by Kevin R. Doyle
Publisher: Barbarian Books
Page count: 271 estimated
Professor Ron Green could only blame himself as his marriage teetered on a precipice. Even though the affair had been over for months, he felt accused by every icy stare his wife sent his way. What could be worse than this slow motion disaster?
The murder of his ex-lover could be worse.
Becoming the prime suspect in her murder could be worse.
Discovering another murder related to his lover's death, and making himself the scapegoat by telling the police about the connection could be worse.
Someone is killing harmless members of the focus group where he met his lover. What did the group do to cause this horrible vengeance? Who could feel hurt by anything Ron and the others had done in those two brief days?
Ron must answer those questions and find the killer before he ends up taking the fall.
Or worse, before the killer finds him.
Even for the Midwest at the end of the year, it was far too frigid and blustery of a day to be standing outside looking down at a corpse.
Actually, December usually wasn’t all that cold around here, despite what residents of Florida or California might think. But the temps this year had been a bit lower than average since October, and today the cold had come slamming in from the north like a visiting mother-in-law.
On top of that, Detective Third Grade Jack Hollis had stayed up late the night before watching a boxing match on pay-per-view and hadn’t bothered to catch the local weather. So he’d waltzed out of the house this morning wearing merely a mid-weight jacket, which he now cinched closer to his throat.
“You ought to dress warmer,” said one of the patrolmen from the car that had first called in the incident. Hollis, at 35 nearly ten years the guy’s senior, thought about retorting but figured it wasn’t worth the effort.
Instead, 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, 52 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. But 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 30 or so, heading towards the scene of activity. He’d met her once or twice, Tracy something or other. As he headed over 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, the lady from the coroner’s office 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,” he said.
“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 that had drilled itself 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 that their city ranked 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 clatch of ambulance attendants who’d been standing off to the side.
“That’s the nice thing about it, Jack. 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 112 for the year. And only sixteen days to go.”