Monday, February 23, 2009

Who Killed the Newspaper?
A Detective Story

My captain called me at the bar where I nursed a bourbon and thought of getting out of the cop business.

“Got a case for you,” he said. “Get to the hospital.”

“Not the morgue?”

“Not yet.”

The victim lay unconscious in a hospital bed. She was oatmeal gray and bruised like an old banana. Murphy looked down at his notepad. “Age unknown. Multiple blows to the head and body. No witnesses.” He closed his pad. Murphy was never one for small talk.

Someone, maybe a nurse, had tried a little blush on the gray lady’s face to liven her up. Maybe she’d been pretty years ago, but the color made her garish and sad.

Years of detective work had taught me to check out family first. Murphy cut me off. “No husband or boyfriend,” he said. “She does have a crazy uncle who plays music and talks to himself, full of conspiracy theories and such.”

I knew the guy. He couldn’t shoot himself with a loaded gun.

“And she has a niece,” Murphy added. “Maybe you’ve seen her – too much makeup, kinda loud and full of herself. Supposedly she called the victim every morning to find out what she was supposed to say that day. Pretty, but not too bright.”

I knew the type.

Neither had alibis, but my gut told me to look elsewhere.

Yeah, I knew the old lady. She’s a tough old broad who’d been whacked around for years and still she got up for more. The doc said she might last the night. Maybe. But when I asked him if she’d ever fully recover, he just shook his head.

I headed out the door. There was another family member, one Murphy didn’t know about.

The kid, they call him. I’d seen him hanging around wearing these stupid goggles and sucking Mountain Dew. Works people, a real connector. You looking to buy? He’ll find a seller. Need companionship? He can help. He did it all, this guy, services others used to do, but he does it for less. But I didn’t think he was my guy. He might have handed someone the baseball bat, but he didn’t swing. Not his style. Mostly he just put people together, skimmed a little off the top, and moved on to the next big thing.

I had a bigger someone else in mind.

Problem was, investigating The Fat Man was dangerous business. He had cops on the payroll, and word was even the chief got a weekly overstuffed envelope with his morning latte. He’d tried a few times to reel me in, but I always found a way to wriggle free. I’m either lucky or stupid that way.

So someone had bashed the old lady enough times that it finally mattered. Motive and opportunity, that’s the detective mantra, and plenty had motive. Politicians around the city never liked her much, but she always held her own with those sleazeballs. Some local business types, they sat around their chamber and complained, but kill someone? Bad for business, plus they didn’t have the guts.

No, only The Fat Man fit the profile.

I worked my snitches until one finally spilled that The Fat Man had mishandled the old lady’s finances to the point where even he found himself in debt to the wrong people. You know the kind. Late with a payment? We’ll take a finger to remind you of your debt obligations.

The Fat Man kept a place downtown, off Wall Street. The guy had his own obligations to people he owed money and to those grown comfortable by being on his dole. Everyone expects their 20 percent of the action and The Fat Man always found ways to provide it. Word was he’d put a lot of people down along the way, left them hurting, all to service debts he never should have rang up in the first place.

Maybe the old lady finally said no to him. Or more likely he figures he can kill her off, press his case for any insurance money, sell off her belongings.

So I headed downtown.

When I got there, the place was buzzing with fire fighters, flames shooting out of his fancy office. The place smelled like burned paper.

Murphy leaned against a wall, scribbling in his pad. He looked up at me. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “that the bad guy got what he deserved.”

That’s how stories are supposed to end. Too bad they never do.

Turned out The Fat Man sucked all he could out of the old lady, took his cash overseas to a country club in China or India.

The fire?

Murphy shrugged and tossed a match to the pavement.

“Sometimes people just need a good show.”

1 comment:

Simon said...

Dr. Hollander! Hard-boiled detectives and the quandary of print news in one place! I am definitely going to blogroll this site and check in for links on stuff we should be looking at for our research studio.

Thanks again for letting me visit your class; be well!