Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 3, Scene 1a

TOC page here.

Let’s jump right back into the book with a trip back to the shelter. Remember that in the final version Mario will be the victim in Act IV, not Act II; he will be replaced in Act II by one of the chorus of homeless guys.

Claire Longstreet was fresh and clean, makeup-free, looking like she’d rather be outside enjoying the fair weather. Over leggings and a white turtleneck, she wore a dress that looked vintage but was clearly new, expensive, well-constructed. She had her feet up on her desk in the Timberlands, and on her knee was perched a dark red crushed velvet cloche hat that Diana rather coveted.

“I’ve heard all manner of conspiracy theories about Alex’s death, but none of them worth reporting.” She turned down Mustapha’s proffered coffee. “To be honest, even if I knew something, I’m not sure how comfortable I would be sharing any information I did have with APD, after what you did to Mr. Haddad. I counted him as a friend, and a partner in the struggle for justice.” At Mustapha’s intake of breath, “And please don’t bother trying to tell me his murder was justified: he no more had a gun on him then I can sprout wings and fly.”

Mustapha tried again. “I’m not going to,”

“And do you have any idea what it’s like, having to see his murderer every day?” Longstreet pointed toward the wall facing the street. “Your Sergeant Brown walks free, with his puffed-up chest, and his armor, and his nightstick, and the gun he used to murder Mr. Haddad. He leans there against his cruiser, the face of authoritarian violence. Smiling.” She plucked the hat off her knee and set it on the desk. “I don’t expect you to care: you’ll protect your own. But I won’t be cooperating with you, so long as that man still wears a badge. And I’ve truly no idea who might have killed poor Alex.”

“That’s okay,” said Diana. “We’re not here about Mr. Dawson.”

Longstreet’s carefully-sculpted eyebrows went up. “Then why are you here?”

Diana keyed up her tablet, rotated it to face Longstreet. She called up Mario’s mug shot from the night he’d drawn the van for them. “We’re trying to find out this man’s last name.”

Longstreet took her feet from the desk, set up, took the tablet. “Mario. It says Garcia right here.”

“I’m sure you’ll be surprised when I tell you it’s not unusual for people who’ve been arrested to give us the wrong name.”

Skepticism mixed with curiosity. “What has he done? Allegedly.”

Mustapha said, “Drunk and disorderly. No big deal.”

“You’re Homicide cops. What do you want with him?”

“Nothing. You see, he helped us out. He was the one who saw the white van.”

Long, slow blinks. Diana took a moment to marvel at Longstreet’s careful, subtle use of makeup: most men would probably think Longstreet wasn’t wearing any at all. Finally, Longstreet said, “I’m not sure. I believe you.”

Mustapha shrugged. “It’s true, though. Dee, show her the picture.”

Diana took the tablet back, found the line drawing of the van. “He clued us in that it was a commercial van, not a regular one.”

Longstreet said, “Which ultimately resulted in Mr. Haddad’s murder.”

“We get it,” said Mustapha.”He was your friend, and you already have reasons not to like cops. But like it or not, Sergeant Brown saw a gun, and had to make a split-second choice. We don’t really like the choice he made, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re not here to make life harder for you, or for Mario here. Mario’s our responsibility now, because he’s dead.”

Two blinks. “Was it the Reaper?”

“No. Not murdered; just regular old dead. Exposure, the ME says. Looks like he had too much to drink and passed out in the cold. What we’re trying to do is track down his next of kin, so we can notify them and let them deal with the body. Kind of hard to do without a last name. So do us a favor and save the discourse about out-of-control cops for after I’ve had more coffee. Notifying next of kin is the hardest part of our job.”

A twist of a lip. “Fair enough.” She looked at the tablet again. “He sketched that? Nice work. Mario… doesn’t much care for the structure here. Didn’t. I doubt I have much of a file on him.” She leaned down, it took her Mac laptop from her bag, opened it. “Let’s see… oh, dear. I have Garcia, as well. You’re sure that’s wrong?”

Mustapha said, “All the people with that name are accounted for. You got a date of birth?

1985 or so, is what I’ve got written here.” She pursed her lips, blew out slowly. “For this? I can ask around. Give me a day or two.” She closed the laptop. “Anything else?”

Claire’s in a bad position here: she’s got every reason not to want to coöperate with the cops, but she also wants homeless guys to stop getting murdered. So against her wishes, she’s going to comply; she has to, given her job title.

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