Inspector Mustapha Alawi had a headache he wished he could chalk up to a hangover, but at his age, even drinking had lost its appeal. Diana was prattling on about something she’d read on the Internet. By the time she’d slid into the parking spot a patrol officer had kept open for them in front of the condo in Atlanta’s leafy, gentrified Virginia-Highland neighborhood, he’d lost the thread entirely.
Diana knew it, too. “C’mon, Grumper Man: let’s get to work. There have to be ten Starbucks within a half-mile radius of here: wind blows right, you’ll get your caffeine buzz.”
Mustapha checked the scene. A perfect spring day: you could almost see the little ring of bluebirds above Diana’s head. He pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping it would take the edge off. The condo had been a cinder-block apartment complex thirty years ago: two long, narrow two-story buildings with all the appeal of a higway motel; but in the Highlands, the one-bedrooms would sell for three hundred, easy. Maybe a little less, with the lack of off-street parking.
At the base of the stairs leading up to the vic’s place, the patrol sergeant was telling another woman, “I can’t give you any information, ma’am: all I can say is that if your friend lives in this building, you’re gonna have to phone him, or come back later.” The woman drew breath to respond, but the sergeant held up a finger. “There’s rules. Next of kin, that kind of thing. Sorry.”
Mustapha cocked his head so the sergeant could follow him up the steps. “But you can tell me, right?”
She grinned. “Sure, Inspector. Hey, you feeling all right?”
“Allergies. Dispatch said burglary-homicide?”
“Eh, maybe. No break-in, so either this…” She checked her phone. “Taylor Greene character went out for a jog and left the door unlocked , or he let the perp in. Nothing obvious missing.” She led him to the witness, who was drinking from a handmade coffee mug in her apartment next door.
Lyra (“like the constellation”, which just made Mustapha’s head hurt worse) Benito had little to offer them. “He’s lived next door for about a year? Nice guy. Too nice, maybe a little, until he met my boyfriend. Then he was fine. I walked up the steps? And saw those three footprints, door was cracked open. I looked in the window, saw the blood? 911 all the way. He’s dead, right? And whoever did it took off their shoes? Please tell me people can’t float away.”
Mustapha sat down. “That might make it interesting. When did you get home?”
“Just right before I called 911. I’d left my phone at home? Imagine a whole workday without it.”
Diana nodded. “I couldn’t even. Did you go inside? Inside his apartment, I mean?”
“No way. And that lady cop asked if I saw anything? Sorry: no barefoot chick.” At the detectives’ quick side-eye, “It’s a woman’s footprint, right? Shoe print?”
Mustapha said, “It sure is. You ever see, or hear, Mr. Greene having a conflict with a woman?”
“No. I never saw any women at all.”
Now, there’s nothing obviously wrong with this. The prose is choppy, but all that can be fixed. The scene situates us; makes it specific to a part of Atlanta at a particular time; gives us three secondary characters (sergeant, visitor and witness); establishes the difference between Mustapha and Diana; sort-of gives us Greene’s character, and the essence of a crime in traces that disappear. It needs to be cut down, and rearranged a little, but it’s serviceable.
But it isn’t where I want the story to begin. The sheer weirdness of the story lies in Greene having left behind his testimony that a particular person tried to kill him. And much of the story is about the blog. So either a blog entry or Greene’s testimony has to begin the story; this beginning here can come in flashback if need be.