Chapter 1: The Suit Doesn’t Make the Man

 

Roused from the Slumber
A Charlie Hyde Adventure

 

by R.D. Kenney

Chapter 1: The Suit Doesn’t Make the Man

It’s Wednesday almost Thursday. A lonely, gypsy-cat whines out to a distant moon, making the rats all hold their breath for a moment to pray to whatever rat-god keeps cats away. This time of the night stalkers and sculkers, both try to stay in the shadows. We like to pretend that they are not there, and they like to have us think that too. Strung-up traffic lights bounce up and down on the main street in the slow but steady rhythm of the night, reaching their fingers into the fog, little lighthouses promising safety to a seemingly empty sea. And down on the east end of town, in a place where all the bulbs were broken long ago, one of the stalkers is depositing a grizzly message. A message I would get the very next day.

You know those times when you wake up and you can’t remember the dream but your mind is still holding onto the tail of the tiger. That’s how it was when I sat up and looked out the window. I believe in premonitions. This city is like the soup of the day at a cheap dinner: looks alright on the surface, but dig around a little and you find things that make you want to throw up. They say that you should take things as they are and stick to the bright side, but that’s a sheep’s game. Sometimes you need someone who’s willing to stick his hand into that sludge and pull that bit of rancid meat out into the light and throw it into the trash where it belongs. That’s what I do. I say to myself that if I keep pulling out the filth, that someday we’ll all be left with a wholesome, healthy bowl of soup that we can all enjoy, and somedays I believe it.  But even if God Himself came down to me and said, “Chuckle, old boy, quit your toiling. You’re just wasting away the life I gave ya just a’pissing in the wind,” I wouldn’t stop. I’m not the man to stop when the wind blows against him. My name is Charlie Hyde.

It was March and there was still snow on the veins of ground bulging out from the yellow grass and an icy crust clinging to the shores of Goose-Hawk Lake, and we were all ready to welcome the spring that would put an end to the season we’d been sick of since December. The morning had been an uneventful one, but the whole time I’d felt an icy hand on my shoulder.

I sat in my booth at the Fat Frog Café having my afternoon flapjacks. Hearing the familiar, sweet chorus of “Burning Ring of Fire” coming from my jacket pocket, I pulled my phone and put it to my ear.

“Hyde” I said, and a familiar voice replied.

“Afternoon, Charlie. You’re gonna wanna get down here. I think we found the fella you’ve been looking for.”

“What’s his condition?”

“Dead, I’m afraid.”

A flash came to me that might have been from my dream. “Damn, this must be it.” I muttered. Maybe it wasn’t murder, but I knew that it was. “Alright then, well, where are ya?”

“You know that old factory out on Buckman Road?  Better get out here quick. We’ll wait for ya before we call it in.”

“Be out there as soon as I can, Fred. You just hold down the fort ‘till I get there and don’t touch anything.”

“Righty-o, haus, but get here as soon as you can because the chief has been…” But I hung up before he had finished because Lilly-Ann was on her way over with my coffee.

“Howdy, Sugar-Bear” She said, saucily, setting the mug down on the table and twisting it so that the handle faced me. “Up to any mischief today?”

“I’d like to say no, but my mama taught me not to lie.”

“Didn’t your mama tell you to stay out of trouble too?”

“Now, why would she say a silly thing like that?”

 

****

 

The old Jacobson warehouse had been abandoned for at least a decade. It used to be a turkey slaughtering facility, but all that remained was a rotting hulk of a building, home to vagrants and raccoons, maybe both lured there by the smell of better days.

The parking lot was a ruined landscape of cracks and craters as if the world below was trying to punch its way back to the daylight. A little ways off from the factory, at the far end of the lot, near the rusted out dumpsters, two men stood, about ten feet apart, side by side, facing away from the building. They stood like cowboys at high noon, feet wide, arms like cup handles, and fingers dancing. Almost in unison they drew their revolvers and fired at a dumpster, or rather at a can and a bottle perched atop the rusted, green wreck.

The bottle and the can rocked only slightly as one of the bullets passed through the weary old metal below. While the two stood there laughing and pointing I pulled up a short distance behind them and waited. Again, they squared off. This time I was close enough to hear the signal. “Draw!” Fred said, and at the signal I pressed down on the horn.

Fred had barely unholstered his gun when it went off, nearly blowing a hole in his foot, but his luck hadn’t run out yet. Timmy fell sideways at an angle, and when his gun went off it was pointing only a nat’s eye away from the tip of Fred’s nose.

“You boys are quicker than a Jack Rab.” I smiled shutting the door behind me.

The horrors of this world were not meant for the likes of Fred Byrnes, and he vomited when he realised how close he had just been to the business end of a bullet. His daddy had been blown to bits by a disturbed mall Santa Clause in ’68 when Freddy was a mere eight years old, and if the vengeance code of his family did not dictate that he take up his father’s badge, I reckon Fred woulda been called to preaching. Though even that might have been a bit much for him.  Ah well, each man has his Daddy to thank for his path. And Little Timothy McFaydon? Well, he looked as if he were about to wet himself.

Since they both seemed a bit rattled, I took on an appreciative, paternal tone to help them get through this traumatic situation. “Thanks for the call, boys, just tell me what you know.”

A voice came from behind me from a man who’d come out from the building. “I don’t why you called him. We shoulda called the chief.” Leroy Madigan said, but lowered his eyes when I turned on him.

The nicest thing I can say about Maddigan was that he is understandable. A year back, the Ponderosa New Years’ Eve, his wife asked me for a dance, and it is rude to leave a lady unobliged. Ever since then, as I hear from Lilly-Ann, he hasn’t had a wink of sleep without hearin’ about my light feet. Don’t let anyone ever tell you it’s not dangerous being a good dancer.

“We’ll call him soon,” I said as I pat him on the back, “just give me the details.”

“We got a call in from a hooker that says she brought some Bo up here and found a dead body.” McFaydon choked, “Didn’t want to give her name, but didn’t have any problem relating most of her life story. She was from a Christian family, so felt compelled to report.”

Don’t really know what it’s like in the bigger cities, but out here hookers are the fruit flies of our society. They don’t come from shit like other flies but rise up from the wholesome fruit bowls at our own tables…well, some of ‘em come from shit too, I suppose.

“Let’s see him.” I said with the snap of my blue gloves.

They brought me up a metal staircase to the loft.  Twisted in the corner behind a heap of old boxes and other refuse, I saw him.

Eyes wide open. Left leg twisted up, probably broken. I knelt-down beside the body. Checked the pulse (it’s funny how few detectives do that, many a murder case has been birthed out of negligence). The bluish-grey hue of the skin along with the smell was a good indicator that death had indeed occurred a good while ago, but I like to demonstrate good procedure in front of the boys even when it is unnecessary.

“Funny ear lobes…” I breathed as I snapped off my gloves.

“What’s that?” Fred eagerly whispered, wanting to help if he could.

“It’s not him.”

The cops looked as though I’d told ‘em 7/11 was no longer open 24 hours. It was his clothes. But it wasn’t my man.

From my pocket, I pulled the flyer I had snagged from the Church bulletin.

The words “MISSING: Tony Ghirardelli. 19. Last seen wearing a blue jump suit” were below a black and white photo of a goofy looking kid with David Bowie  hair.

“Look here. Ghirardelli has blue eyes. This man has brown.” I do not relish other men’s mistakes, but shame is essential in the learning process. As Fred held the flyer and blushed, I looked at my gloves to save him the burden of my gaze, but still made a frustrated clicking sound with my tongue.

“But… it’s the same suit?” Madigan scratched his head.

“You are correct. It’s the same exact suit. But we’re not looking for a suit, we’re looking for a man, and this ain’t the one. Let’s take a closer look here.”

Dark coloration around the throat, wrists, and mouth, as suspected. Mouth, normal, wasn’t choked. Bit of foam at the right edge of the mouth. Small bits of what look like grass cuttings and mulched leaves in the hair. Leave all that for the lab. Wo! Here we go. Large slashes all across the abdomen and chest. Take a picture of that.  No blood on the clothes. Groin area: left unexamined. No wallet, but…hello – what’s this?

I held the small rectangle to my face. Made of dark shiny wood, the thing was just over an inch long and maybe half of that wide. One side was smooth and polished. The other was engraved and painted. Three strange symbols formed a triangle around the image of an arm emerging from a cloud, holding a club with the leaves still on it.

“What is that?” Teddy said.

I did not take my eyes off the piece as I told him to go get the camera, and continued examining it until he returned from the squad. “Here. Just get my hand and the pocket.” The camera clicked. I took a quarter from my pocket and laid it and the piece side by side on the floor. “And that. Good. Now, let’s have a bag.”

Turning back to the men, I could see they were all at a loss. “Alright.” I said, putting the evidence bag in my pocket, “Now, Fred, I need you to…” but I was interrupted.

“What do you think you’re doing? You can’t take that.” Maddigan felt the righteous wings of the law on his back, and spoke with an unhealthy amount of conviction. Fred and Teddy held their breath and took a step back, but I just stared at my man, this little man who had forgotten how small he was.

“I can’t let you take that. That’s evidence.” The wings were melting. He looked at his colleagues, but they both were examining the polish on their shoes. But I kept my eyes on my man.

“You, you, can’t take that. We gotta bring that in. That’s, that’s our job. We gotta bring that in.” I let him think for about a minute. You see, you always need to be careful about how you shame someone in public. These were his colleagues. He had to work with these two other men, and I did not want to create a hierarchy among them by putting him in a place below them. Why? Think about it. Every day, he’d be laughed at and abused. These other two would harass this poor man to abstraction, and the last thing I wanted was having one of these muppets trying to think in abstractions. Never disrupt a hierarchy when you can help it. That’s a good rule to live by. Whenever the order is disrupted there is a period of chaos when anything can happen.

“Maddigan, one attribute of a great man is the ability to choose battles well.” I said this slow. “Let this be your lesson of the day.”

I let the silence stick around a little bit before I picked up where I left off. “You two” I said pointing to Fred and Ted, “after this is cleaned up, I want you looking for a car. Check the gas stations all around town for the footage from last night, then start a door to door of the area. Maddigan, you find me this lady of the night. I have some questions for her.”

“You think the hooker did it?” Leroy objected in a tone that did not reflect the appreciation he should have felt after our last interchange.

“No. Hooker didn’t do it. She probably wasn’t here when the body was dropped neither.”

“Well why are you asking me to find some bimbo when we’ve got a murder on our hands.”

He was questioning my method not my authority, so my response was incorporative. “Well, let’s have a look around us, Leroy.” Palms upwards, my hands parted inviting a consideration of our surroundings. “What do you see?”

“Bunch of shit.” He said without looking much.

“That’s right, Leroy, but not just shit, though indeed there must be a lot of animals living in here. We got broken bottles and nails, and all sorts of other things. Now, what sort of a John wants to add tetanus and rabies to the lists of things he’s worried about catching in the consummation of his new relationship? Or do you think she pick this little love nest out? And then ask yourself, why did she come all the way up here. You can’t see the body from down there, can ya? No. This is a big place. It’s cleaner downstairs than it is up here. So, why did they come up here, Leroy?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s just it. Neither do I. Now, who can tell us why, Leroy?”

“The hooker.”

“Well, there you go.” It sickens me to talk to people like this. But I didn’t make this world, I just try to make sure it doesn’t fall apart.

The three officers stood beside my car as I got in, just in case I had any extra instructions, and I did. “Listen up. Whoever does the crime scene, you tell them to put down that a small wooden piece was found in the pocket. You’re gonna have it back in evidence before sunup tomorrow. Keep me posted if you find out anything, but don’t call me unless it’s important.” By this time the car was running. I shifted gears but then the most important thing. “Oh, and when you find out who our sweet, little witness is, you don’t talk to her. You just pass her name on to me, hear?” They all nodded, and I drove off as they called in the station to report the crime.

I drove straight through town and got onto the highway. No one around here could tell me what the little piece of wood meant, and it was that small piece, more than anything else, troubled me. It could mean nothing, and if it was, the rest could be explained away without much trouble.

Go to Chapter 2: Wendall