by Gary Hoffman
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story!
“Boy, somebody beat the crap out of this guy, didn’t they?”
“You got that right.”
“Who found him?” Rick Jamison asked.
“Any idea when all this happened?”
“Well, someone left us a pretty good clue about that. Look at this guy’s watch. It’s toast now, but look when it stopped, eight last night. Date jives, too.”
“Any ID on him?”
“None. If he had any, it’s gone now. All I found was his glasses case lying under him. Apparently it came out in the struggle.”
“I can get some good prints off of him, if they’re in the system anywhere.”
Rick walked over to the man sitting on the barrel. “Hi, I’m Detective Jamison. And you are?”
“Got another other name, Rudy?”
“Ain’t used it in years, but it was Butterfield.”
“See anything besides the dead guy in here, Rudy?”
“Nobody else was in the alley when you came in?”
“Nope. Jist me. Trying to dive for some food. There’s a good restaurant dumpster out here.”
“So you come here often?”
“Most every day.”
“And the guy wasn’t there yesterday?”
“Nope. I think I’d a seen him if he was.”
Rick handed him his card. “Give me a call, would you please, if you think of anything else. There’s an 800 number there you can use free at any payphone.”
“That’s it then?”
Rudy jumped down from the barrel and headed away without another word.
Before he went to the station the next morning, Rick stopped by the Springfield Medical Examiner’s Office. “So, have you figured out who the dead guy was?”
“Nothing yet. We got a good set of prints, but no matches so far. We’re still looking into that. Otherwise, nothing. All of his clothing is pretty much off the rack stuff. Nothing special at all.”
“How about dental records?”
“Well, we can get a cast of his teeth, but that will only help us to positively identify him. Can’t do any matches that way.”
“Any idea about the weapon?’
“Probably a tire iron or maybe a piece of pipe. Something very strong and rounded.”
“Guess I’ll go see what the eye doc can tell me.”
The receptionist in Dr. Holman’s office was younger and prettier than Rick expected. “Let me run these through our machine to get the prescription. I’ll be able to tell you more then.” Rick sat and flipped through an outdated magazine while he waited. She came back much quicker than he expected, sat at her desk, and clicked a couple of keys in her computer. “This might be easier than I thought. See this writing on the inside of the frames? These are safety glasses.”
“First of all, we have to order these special. Second, we don’t do that many of them. Third, we sell these to people who have jobs where something may fly into their eyes.” She went back to her computer screen. “Actually, we sold three pair of these with the same prescription in the past two years. The prescription is fairly common, but the frames aren’t.”
“So you have a name for these three people?”
“And an address.” The printer behind her started buzzing. She ripped off the paper and handed it to Rick. “That help?”
Rick smiled at her. “Just made my day, darlin’!”
“Why you looking for this guy?”
“Actually, we have him. We’re just trying to figure out who he is.”
“And he wouldn’t tell you?”
“Oh, God. He’s dead?”
“Yep, sorry, but one of the three people on this list is no longer among us.”
By the time Rick got back to his office, his partner, Hank Robins, was there. Hank had called in sick the day before, but was now at his desk going through a stack of papers.
“Anything interesting?” Rick asked him.
“It’s just stuff they processed at the crime scene. Nothing looks promising.”
“Well, I have the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the three possible people who bought these glasses,” Rick said as he held them up. “I suggest we start by calling. Surely, someone has missed this guy by now.”
Hank laughed. “Well, you wanted to work this evening anyway.”
“Why? You think we should go visit them face to face?”
“If we have to give someone some bad news, might be better.”
Rick tossed his pen on the table. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” His pen hit the desk and took one bounce onto the floor. “Well, crap!”
Ronald Beck was the first person on their list. A woman answered the door. Both men identified themselves. “Well, what did the dumb shit do this time?” the woman said.
“Nothing that we know of, ma’am. We’re just trying to locate Ronald Beck. Is he here?”
“He’s at work. He works second shift at Silver Dollar City.”
“Was he here earlier today?”
“Yeah, before he went to work. He leaves the house about three.”
“Well, we tried to call earlier and got no answer.”
“He turns the phone off and lets the answering machine pick up so he can sleep.”
“And you weren’t here either?”
“I don’t get home until around five.”
“So you two don’t really see much of each other?”
She laughed. “Keeps the marriage tolerable.”
“So did you see him at all today?”
“Sure, when he got home. I was still awake. Got into reading a good book.”
“Well, thank you. That’s all we need to know.”
“You don’t want to talk to him?”
“No, ma’am. We just wanted to make sure he was ok.”
“Well, this is different,” she said and closed the door.
A man answered the door at the home of Emmett Lancaster. Again, both men identified themselves as police officers. “Are you Emmett Lancaster?”
“Yes, why? Is there a problem of some kind?”
“No, sir. Not anymore. We just needed to verify that you were okay.”
They went through the same basic routine at the home of Mark Riggs. They drove in silence until they were almost back to Hank’s house. “Well, got any hot ideas?” Rick asked.
“Maybe we’re really going in the wrong direction,” Hank said.
“Care to explain that?”
“Yeah, what if the glasses didn’t belong to the victim? What if they belonged to the murderer, and they fell out of his pocket during the scuffle?”
“If that’s true, we were talking to the perp tonight.”
“Right. I think we need to turn around and go see where these guys were two nights ago at eight o’clock.”
Rick made a quick illegal u-turn. “It’ll be easy to check on Ronald Beck. He was probably at work.”
“Probably is the key word here.”
Hank made a call while they were driving back to Emmett Lancaster’s house. “Ron Beck was at work.”
“Well, that narrows the field quite a bit.”
Emmett answered the door again. “Forget something, gentlemen?”
“Just another question.” Emmett stiffened up and took a step back from the door.
“And what might that be?”
“Where were you two nights ago about eight in the evening?”
Emmett looked relieved. “Let’s see. I was on a date.”
“This date have a name?”
“How about a phone number?”
“You use a charge card on this date?”
“Actually, I did. Want to see the receipt?”
Rick looked over the receipt. “Says here you paid the bill at nine-thirty. Where’d you go after that?”
“Took Doris home. We both had to work the next day.” He looked at each of them. “Anything else?”
“Just one more question,” Hank said. “Do you wear safety glasses where you work?”
“Do my glasses have something to do with all this? Surely that bastard Jake didn’t call the police because I haven’t had my safety glasses on the last few days. Come to think of it, that’s just a company policy. Why would the police care?”
“So what happened to your safety glasses?”
“I was fishing last weekend, and they fell out of my pocket into the lake. I just haven’t had time to get them replaced, yet.”
“Anybody go fishing with you?”
“Yeah, a friend of mine, Tony Fridlay.”
“Well, sorry to bother you again, Mr. Lancaster. We’ll be going now.”
They drove towards Mark Riggs’s house. “Well, what do you think?”
“Looks like he’s got a pretty tight alibi. I think we need to check on the glasses thing, though.”
Mark Riggs was married. His wife and mother who lived with them said he was at home at eight on the evening the guy was murdered in the alley. He also had his pair of safety glasses. “I could get fired for working without them,” he told them. “Actually, I keep two pair, just in case.” Apparently, Emmett didn’t care enough about his job to keep spares.
“Could we see the other pair?”
“Sure.” They were just a copy of the first pair.
Rick once again headed for Hank’s house. “Well, we’re about back to where we started.”
“Let me make a quick phone call,” Hank said. It was just over a minute when he hung up. “The gal says she was on a date with Emmett. He picked her up about seven and dropped her off around nine-thirty. They ate at Box Car Willy’s, in Branson.”
“Yeah? When he showed me that credit card receipt, I couldn’t figure out where the restaurant was. Never been there myself.”
“Looks like another dead end.”
“Well, all except for the dead guy. Somebody killed him. We’re over looking something.”
“Look at what we know. Two of these guys had their glasses. One didn’t. They all have pretty solid alibis. So it looks to me we need to zero in on the guy who doesn’t have his glasses, but I sure don’t know how.”
They called Tony Fridlay. He backed up Emmett’s story about fishing the past weekend, but didn’t recall an incident where Emmett lost his glasses. He also said maybe it happened, and Emmett just didn’t say anything, or didn’t realize it until they were gone.
Rick got a call from Tim Jarvis in forensics the next morning. “You checked over any of the reports from last night?”
“Haven’t had a chance, yet. Why?”
“Tow truck brought a car into impound last night. It had been parked in the same place for two days. Meter maid wrote two tickets on it. When she found it there the third day, she called and had it towed.”
“And where is all this leading?” Rick asked.
“The car was parked just outside the alley where the guy was beaten to death. Now it may not have been his car, but his prints were all over it. The plates are from Delaware. They are registered to Wayne Wolf. That may or may not be your Vic.”
Rick relayed the information to Hank. “Let’s start with some phone records. Let’s see if any one of these three guys knows anyone named Wayne Wolf.” A check of phone records only brought out one thing. There were several calls placed from area code 302, which was all of Delaware, to Emmett Lancaster.
They then backtracked calls made by Wayne Wolf. He had called Emmett’s number seventeen times in the last two weeks. Hank leaned back in his chair. “Okay, partner, now what do we know?”
“Just a connection. But he couldn’t have killed the guy if he was with his girlfriend at eight o’clock.”
“Ok, let’s say he wasn’t there. He has her in on the deal, and she goes there with someone else. Was his signature on that credit card receipt easy to read?”
“It was a scribble.”
“Let’s get a picture of him and go out to that restaurant tonight. See if anyone there remembers him.”
“Good idea,” Rick agreed.
They got some good pictures of Emmett when as he left work that evening at four-thirty. They were digital, so they printed them out at the office.
Everyone they showed them to at the restaurant not only recognized him but knew his name. They all agreed he was there on the night in question. He was a frequent patron at the restaurant. Another brick wall.
The next morning, Rick had a fax from the police in Delaware about Wayne Wolf. He had no record there, but was thought to be an enforcer for the mob. He had never even been arrested because there was never enough proof against him.
Rick looked over at Hank. “An enforcer? Maybe for gambling debts that were not being paid?”
“Let’s get a financial statement on Emmett Lancaster.”
The financial statement told them Emmett was broke. He had no money in the bank, no investments, and five credit cards that he apparently juggled once a month to keep one of them good. His landlord had filed an eviction notice against him last month. “Well, the guy’s in enough trouble to commit that kind of a savage murder. But how did he do it?” Rick asked Hank.
“Still no idea. Let’s go look at Wolf’s car.”
They spent almost two hours going through the car. t was telling them nothing. No clues of any kind were turning up. It was getting hot outside, so Hank started the car. He cranked on the air-conditioning. “Look at that,” he said to Rick. “The guy didn’t even bother to set his clock to Pacific time. It’s still set on Eastern time.”
They both stared at the clock. Rick spoke first. “Suppose he didn’t reset his wrist watch? That would put the murder at … er … five, not eight. Just in time for Emmett to get off work and meet him in the alley.”
After a few hours grilling, Emmett Lancaster confessed to killing the man who had come to California to kill him because he couldn’t pay his gambling debts.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.