by Joel Fox
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
“The murder weapon,” the police officer said, holding the limp snake in his hands. The snake had repeating bands of red and yellow down the three-foot length of its body. The snake’s head was crushed and nearly flat.
“Coral snake,” the detective said looking up from the body. “Found it behind those beer crates over there in the corner of the office.”
The detective looked over at the two beer boxes in the corner of the small office off the rear entrance to the Irish Rose Pub.
“Can’t be dead,” said Eddie Bailey, co-owner of the Pub as he rushed into the office. He looked from his partner’s body on the floor to the detective leaning over the body. “Not on St. Pat’s Day.”
The detective examined the puncture marks on the neck of the victim. Then he stood and examined the snake more closely. “Ever see it before?” he asked Bailey
“How in blazes did a bloody creature like that get into a pub in the middle of Santa Monica?”
“Somebody brought it in,” said the detective.
“We discover that, Mr. Bailey, we’ll know who killed your partner.”
“We know who killed him,” said Bailey. “The snake killed him. He wasn’t murdered. Somehow the snake got in and bit him.”
A short waitress wearing a short skirt brought in a short glass filled to the top with whiskey and handed it to Bailey. He downed the drink in two gulps.
“Some breakfast,” the uniformed cop said.
Bailey handed the glass back to the waitress. “Thanks. Get one for the detective and the officer here.”
“On duty,” the detective said with a shake of his head.
“Can you please put that killer snake down,” Bailey said, his eyes wide.
“How can you be so certain the snake killed him?” the detective asked.
“I see the snakebite. Look at that snake. I remember the old saying from when I was a kid. How to identify the venomous coral snakes from the other kinds–red on yellow, killer fellow; red on black, safe from attack. This one’s a killer.”
“You know your snakes,” the detective said.
The waitress gave a little shiver and started to walk away but the detective called after her. When she turned he read her name tag. “Lisa, did you see Mr. Carlyle earlier today?”
“Just when I came to work and found his body lying there, then I called you boys. But he would’ve been here opening up early. Making sure we was stocked to the gills. Busiest day of the year at an Irish Pub, St. Patty’s Day.”
“Which is why you got to wrap this up so we can clean up before the afternoon rush starts,” Bailey said.
“This is your partner dead here,” the detective said, pointing at Carlyle’s body.
“Well, of course. Sure. We was partners. But he was a businessman. He’d understand,” said Bailey. “Got to do the business when we can.”
“Business is going to have to wait until our investigation is finished,” said the detective.
“We could lose the whole day!” said Bailey. “Can’t afford to lose the day, Not St. Patrick’s Day, know what I’m sayin’. Please detective. Pretty clear what happened here.”
“Kind of ironic,” the uniformed officer chimed in. “Snake as the killer on St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick chased all the snakes from Ireland.”
The detective looked at the uniformed cop and gave a nod. “Coroner on the way?”
The cop said, “On the way. Told me to tell you a coral snake toxin paralyzes the breathing muscles. Respiratory failure occurs within hours.”
The detective turned to Bailey and said, “Mr. Carlyle have any enemies?”
“Yeah, he had one,” Bailey snapped. “That damn snake!”
Everyone in the room reacted to Bailey’s harsh tone. The detective squared his shoulders and placed his hands on his hips and gave Bailey a hard look. Lisa, the waitress, jerked her head back and fluttered her hand toward Bailey. The detective noticed. He watched a disapproving look cloud Lisa’s eyes.
“Sorry. Distraught. Partner dead. Biggest money day of the year. The business hanging on by a thread. We need a strong showing today.” Pointing at the snake still cradled by the cop, Bailey continued, “Pretty clear what happened like I said. The snake surprised Ben, bit him and tried to slither away. Ben got him and pounded his head to pulp with a shoe or something but then the poison got him. Pretty clear, huh?”
“Could be,” said the detective. “Mr. Carlyle usually take a shot in the morning?” The detective pointed to a dirty shot glass on the desk.
Bailey shrugged. Lisa shrugged. The detective slipped on a protective glove and picked up the shot glass. “What’s his drink?”
Bailey shrugged. Lisa shrugged. The detective sniffed at the glass and pulled away quickly. “Strange smell. Not all alcohol.”
He held the glass out toward Bailey who stepped back. The detective swung around to face the waitress. She stepped away, too. The detective put the glass down. He motioned to the cop to put the dead snake down. Free his hands. The cop complied.
“Can we start getting ready to open now? We’ll stay out of the back office here, just work the bar,” Bailey said.
“You know snakes,” the detective responded.
Bailey froze. He looked at the waitress; her tell tale eyes reflected fear.
“The story my officer told about St. Patrick. That he chased the snakes from Ireland. Actually, there were no snakes in Ireland before St. Patrick got there. Did you know that?” The question was directed at Bailey. “Had something to do with glaciers, the scientists say.”
“Yeah, that so? Interesting.”
The detective pointed to the shot glass. “St. Patrick got credit for getting rid of the snakes but there were no snakes. This poor fellow, this coral snake, gets credit for murder but he couldn’t have killed what was already dead.”
Nobody said a word.
“No questions?” The detective said lifting his eyebrows in mock surprise. “Course, you wouldn’t have questions if you already knew. Whatever was added to Mr. Carlyle’s morning drink did him in. I imagine the coroner will find the concoction paralyzed the breathing muscles, same effect as the snake poison.”
“Crazy,” Bailey said. His lips trembled as he tried to say more. Finally, he managed, “It was the snake. You see the holes on the neck.”
“I do. I wondered how the snake got to Mr. Carlyle’s neck. No high shelf to drop from. No wings on the critter.”
“Well … ” Bailey stopped. Started again. “Carlyle was taking a nap. Or maybe he fell and the snake got him.”
“Or maybe the fangs were pushed into the neck after he was already dead. No blood at the puncture holes, not even a trickle. Someone who knows snakes should have figured that.”
Bailey began working his hands together as if he were fashioning a lump of clay. “No. No. You see …” He paused. Stared at the waitress. Then in a high pitched voice he hollered, “She doctored the drink!”
“You idiot!” the waitress screamed. “He wanted to dump you from the business, but you knew snakes. You were going to save the business for you. For us.”
The detective motioned to the cop who removed a pair of hand cuffs from his utility belt.
“St. Patrick will still be known for getting rid of the snakes, but we won’t be falsely accusing this poor snake with murder.”
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