Today's piece was actually from a suggestion by Joëlle Jones. I texted and asked what it should be about, and she wrote back, "CSI noir." The result is not exactly that, but it got the ball rolling.
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The rain stopped at just after 3 a.m. at nearly the exact moment when Police Detective Tynan’s shoe leather met the pavement at the crime scene. The deluge had been going on for nearly eight hours. It brought a body with it.
The victim was facedown on the pavement, his body bent at odd angles. White male, late 20s, dark hair. Judging by the position of his head, Tynan ascertained that his neck was broken. Likewise the bones in his limbs, as all four went in different directions, including ones that weren’t natural. Exposed flesh appeared bruised. His suit was a cheap knock-off, but tailored to look more expensive. It was soaked through, and judging by some of the darker stains, not just with water.
No one had touched the body yet. They had waited for Tynan to make the scene. The beat cop who had found the corpse and called it in was standing with his superior, waiting for a pat on the back most likely. Tynan chewed a toothpick, as was his wont. The tang of the wood was so familiar now, it stayed on his tongue even when he was between sticks. It helped him think. Sycophantic rookies with a need for praise just for doing their basic duty did not.
“I’m guessing he was thrown from up there.” The beat cop pointed at a fire-escape landing several stories up, attached to a brick sweatshop where they made and housed the kind of clothing the dead man wore. It was probably just a coincidence.
“Not likely,” Tynan said.
“You think he came from higher? Or like from the roof or a window?”
“None of the above.”
The rookie was confused. “But he’s dead from a fall, ain’t he?”
Tynan crouched over the body. “Uh-huh. He just didn’t fall in this spot.”
“How you mean? He’s there, ain’t he?”
“Sure. But where’s the blood? A drop like that...a body is like a big bag of goo. This poor schlemiel gets tossed from a height of that kind, he’s gonna pop and there’s gonna be nastiness all over the stone. Don’t let the puddles fool you. He’s just sucking up rain water. He bled all over some other street.”
There was a flash of light on Tynan’s periphery, to his right, and an audible pop.
A photog’ took the bulb out of his camera housing and replaced it with another. He lifted his gear to his eye, moving to snap another shot. All he got was the police detective’s hand.
“You don’t want to do that, Watson.”
“Gimme a break, Tynan. You’re not usually one to strongarm the press.”
“It’s not like that, fella. I’m just looking out for you. This case might strike you different.”
“Where’s your pencil pusher tonight?”
“Joplin? Not sure. I’m on this solo for the moment.”
Tynan bent back over the body. “I know where he is,” he said, “but I’d really like to know where he’s been.”
The detective gripped the dead man’s hair and lifted his head, showing the broken and bloodied face to Watson. Even swollen, Tynan could see who the corpse had been, and he knew the photog’ would, too.
“Oh, Jesus.” Watson’s complexion turned white, and then green. “What happened?”
Tynan stood again. He slapped his hands together, wiping off the rainwater and hair that stuck to his palms. “Right now, your guess may be as good as mine. Was Joplin working a story?”
“What was it? Did he tell you where he was going tonight?”
Watson choked back some vomit and turned away from his colleague’s mangled frame. “Believe it or not, he was interviewing an actor. Clark Flint.”
Tynan was looking over the particulars of the body, checking the pockets for any evidence. A matchbook, a stub from a hat check, a handkerchief with long red hairs on it. Tiny bits of glass were stuck into the cloth of his suit and pants. “Why was a crime reporter talking to some Hollywood gadabout?”
“He had gotten word that Flint was the hub for distributing drugs to his movie buddies. Jazz cigarettes, morphine, that kind of stuff. Flint was doing the rounds for that new flicker of his, the one where he plays a Canadian mountie. Joplin talked the gal who normally does this stuff into letting him take point this time around. Sold her a story about being a big fan of Flint’s pirate movies.”
The matchbook was for a swank hotel downtown. Tynan didn’t need three guesses where Flint had been staying.
The night clerk told Tynan that Flint had a wake-up call for 7 a.m. Tynan told him to cancel it. Unless he hadn’t come back out. If that were the case, call the desk sergeant at the precinct and wake him up instead.
Clark Flint was a B-list actor who had one major success in a World War I picture where he played a reformed coward who makes good in No Man’s Land. His other movies were largely action pieces, and he was said to do his own stunts. Lots of jumping around in funny costumes from what the police detective had seen, but he liked the movies fine enough. They were certainly better off-duty distractions than all the weepy dramas and brother-can-you-spare-a-dime hoo-ha that was popular these days. Tynan actually preferred westerns, but Flint had only been in a couple of cavalry pictures. He hadn’t made any true cowboy movies.
Tynan’s theories about maybe the actor knocking the reporter out of his hotel window after Joplin pushed a few too many touchy questions quickly evaporated when he found out Flint wasn’t staying in the hotel proper. Instead, he was in one of the high-price private bungalows out back, on the other side of the pool. The swimming hole had overflowed due to the rain. It caused such a mess, a pair of janitors were out there at this hour with brooms pushing the excess up and down the sidewalk, cleaning up any post-storm debris.
When Tynan got to the bungalow, the lights were on. He wasn’t waking up Flint at all. The beat cop had come along, and the ranking officer told him to take a position out of sight before he knocked on the door. The actor came out in a bathrobe, smoking a cigarette. Tynan showed him his badge. “You the house detective?” Flint asked. “Because it’s not me that’s been making that noise. Chaplin’s got his floozy in the bungalow next door. She throws hissies like clockwork.”
“Look again,” Tynan said, pushing his tin star closer. “That’s city, not private.”
Flint’s eyes got wide, making it clearer to Tynan how much smaller his pupils were by comparison. “Who did she wake up to get you down here?”
“No one. Now, you mind if I come in?” Tynan pushed past the actor without waiting for an answer. The room was disheveled, but nothing to indicate violence. All chairs were upright and in one piece. The mess was mainly empty glasses, towels, some wet bathing suits on the floor. There was a blonde boy with tan skin asleep on his stomach on the couch. He was naked. A strategically placed pillow covered his rear. Flint was probably nude under the robe. “You and your friend been swimming in this storm?”
“You’d be surprised how freeing it is. Water above and below.”
“It’ s a good way to get struck by lightning. Cooked goose for Christmas.”
Flint crossed to the table in the center of the room and took a cigarette out of a gold case. It looked normal enough, and when he lit it, the smell confirmed for Tynan that it was just tobacco. “I’m sorry,” Flint said. “Why are you here again?”
“You have a reporter over here to your rabbit warren earlier tonight?”
“So you didn’t get interviewed for that mountie movie?”
“I didn’t say that. I did meet with a newspaper guy, but not in my bungalow. We met in the hotel nightclub.”
Theories were solidifying again. “The one on the top floor of the hotel?”
“That’s the one.”
“Anyone see you there?”
“Everyone saw me there. I don’t go out to places like that unnoticed.”
“When was that?”
“He showed up around 10:00.”
“And when he left, was it through a door?”
“It’s simple, Flint. Was he walking on his own two feet or was he flying?”
“Whoa, hang on,” Flint said. “Did something happen?”
Tynan got up in his face. The actor had a good three inches on him, but Tynan had enough experience to use that to his advantage. You get under a taller man’s vision, make him back up. The point of his toothpick nearly poked Flint in the chin--which did not go unnoticed.
“What about you, thespian? Were you flying?”
Flint laughed. He flapped his arms up and down. “These are just flesh, inspector. No feathers.”
“You’re flying now, and we both know it. I bet if I get a doctor down here, he’ll tell me your plaything on the couch is packed with dope, too, that he’s not sleeping the sleep of the just over there. He got an ID to prove he’s even legal?”
“Let’s not get hasty. We can make arrangements--”
“Save it for the papers. Because if Joplin was right about you, and you did to him what I think you did, they’re going to have a lot to write up.”
Panic was setting in. “Now wait. I’m going to cooperate with you, but you have to believe me, I left that scribe up top as soon as he started making accusations, and he was alive and enjoying his cups when I did.”
“On the level, was he right about you? You dealing narco?”
“I just pick up for others, I don’t up-sell. I swear.”
Tynan studied the man’s face. He was stoned, but not so stoned that he was dumb enough to lie. He had gauged the temperature of the hot water he was in and decided not to drown. The cop pat the actor on his cheek, and then he crossed back to the door. He opened it up and whistled for the rookie.
The uniformed officer came over to the entrance. Tynan put a hand on his shoulder and positioned him so he was visible through the opening. He pointed at Flint. “Recognize that fellow?” he asked, but then stopped his junior before he could answer. “Doesn’t matter. Memorize that face. If you see it try to leave, shoot it.”
“But my shift--”
“Is over when I tell you that you can go home. Capiche?”
Dawn was approaching and the sky was growing lighter as storm clouds parted. Tynan passed one of the janitors--a black man--and noticed he was rinsing his push broom. The runoff from the bristles was red.
“What do you have there?”
“Someone made a real mess out here,” he said. “I don’t know what it was. Glass and somesuch. Like they spilled a case of wine or something.”
More theories flashed in Tynan’s mind. “Stop what you’re doing!” he said. He showed his badge. “That broom is police evidence now.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with whatever it was.” The janitor looked scared.
“I know, pal. Don’t worry. Just hold on to that for me, don’t wash it anymore. Put a bag over it if you can and wait for me right here. I’ll square whatever time on the clock with your boss.”
Tynan stepped back and looked up the face of the hotel. There were no immediate signs of murder, no visible broken windows, but it was hard to see all the way up. The building was facing East, and the rising sun was already reflecting off the glass and blinding his vision. Tynan would have to take a closer look from the inside.
As Tynan rode the elevator to the top floor, he worked on the math. Accepting Flint’s account of events as fact, he met Joplin for drinks just after 10:00. He talked to the reporter for a bit, maybe an hour, and then left when Joplin revealed his true intentions. Joplin stayed. At some point, Joplin had to leave, and it looked more and more like he had exited via the outside of the building. The glass on his clothes suggested he was definitely pushed through a window, so there had to be some evidence of a struggle somewhere, even if it was a sign of a freshly installed window pane. Joplin went splat just outside the pool and then ended up in the garment district sometime before 2:30 a.m. when the beat cop found his body.
“Excuse me.” Tynan was talking to the elevator operator. “What time does the nightclub close?”
“1:00 every morning.”
Tynan nodded. That could give folks time to move the body. The rainstorm was likely already providing cover in terms of the mess Joplin’s dying had made.
The elevator reached the top floor and the police detective exited. The nightclub was quiet. Empty. No deductive reasoning required. It was not a “morning club.”
As he headed inside, Tynan passed a hat check. His mind flashed to the unclaimed ticket in the dead man’s pocket. The detective pulled it out of his own. He went into the check area. It was drafty back there, and it made him shiver. Homicide detectives shouldn’t make room for superstition, but that was a bad omen. Murder scenes were often as cold as any grave. Tynan started to scan through the left-behind garments still hanging on the racks. There wasn’t much. Sure enough, a hat and rain slicker had been left there. There was an old ink stain over the left breast. A pen had leaked in the interior pocket at some point. If that wasn’t enough to tell any investigator who’d been around the block that this coat probably belonged to a reporter, the label on the inside, indicating the slicker was property of an “Antoine Joplin,” was elementary.
“Can I help you?”
A woman was standing at the entrance of the closet. The lady was short and had red hair. She wore a black dress with white stripes. She looked tough. If she worked a nightclub, she had to be. She’d have had to contend with her share of drunks.
Another flash of his badge. “I’m police detective Tynan. Care to tell me your name?”
“It’s Jones,” she said. “I run this hat check.”
As she spoke, Tynan did more math. A simple 1+1. The girl had red hair, and he’d found red hair on the victim.
“You work here, then? In this drafty space?”
“What’s it to you, flatfoot?”
“Oh, I’m no flatfoot. Your lingo is wrong. I’m a detective. I don’t walk the streets.”
“Thanks for the jargon lesson.”
“Seriously, you feel that? You must. It’s like a breeze.”
“You’re imagining things. There’s no window, no vents.”
Tynan looked around. She was right. There was just the back wall, and a bunch of crates stacked against it. There was sawdust and dirt around them on the floor, and slide marks, like they’d just been moved there.
“They make you store stuff back here? What is that?”
“Empty liquor bottles. And, yes, we make do with what space we have.”
The detective nodded. “Do you mind?” he asked, pointing to the wooden boxes, and he moved to them without waiting for an answer. Tynan started to unstack them.
“What are you doing?” The girl was practically shouting.
The cold and the wind increased. Because once the boxes were moved, Tynan revealed a broken window. “Look at that,” Tynan said. “It’s big enough to fit a man through.”
“Dammnit.” Now she was whispering.
“Something tells me, Jones, that you have a story to share that’s far less common than your name.”
The Jones girl was mum at first, but Clark Flint rolled on her without much hesitation.
“I get the drugs from her. I give her my jacket, she fills my pockets with what I need. Naturally, I saw her on the way out after I left the reporter. He might have picked up on a vibe, I don’t know. Or she might have gone after him, because I told her what was happening, told her to watch out if he started asking questions.”
When a stash of opiates and marijuana was found in a cubby in the hat check closet, along with a small pistol, Jones knew the jig was up. Tynan put all the pieces together for her, showed her the long division. They even had a broom with blood on it.
“He didn’t pick up any vibe from Flint. For a journalist, he was just as dumb as any man. It took a minimum of flirting to get him to come back into the closet. Once he was inside, I pulled my gun on him and made him move to the back by the wall, where we wouldn’t be seen. I wanted to know what he knew. If he got close enough to know Flint was a messenger boy, he might know for whom. He laughed when I threatened him, he didn’t believe I’d shoot him in public like that. I tried to tell him that the place was almost empty and suggested he reconsider, but he tried to push past me. I pushed back, and he stumbled, and that was that, he went right out the window. The storm covered most of the noise, and I just pretended that I had broke a martini glass.”
Naturally, Jones had a couple of thugs on her payroll, and they worked for hotel security. She got them to bring in the crates and she went with them to cart away the body. Janitors are low enough on the payroll that she knew they’d do the clean-up without asking any questions. She had come back early because she was going to try to get them to fix the window, only to find a cop waiting for her. Unfortunate timing.
“You almost could have gotten away with it straight-up,” Tynan told her. “Another few feet to one side, he’d have landed in the pool. The fall would have still killed him or at least knocked him out so he’d drown, and who knows? No one might have suspected murder. Just your bad luck.”
Tynan didn’t have to tell her. The redhead knew her luck had run out. Her face said it all.
“Come on,” Tynan said, “I got a photographer out there who is more than ready to get a shot at that mug of yours.”
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