by Kevin Doyle
Professor Ronald Green never saw any of it coming. He never expected to meet Diane Brewster, begin an affair with her, or nearly destroy his marriage and family. More than anything, though, he never imagined Diane’s death, or that he would become the main suspect in her murder. Then, just when Green felt his life had become as twisted and insane as possible, he discovered that Fate had at least one more turn in store for him. For Diane’s death had only been one of many, and the killer had several more people in his sights, including, quite possibly, Ron Green himself.
He looked back down at the body.
The deceased, dressed appropriately for the weather, lay on the pavement behind a Chinese restaurant. With little blood and no obvious rigidity of the body, the death appeared relatively mild.
At first glance, it seemed as if the man had simply lain down face up on the asphalt and died.
Hollis knelt down for a closer look at the corpse.
“Where’s your other half?” one of the patrolmen asked.
“Giving a deposition downtown,” Hollis replied, not taking his eyes off the corpse on the ground.
Peering closer, he saw a thin tendril of blood seeping out from the back of the man’s head. Hollis stood up and went over to one of the crime scene techs. He’d been jammed up interrogating a witness when the call came, accounting for his being among the last to arrive on the scene.
“Got any ID on him?” he asked the tech.
The young woman looked down at some notes she held in her hand.
“Yeah, we’ve already gone through his license and called in to records. Name’s Randall Cummings, fifty-two years old. Records has him listed as the manager of a Save-Rite Furniture Store.”
Hollis looked up and down both sides of the alley.
“A furniture salesman? Where’s his store located?”
“We’re not sure yet. There’s three of the chain in town. One of them’s only about twelve blocks away.”
“Meaning that considering the time of day, he could have come down this way for lunch,” Hollis said.
Before the tech could respond, one of the patrolmen called out.
Hollis turned to see a blonde, around thirty or so, heading towards the scene of activity. As he went to meet her, she was pulling on a pair of thin latex gloves.
“Jesus, Hollis,” she said, “did you have to get me out on such a cold day?”
“Don’t blame me, kid. Blame Randall there.”
“Hmph.” Just as Jack had done when he first arrived, she knelt down and performed an eyeball inspection of the late Mr. Cummings.
“Has he been photographed yet?” she asked.
Hollis glanced at the techs, received a nod in return.
“Yeah. He’s all yours.”
“Then let’s see what we’ve got.” As she spoke, the doctor cupped her hands under the dead man’s shoulders and gently shifted him about a 45-degree turn.
“And there’s your cause of death, at least nominally,” she said, pointing to the small hole drilled into the back of his skull.
“Single bullet?” Hollis asked as he bent down for a closer look.
“Looks like,” the ME said. “Which is actually a little odd.”
“Why odd?” Hollis asked, though he already had a suspicion.
“Well, it looks small caliber. Probably .22 or so.”
She looked up at the detective. “You suggesting this guy was hit?” she asked.
“It wouldn’t seem likely. A furniture salesman in his fifties? If he was hit, it’s doubtful it was over something like drugs or women.”
Hollis fell silent as the ME went about her business although even he could pretty much guess what had happened. With no exit wound, the small caliber bullet had no doubt buried itself somewhere inside the skull, probably after ricocheting around for a while.
Still, cases weren’t built on instinct or prior experience, so he stood back and let the lady do her job.
“So how many does this make?” she asked without looking up. “Have you all hit the triple digits yet?”
Hollis grimaced. Over the last few years, most of the force had become hypersensitive to the fact of their city ranking as the murder capital of the country. A while back, some web site or other had even listed it as one of the ten most dangerous cities in the entire world. The only consolation they all had was that, over the last few months, Chicago seemed to be gaining on them.
“Actually,” he said, “we passed the hundred mark at the end of last month. I’m not sure what number this one makes.”
“Well,” the ME said as she stood up and stripped off her gloves, “I won’t be able to put anything down officially till I get him on the table, but it’s pretty obvious what happened here.”
“One bullet back of the head,” Hollis said.
“Right. Which gets back to the oddity.”
“How did he end up lying face up?”
The young ME turned and faced Hollis straight on, flinching a bit as a sharp gust of wind knifed through the alley.
“Exactly. Even a .22, in the back of the skull, should have sent him tumbling forward. This looks almost apologetic. Could it have been some sort of a robbery?”
Hollis glanced over at a couple of the crime scene guys involved in categorizing the contents of the victim’s pockets.
“What’ve you got?”
“Wallet,” said one of the techs, a kid with curly red hair, “with a couple of hundred dollars and four credit cards in it. Look at his left wrist, and you’ll see his watch still on him. Plus we picked up a cell phone and an I-pod.”
“This old duffer with an I-pod?” the blonde ME asked.
“So we can guess it wasn’t a robbery,” he said.
“Unless your bad guy got interrupted before he could grab the goodies,” the ME said.
“Maybe, but how to account for the corpse being laid out all nice and neat like this?”
Stripping off her gloves, the ME turned and motioned to a couple of ambulance attendants standing off to the side.
“That’s the nice thing about it, Hollis. My part’s easy. I just have to come up with the means. You guys get to do the whole motive and opportunity thing.”
Hollis grimaced as she walked off.
“Oh, by the way.” She turned back to him. “I checked with the office before I left. This makes number one hundred twelve for the year. And only sixteen days to go.”
~Buy THE GROUP
A high school teacher and former college instructor, Kevin Doyle’s short stories, mainly in the horror and suspense fields, have appeared in over twenty-five small press magazines. In 2012, Vagabondage Press released his first e-book, a rock fiction novelette title One Helluva Gig. In 2014 Barbarian Books released his first full-length mystery novel, The Group, currently slated to be re-released by MuseItUp Publishing. And in February of 2015, Night to Dawn Magazine and Books released his horror novel, The Litter. Doyle has a BA in English and an MA in communications, both from Wichita State University, and teaches English and public speaking at a small rural high school.
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