Whose Wheelchair Was It, Anyway?

This just has short story written all over it:

Authorities on Sunday were still investigating the death of a man found dead Saturday in a burning wheelchair in southwest Atlanta.
The man’s identity remains a mystery, and investigators are not disclosing details about the cause of the fire and whether it was suspicious until they can identify him, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The unidentified man was found in a ditch in a wooded area between a fastfood restaurant and a Family Dollar store on Metropolitan Avenue. The incident was called in just after 5 p.m., and firefighters at a nearby Kroger grocery store responded within 2 minutes.

The location is one of Atlanta’s worst ghettos, the sort of place where absolutely anything baffling and idiotic could happen.

First question: was the guy actually wheelchair-bound before he died? In my story, of course, the answer is a resounding “no”. The question then becomes where’s the person the chair really belongs to. This is of course the key point of entry for the detectives. What happened to the chair’s original occupant, and where are they now, and how did this guy get there? Then there’s the question of just how the guy got set on fire:

Johnson said there was no smell of any chemical that might have started the fire. He also would not speculate whether the wheelchair itself could have been the cause.

Clearly, there needs to be a hint of spontaneous human combustion–and a Spinal Tap reference. But the best part of the article is this:

“We don’t have any information thus far to indicate suspicious circumstances,” he said. The scene, however, was being processed to preserve evidence just in case a different determination is made.

Right: nothing suspicious about a burning dead guy in a wheelchair. Move right along, people. Cop language: it never gets old.

Silent Partner (2)

So, right from the start, there’s just nothing beyond Bruce’s insistence to suggest that Claire didn’t kill herself. The retired investigator never found anything unusual; Claire’s mom had been expecting the call for years. The detectives interview Adam, and he’s genuinely regretful that he might have contributed to Claire’s death–the drugs were his. But he’s such an open book, so much the opposite of the opportunistic douche Bruce portrays him as–and, more importantly, that he portrays his past self as–that there’s just nothing to go on.

But among the drugs in Claire’s system is an anti-emetic (ie, keeps you from vomiting), a common practice in suicide by pills, except that the detectives back in 1998 collected all the medication in the house and no anti-emetic was found. And the pills that killed her were opiates, unlike the diazopenes that the bottle says they are. They track down Adam’s old dealer, and convince him that they’re not interested in busting him, and he tells them that he never sold Adam the opiates, because they were too hard of drugs for him to risk.

So, did Claire find street drugs to kill herself, and just used all the anti-emetic or put the bottle someplace where the detectives in 1998, who were totally going through the motions, didn’t find it? Or is there something more sinister afoot? The plot thickens when Claire’s mom is tracked down: the handwriting on the suicide note is only a sort-of match for Claire’s old journals. And there’s the matter of the fingerprint on the bottle with the opiates in it, which doesn’t match Adam, Bruce, Claire or the dealer.

If you’ve read a lot of these, you might have already figured out what really happened…

Silent Partner (1)

This one’s in process. Long ago, two dudes, Adam and Bruce, came from Athens to Atlanta. In Athens, they’d been a semi-successful college band; in Atlanta, they worked the local scene, which in the late 1990s was significantly more vibrant than it is today. Bruce was talented, Adam charismatic; Bruce ambitious, Adam kinda lazy. Bruce wants to make it big; Adam gets enough tail and doesn’t care to work that hard. Adam is a genial stoner, the guy who you call when you want to know what a given prescription drug does.

A girl, Claire, comes along. She’s hot, smart, totally bipolar. She *believes* in Bruce, and they start dating. Bruce is not hot. They try to pressure Adam into really taking the band seriously, but Adam is smart/lazy enough to know that it’s never going to make them stars. Adam, instead of being noble and just calling it off, does a typical mid-20s douchey thing by seducing Claire. This wrecks the friendship and the band, gets Adam off the hook.

But Claire won’t go away: she’s borderline and obsessive. Adam didn’t think any of this through. She drives him crazy, but then kills herself with a cocktail of prescription drugs. Bruce knows Adam did it–Adam had done other bad things in college. Adam, for his part, gets scared straight, abandons his hedonistic ways, settles down with the unattractive but stable medical student Danielle, who gets pregnant. Adam takes a job as a UPS driver to support them while Danielle’s still in school.

Fast forward 15 years. Adam is now a father of three and rising in management at UPS; Danielle is a successful physician; Bruce runs one of the last good live-music venues in Atlanta. But the recession sends Bruce’s business swirling down the drain: to save it, he takes out loans using Adam’s name and SSN, which he knew from way back when. Creditors come looking for Adam, who really does feel bad about the whole thing and doesn’t try to get Bruce busted.

But Bruce is busted. The DA wants to plead him out, because Bruce was sufficiently clever about the setup to make the trial tedious, expensive and maybe even chancy. Bruce won’t do it–unless the police investigate Adam’s role in Claire’s death, which Bruce maintains was a murder, not a suicide.

More to come.