The Gremlin of Guesswork, Part Three

Story begins Here.

May, 1984

Detectives Hunt and Bayonne and Medical Examiner Schaefer sat in silence until their breakfast arrived. Once they’d chewed a few mouthfuls of greasy sustenance, the conversation resumed. Hunt and Schaeffer, who’d known each other over ten years, discussed a case years before. A young boy had been found in an abandoned refrigerator in a lot in SOCCs, a lot the neighborhood used as a garbage dump. Hunt had investigated the case and tracked the boy’s movements only to discover he’d been playing hide and seek with his friends. The city cleaned up the lot after the incident, which more than a few considered too little too late. 

Hunt remembered a man who’d been electrocuted, but the shock sent him across the room into the wall. They’d initially thought it was a struggle until they saw the burn marks on his hand and pieced it together. 

Bayonne listened to the stories with fascination. He’d never considered the need to investigate accidents. When he’d transferred from narcotics, he’d understood homicide as a calling, a way to seek justice in a police force in a city where criminals found shelter within a corrupt system. Murder was the big-ticket item, the stat nobody could juke. Bodies couldn’t be ignored. Death required attention, but apparently, it didn’t always require murder.

Hunt spoke with his mouth full of jellied toast. “Do you remember the strangled stranger?”

“That was an odd case.” Schaeffer chuckled and turned to Bayonne. “A guy broke into a stranger’s apartment and hung himself from the curtain rod in the bathroom. The curtain rod broke, obviously, and the guy cracks his head on the sink, fracturing his skull. This was a big guy, so the impact breaks the sink and water starts shooting out of the bent pipe. Once we did the autopsy, we learned the guy drowned in the water and blood that pooled on the floor too quickly to seep under the bathroom door. When water leaked through the ceiling, the downstairs neighbor called the landlord. The tenant came home to a flooded home, police in her soaked living room, and a stranger with a belt around his neck lying in a pool of bloody water beneath a shattered sink. How do you explain that?”

Hunt and Schaeffer laughed with their mouths full, and Bayonne glanced around at the café’s regulars who had watched their neighbor’s corpse carted away in the back of an ambulance. They’d seen police cars light up their street and listened to the vagaries of death at the breakfast table.

Hunt and Schaefer’s laughter gave way to a stillness. Bacon sizzled and the air conditioning unit kicked on. The scraping of silverware against plates scratched the surface of a shared anxiety, a universal discomfort with the inevitable. Their waitress kept one eye on them as she tallied bills behind the counter, and the other two waitresses whispered near the cash register. Only a burly line cook stared openly at the three city employees, and he had the look of a man who used the phrase “good enough for government work.” 

The bell above the diner’s door rang, and Officer Warren stepped into the tension. He nodded to the room, the occupants of which stared at him as though he rode a pale horse, and when he saw Hunt and Schaefer, he plowed through the anxiety toward their table.

Warren stood at the edge of the table and acknowledged Schaefer and the detectives. “We spoke with everyone in the building. Nobody knew her well, but the neighbor in five said she didn’t have a boyfriend. She’d been seeing a young man, but he hadn’t been around in a couple months. Girlfriends picked her up on occasion, but she’d been home last night. He’d heard her music until after midnight, and when he took his dog out around ten, he thought he heard her speaking on the phone. She worked at a law firm downtown, Pepper, Pepper, and Bayleaf.”

Schaefer winked at Bayonne. “Do you know what time she usually left for work?”

“Usually about six thirty.”

Bayonne looked Hunt in the eyes. “She was on her way to work.”

“Rushing and tripped is my best guess.” Hunt nodded. “Thank you, Officer Warren.”

Warren nodded, closed his notebook, and walked out of the diner.

Bayonne asked, “How did you know?”

“I left my expectations at home. I took in what I saw, listened to what the scene had to tell me.”

Schaefer drank the last of his coffee, swallowed, and said, “Hunt is right. He’s as good a detective as I’ve ever met. Let the scene tell you its secrets, not the other way around. I hate to tell you this, but you’ll get used to death. You stay at this job long enough, and your life will become about death. That suits guys like us, but if you’re looking for meaning, you won’t find it here.”

Bayonne stared out the window for a few beats, considering what the men had told him.

“Are you finished?”

The three men turned to see that their waitress had taken the patrolman’s place. She laid their check on the edge of the table.

“Stacy was good people. She lit up the place when she came in.” The waitress, whose name tag christened her Joy, of which she showed no signs, held a hand to her mouth a moment before continuing. “Please respect her memory.”

Joy turned and walked away. 

The line cook glared across the food warmer, his mouth rotating as though chewing a bitterness too tough to swallow.

Hunt cleared his throat. “I’ll leave a big tip.”

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