, I felt almost human again. I had shaved in the shower after my hands were up to it, so I was almost presentable. I still needed a haircut, but that could wait. I hadn’t worked out in weeks, but that could wait, too. I came out of the bathroom with the fixed intention of doing a lot of thinking and maybe straightening up the mess my life had become. I would start by cleaning up the house.
Current Status: Doped to the eyes
Current music: Breathe by Anna Nalick