Stone Cold Murder
By Mike Stevens
I just came to. The first thing I see is a red chair, with a black and blue guy sitting in it. He's stone dead. There's quite a mess made from upturned furniture, and an open door is letting the cold January wind slowly blow it back and forth on its rusty hinges.
"Squeak, squeak!" The sound is like an angry mosquito with a handsaw buzzing around my head. A blood-covered rock sits by the body, as if to warn people of something evil. It's then I hear a siren wailing in the distance, coming towards me. I want to figure out exactly what had taken place here, but I figure I wouldn't be able to explain my presence to the cops, so I head for what I assume is the back door, and hurry across the yard. As I'm hurrying, my foot sinks, and when I manage to pull it back, it's covered in something brown, and it smells like I spent the last few hours inside a leaking outhouse with a bunch of moldy cheese. Oh great, I've stepped into an old septic tank, sending my foot down into a morass of human waste, and now I looked like a one-legged dog, begging for treats. I smelled worse than a fish, caught and left out in the sun all day, and I would have to take the bus home, as I lived on the other side of the city. I don't know how I know that, but I somehow know, maybe I have a built-in weathervane. Slowly, the pieces of my life were coming back into focus, as a camera lens taking pictures of the past through a bent bike wheel would. My name is Oren Trough, and I'm a private investigator, a gumshoe, a private detective, a private dick, and I'm investigating the disappearance of a man, a man mixed up in some sort of foul-play. I'd tracked him to the house back where I awoke like Lazarus playing hide-and-go-seek with consciousness. I'd found my man; found him as lifeless as a clearance-sale mattress. I wondered who might be responsible. Maybe it was his girlfriend, Edna Vixen, or at least that was the name I had been given. The name screamed,
"I'm as guilty as a whopper lie told to a preacher."
Or maybe it was her butler Vic Talon, although I didn't have a good motive for him. Or, maybe her best friend Wilma was caught up in a web of lies and deceit. It reminded me of the old saying: never try to read in the dark or you might not get the story. It was almost like I was trying to see the past through a mirror that was cracked, so that the light of the truth was reflected in a thousand directions. The question was; in which direction was the actual truth being reflected? Every time I looked into it, it reflected a different version.
As I climbed aboard the city bus, I was shot disgusted looks from the other passengers, as if I had some sort of disease or something, and they wore suits of armor. I sat next to a wrinkled old lady, who told me,
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Take a shower once in a while!"
I gave her my best hobo living under a bridge look, and leaned back and let my eyes rest, for I was sick and tired of looking at the nauseating kaleidoscope that was everyday life.
The full bus pulled away from where I'd gotten off, and I looked at the people through the bus windows, waving their hand in front of their faces like some sort of demented fan.
I climbed the front steps to my home, looking like some surreal zombie with brown feet, and went inside. It was right to the shower for this squat king. As I stood watching the excrement swirling down the drain like yesterday's news, I decided to start by talking to the girlfriend, Edna Vixen. I stepped out of the shower and toweled myself off, till I was dryer than a cloudless sky in July, dressed, and headed for my '83 station wagon. I thought, maybe it's time to get a new car, but then I thought, why, so some bastard can wipe me out like a bad cold? Besides, a new car cost money, money that unless I printed my own, as a clown printing his own business cards would, I didn't have.
I pulled up in front of Edna Vixen's address, at least the one listed in the phone book, and rang the bell, which chimed the song "Running with the Devil". I expected some ghoul in black to answer the door, but the woman who answered was dressed like a spring morning, wearing a bright pink sweater, jeans that hugged every curve like a one-lane country road, and shoes that looked like a pair of crooked water skies at a county fair.
"Miss Edna Vixen?"
"Yes, and who are you?"
"My name is Oren Trough, I'm a private detective, and I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask you."
"What would you like to ask me?"
"First of all, are you familiar with a man named Jed Hartley?" I asked her. Jed Hartley was the name of the dead stiff back in the chair.
"Jed Hartley? Gee, I don't believe so," she answered.
I got the feeling she was lying through her teeth, like crap through a garbage can. But then again, I'd been known to be wrong, wrong as permanent ink on a sheet of plastic.
"Can you tell me where you were sometime between 7pm last night, and an hour-and-a-half ago?"
"Well, I was out driving, for no reason, because I wanted to be alone to think some things out," came her response.
Think about things such as ways to dispose of a body after you kill them? Something stunk, stunk like 3-day-old meatloaf. "Miss Vixen, if you murder someone, you shouldn't leave their body around to be found by, say, me?"
"Murder? I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about; I didn't murder this Jed Hartley, if that's what you're insinuating, and I think I would like you to leave now."
Ah, ha! The way she had answered told me everything I wanted to know, like an answering machine gone berserk. "Fine, Miss Vixen, I'm leaving, but I'll be watching you like a barometer headed south!"
Next, I paid a visit to the butler, Vic Talon's house. Unlike his employer, he lived in a shack. If this was all you can afford on your butler's salary, I'd be seriously thinking about a career change, if I were you, Mr. Talon, I thought to myself. I went up the stairs and rang the bell. A slim, immaculately dressed older man opened the door and asked,
"Yes, how may I help you?"
"Yes, Mr. Talon?"
"Yes, I'm Vic Talon."
His voice reminded me of a smooth, cool, velvet stuffed animal. "Mr. Talon, my name is Oren Trough, and I-"
"Oren Trough, what kind of name is Oren? Was your momma mad at you when she named you, sir?"
I stifled the urge to strangle him, like a chicken who's said the wrong thing to a chef just about to make dinner, and continued, "I'd like to ask you a few questions, if you don't have any objections."
He answered, "No" a little too eagerly; too eagerly, as a boy on his wedding night at a motel with vibrating beds might. "Tell me, where were you between 7pm last night, and 7am this morning?"
His answer came in the form of a punch to my kidneys, the blow feeling like the hammer of Thor. After punching me, he ran away, faster than a network news update, and yelled over his shoulder, "I swear, I didn't have anything to do with that body you found when you came to!"
How had he known about the body? I suddenly thought to myself, he might be the murderer! I was almost certain of it, as certain as a dog who sees the mailman is of getting a free lunch. I yelled out, "Stop, you killer!" and much to my surprise, he did exactly that. I couldn't figure out why he had complied, until I remembered he was as used to following commands as a trained monkey in a crazy zoo.
As I phoned the police, he sat wearily on the couch, looking as dejected as a farmer who has just been denied a loan.
The police have hauled away the suspect, much the same as a riding lawnmower, and I was left with nothing to do for the rest of the day, like an unemployed lumberjack. I had planned on questioning the friend, Wilma, but I had already cracked the case, like a walnut left out in the cold rain.
I walked into the smoky bar, where my main suspect was up on the stage, like a country sheriff riding shotgun on a stage pulled by lame horses. I was investigating the brutal murder of Shelby Davis, the owner of a dumpy, run-down little comedy club downtown. I'd become suspicious of a weasel of a stand-up comedian named Ed Jamtoe, who, much as a bad case of V.D., kept coming back to my mind, like a thought or a head cold. He had admitted being in Davis's office near the time of Davis's unfortunate demise. I sat down, ordering a drink from a waitress who looked as bored as an old piece of driftwood washed up on a beach. I had just settled into my seat, when an announcer, who looked like he'd been kept sealed inside an old mason jar for the last 20 years, exclaimed,
"Good evening, ladies and gentleman, (which, judging from the looks of the clientele, was being kind.) tonight we have with us (as opposed to what, against us?) a very funny gentleman from out-of-town, Mr. Ed Jamtoe!"
A smattering of applause came from those people who could still manage to see well enough to bring their hands together. Into the beam of light cast by a single spotlight, which resembled an alien spacecraft circling a golf course, stepped my suspect, Mr. Ed Jamtoe.
"Hello you good people, I just flew in from Detroit, and boy, are my arms sore!"
Nothing but unsmiling faces gazed up at the stage. It was no wonder, that joke was older than hair dye that was bought from a grocery store resembling a retirement home.
"So, you didn't like that one, try this one on for size: A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender asks him "Hey, why the long face?"
That's when, sounding like some sort of demented fog-horn, the booing began, and the suspect ran off the stage, resembling a bad ice cream cake. I made my way backstage and spotted him crying, looking like a sprinkler gone haywire.
"Excuse me, Mr. Jamtoe, but I just caught your act, (like a bad cold) and I was wondering if you'd mind answering a couple of questions?"
"And who are you?" he asked me, sounding like the suspicious neighborhood gossip.
"My name is Oren Trough, and I'm a private detective," I answered.
He looked at me like a lopsided clown, and asked, "What would you like to know, Orven?"
"That's Oren, the name's Oren."
Yeah, as sorry as a little kid guzzling his parents spiked punch. "I'd like to ask you where you were last night and this morning?"
"Okay, I did it, okay?"
I was as surprised as taking an ice-cold shower on a freezing day. "Did what?" I asked him.
"Murdered the little cheap bastard!" he replied.
Well, that made it as clear as a piece of see-through plastic covering up the jagged hole you punched in you neighbor's house using a backhoe. "Answer me one question, why did you do it, and why did you confess?"
He replied, "That's two questions, actually."
This guy was getting on my nerves, the way a 4-way stop does. "Alright, two questions then."
Jamtoe answered, "The answer to the 1st question is the bastard got on my nerves, and the answer to the 2nd is because the my hoped-for career as a stand-up comedian just took a nosedive, right into the ground, so I've got nothing to live for anyway, and the guilt is eating me alive."
"So, you're going to fall back on the old guilt-is-eating-me-alive defense. That particular defense is older than an old man's goatee. Like a plane with cardboard wings, that baby just won't work too well."
"I'm not using it as a defense; I'm admitting I killed him," Jamtoe replied.
"Well, that may be, but like a sailor who looks at the sun through a telescope, I'll be watching you!"
"You must be the dumbest private dick, ever," he went on to say. "I'm telling you I did it."
"And you're my number one suspect, but, like an old rotary phone, something about your story just doesn't add up."
"Oh, I give up!" Jamtoe exclaimed with a sigh.
The case has reached a dead-end, with not enough room to turn around, so I'm backing out, like you might from a bad prom date. I'll just stay on the case, until I solve it, sort of like a terrible puzzle in a 3rd-rate newspaper.
Speaking of newspapers, I just read in mine where the police had arrested Ed Jamtoe for the murder of Shelby Davis. Go figure!