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Dick Oakes: Night Detective

November 16, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments
Dick Oakes: Night Detective

Dick Oakes: Night Detective

AN ONGOING SERIES FOR FANS OF ROUSING, HARDBOILED YARNS

I was standing in a Pots Barn when the call came and boy was I glad of it. It had been an hour since I walked in the place, just intending to pick out a holiday wreath. The next thing I knew, some clerk was going on about boxwood cone trees, decorative rattan sleighs and lush magnolia and bright berries. I couldn’t make any of it out.

It was Bingaman. “Some sort of orgiastic youth affair in one of the warehouses. We got a kid dead and nobody is talking,” he said.

“Yeah, well, I’ll lean on ’em. Just let me see what the deal is with these succulent pinecone wreaths and then…”

“Dick, you better get down there right now. Forget about the wreath.”

It was in the old Lankville shipbuilding district. Grim, windowless warehouses– dark to the street. I finally found the soiree around back, towards the river. Must have been a hundred of ’em in there– a band was still onstage but there was total silence.

The kid was college-aged– lying in a pool of blood. He’d been dead about an hour and it was a slug that had caught him.

I looked up and noticed something funny then. I approached the stage.

“You guys were playing when this happened?”

HO Scale model of the murder site. Perfect for vintage train layouts. Contact Dick Oakes, Lankville Police West, 5-3822.

HO Scale model of the murder site. Perfect for vintage train layouts. Contact Dick Oakes, Lankville Police West, 5-3822.

The frontman nodded. He couldn’t look at me though.

“How come none of your instruments are plugged in?”

He looked down in horror.

Bingaman came down and we leaned on a bunch of ’em. It was a lovesick, tortured boyfriend deal. Maybe the boyfriend had something on his ex, maybe he didn’t. Maybe he came there to reveal it and maybe somebody had shot him. And it all came back on a girl that had been onstage earlier. Everybody gave us the same address and description. It was candy.

“You wanna’ handle this, Oakes?” Bingaman asked. “Seems like your area of expertise.”

I nodded.

“I gotta’ get back to the station. Move some of those trays around.”

Him and those trays. I couldn’t figure on any of it.

It was a 5-floor walkup downtown. None of the buzzers were marked. I leaned on all of ’em. They said I would be able to tell by her voice.

It was number four. “I’ll come to the lobby,” she said. She had a voice alright. A voice that took your knees out. The lock buzzed.

The lobby was a poorly-lit, fetid place with an old vending machine that dispensed cartons of milk. Someone had ordered a pizza recently, eaten half of it and then crushed the rest into the carpet. Decorative ham circulars and public-service challenge warnings littered every corner.

I could hear her heels clicking on the stairs. It was a dangerous sound, I knew it. And then she stopped at the base like a girl making her entrance at a ball. And it was a grand one.

C’mon Oakes, a voice said but I elected to ignore it.

I don’t think I need to tell you that she was selling it everywhere.

I don’t think I need to tell you that she was selling it everywhere. Her eyes were large, dark and self-possessed and she had cascading, meticulously-coiffed hair that seemed to never quit. She was the kind of girl that could go from good to bad in a minute, and back to good again. A sort of quick-change artist. And right now, she was as good as a cooling pie off a windowsill in the Lankville countryside.

“Mr. Oakes,” she started. “If this is about that unfortunate incident down at the warehouse…” She stopped, waiting for me to pick it up.

“Why’d you bolt?” I had to burn a cigarette. A sign said no smoking but I figured, if they were allowing pizzas to be crushed into the carpet, they probably weren’t sticklers on a little ash.

“The victim, Talbot, I knew him…we were good friends. I couldn’t bear it…” I could see she was thinking about whether to turn on the waterworks.

“How’d you know him?”

“He had a very nice video camera and fashioned himself a bit of a director. We made movies. He liked to make movies about those creatures…you know…that are half-woman, half-fish.”

I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about but I played along. “You acted in some of these half woman, half-fish movies, then?” I was trying to figure out if there was a blue angle or not.

“It didn’t require much acting. I just laid on a rock by the old truck bridge. Talbot had rigged up a little fin for my legs.”

“Skip it. Let’s get to the murder. Who plugged him?”

“Jimmy Berries. That’s Talbot’s brother.”

Berries. The name rang a bell. And not because of the Pots Barn either. There had been a Talbot Berries that had run deliveries for a pizza joint. He had been shot by some bigwig Lankville business man. They had covered the whole thing up. I looked down at the pizza crushed into the carpet again. She saw me. And that’s when it broke down.

“It’s real big, Mr. Oakes. The connections in all this. Bigger than any of us.”

I knew it. And I knew then that she was innocent.

To be continued

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