Stalkers, Zealots and Sentries (5)

Parts 1 and 2 set up the structure of this rather long (15k words) short story. Parts 3 and 4 give the first two sections of the story. Here’s the third:

Two days later, Diana was adrift upon a vast sea of paperwork when the desk sergeant sent up a visitor who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Anything for a break. The man was short, dressed like a caricature of a television husband, simultaneously weak-chinned and pugnacious. “Frank Thomas. I’m the president of the Men’s Rights Association of Atlanta. They said you’re investigating Alvin Smith’s death?”

This ought to be fun. “Yes, sir. Coffee?”

“No, thank you. I’m off caffeine for good. I have information that may help you solve the crime.”

“Well, that’s very kind of you, but we’re not treating Mr. Smith’s death as a crime.”

“That figures. I know for a fact that his ex-wife was out to kill him.”

“Hold on, Mr. Thomas. There’s just no evidence he was murdered.” She sketched out the scene for him. “Accident or suicide; take your pick. And his ex-wife couldn’t have done it, even if he really was killed. I know they had problems, but we double-checked her whereabouts.”

“Then you need to dig deeper. See, she’s a pothead.”

“Um, that doesn’t exactly argue in favor of planning a homicide.”

“Hear me out. She smoked in front of their son. Alvin found out, decided to try to regain his paternal rights. I’m his attorney. He had a pretty good chance of succeeding—or would have, if the justice system weren’t so heavily biased against men, and fathers.”

“So she killed him?”

“Or had him killed, if she really did have an alibi. She’ll get a lot of money, from the life insurance.”

Diana made an effort not to roll her eyes. “We checked her phone records; there’s no hit men there. Hit people. We did our due diligence. Your client was cleaning his gun when it went off. His thumbprint was on the trigger; the door was locked. Unless there is someone out there who can walk through walls–”

“Or has a key. The son does.”

The son did. He showed Diana his key ring. “The keys were in my bag at the play. I know I ought to be sad—he’s the only dad I’ve got—but he was a dick. He hit me, he hit Mom. After the restraining order? I thought he would come around. But then he started talking about how he wanted to send me to one of those camps? You know, pray away the gay? We’re not even religious.”

Two weeks later, Diana and Mustapha were at a house in Kirkwood, a pseudopod of the city of Atlanta stuck deep into DeKalb County to the east. Fifteen years ago, Kirkwood had been a nasty ghetto, but it was somehow zoned for the better schools closer in town. It had gentrified with astonishing rapidity; bakeries catering to dogs now significantly outnumbered storefront churches.

But Robert Fisk’s death looked old-school: an open front door, cabinets rifled through. Fisk lay on the hallway floor in a pool of his own blood, his jaw ruined, the lower half of his face a mass of gore. The blood trail led back to an armchair in what Diana bet Fisk called the “man cave”. This had multiple bookcases surrounding the big-screen TV; but instead of books, these held clear plastic cases that proved on closer examination to hold thousands of baseball cards.

“Holy cow,” said Mustapha. “It’s like a dream come true.”

“For a nine-year-old boy.”

“Get off of my cloud. Look: here’s Sandy Koufax. Wow.”

A patrolwoman who Diana could have mistaken for a high school student said, “The front door was unlocked and open, ma’am. Perp got him from real close range: check out the powder burns on his cheek.” She pointed to the floor beside the armchair. “Dropped the gun and ran.”

“Nice work,” said Mustapha. “You’re gold shield material for sure.”

Diana rolled her eyes at the look of joy on the patrolwoman’s face. “My partner’s being a jerk. There’s no perp; this was a suicide. Mr. Fisk here killed himself.”

“And he did a terrible job. Sorry, kid; I shouldn’t haze you.” Mustapha took her by the elbow, led her to the armchair, motioned for her to crouch down. “Even people who want to end it all have a survival instinct. This guy sat here, took a big shot of whiskey, tossed the glass behind him—see it over there by the couch?—put the gun to his head and went to pull the trigger. But, survival instinct: he jerked the gun away at the last second. Look right there at that bookshelf: see the little hole above that case of baseball cards? That’s where the first bullet went. He gets his nerve back, but like a lot of amateurs he thinks TV is real. Suicide is trickier than you think, plus that reflex. This poor fucker shot off his jaw, then spent five minutes in agony and confusion before he bled out. I bet you money there’s a phone somewhere in that direction.”

The patrolwoman looked back and forth. “Oh. Man, I feel–”

“Don’t worry about it. Live and learn. You ever decide you’re going to end it all, put the barrel of the gun all the way back in your mouth.”

Diana looked up from her tablet. “Thanks, Inspector Morbid.”

“Hey, do the job right, save everyone the trouble. Just do it in the bathtub, okay? Makes cleanup way easier.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” said Diana. “Officer, go knock on doors, find out what the neighbors know. Get away from the bad influence of my partner.” A few taps and swipes on the tablet. “Whoa. Mr. Fisk here had a big old record. Let’s see, assault, simple battery, aggravated stalking.”

“Yeah? Now I’m kind of glad he missed the first time.”

“No comment. He… oh, nice. He busted into his wife’s office and waved a gun in her face. Did a whole three months in jail for that one.”

“Welcome to Georgia.”

“Welcome to the nineteenth century. He got out about a year ago. Let me check civil cases. Yep: divorce, loses custody.”

“Score at least one for the state.”

“Don’t start cheering yet. He filed suit about a month ago to modify the custody arrangements.”

“Because he cares.” Mustapha saw her brow furl. “What is it?”

“His lawyer? Remember how I told you about the guy who came to see me? The men’s rights guy? Come on, it was last month.”

“Oh, the dude with the gay son. He was a lawyer?”

“No; this guy was his lawyer. Fisk’s, too.”

“Ha. Hope he got paid in advance.”

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