Open and Shut: Part 3

If you missed the first installment of Mac’s mysterious and grandiloquent Vest-Pocket-Challenge-winning entry, you can find it here.

Warning: the following contains coarse language, sexual innuendo, depressing content and altiloquence. Reader discretion is advised. Please also note, the author takes no responsibility for forensic, medical or police-procedural accuracy.

I looked up. The dumpster was pushed up against the side of a four-storey apartment building. It was possible…

Feeling the familiar adrenaline rush, I launched myself out of the bin, past a startled Edwards and headed around the side of the building.

“Hey!” I heard Enright call after me. “What the hell? Is the body cleared to go to the morgue now or what?”

I turned back to her. “Yeah, sure.” I grinned. “See you at home?”

She snorted, but then she smiled in that way that always reminded me of the fourteen-year-old tomboy who had delighted in finding plump worms with me after the rain.

“Always,” she replied.

Edwards spoiled the moment by interrupting in a querimonious tone, “Are we solving this thing or what?”

I shot him a killer look that he missed because he was punctiliously picking a speck of grime off his Italian suit. Biting off yet another retort, I spun on my heel and headed toward the entrance of the apartment building, knowing Edwards would follow like a dog.

The interior of the building didn’t smell much better than the trash bin, although someone had put a pine-scented air freshener in the entryway. It was a nice thought, but God help the human race when forests smelled like this.

It was a walk-up. Figured. I would have run up those four floors twenty years ago—hell, I’d have taken them three at a time. But I wasn’t twenty-five anymore, and I no longer expected excellence or enthusiasm to be rewarded.

Besides, if I was right I was in no hurry to ruin the peace of the person at the top of the stairs. Edwards, as usual, didn’t have a clue and went clomping up the stairs. He stopped after the first flight. “Where are we going again?”

Not bothering to mention that I hadn’t told him where we were going, I motioned to the top of the stairway. He charged onwards, and I again thought of a dog after a bone.

Four flights later, I joined Edwards—who annoyingly wasn’t even breathing hard—and led him down the hallway lit by a single, naked, valetudinarian light in the ceiling.

At the end of the hallway was the door to the fire escape, propped open by a brick. I stuck my head out the door and looked up—a rickety metal fire escape went all the way up to the roof.

Closing the door again, I searched for the nearest apartment to it. I extended my hand to the knob. It’ll be unlocked. It turned with a little squeak.

Edwards whipped his gun out of its holster. With a swat of my hand I pushed the thing down and glared at him. He shrugged and slipped it back into its holder. We both stepped back and I knocked loudly.

It took a couple of raps, but finally a bleary-eyed man opened the door. “What is it?”

Edwards and I showed him our badges and his shoulders slumped. He knew before we even said it. He’d always feared this.

“Where did you find her?”

“In the dumpster out back,” Edwards answered.

“Is she all right?”

I looked at Edwards. He looked at me. I shook my head.

“My wife…” The man stuffed his fist into his mouth to stifle a wail. “She sleepwalks. Usually just to the roof. She jokes that her subconscious likes to camp out.”

“Are there any railings on the roof to prevent…” I searched for the right words, but he knew what I meant.

“No,” he whispered. “I thought…she might walk into traffic, a car…but off the roof?” This time he didn’t try to restrain the sob that shook his entire body.

In the face of such grief, of such frailty, I felt so redundant, useless. “She likely walked off the edge of the roof and fell face-first into the garbage bin. Still unconscious, she must have suffocated on the plastic bags…. I’m sorry for your loss.” It was an empty offering, but it was all I could give him.

Edwards, thankfully, seemed as at a loss as I was.

We explained the rest—that he had to go identify the body, do the paperwork. Then he would be alone to find solace in whatever ritual of death gave him the most peace.

As we left him, broken and keening, I found my own solace in hoping he was a questmonger. Maybe he’d get something out of the owners of this dump.

“I guess you win this one, man,” Edwards said. “You want to celebrate with a beer?”

Much as my soul needed to be refocillated with a stiff drink, this felt far from a victory. “Rain check. Maybe Bob left out some pot roast for you.”

Edwards’ eyes lit up. “Yeah, good thinking! See ya tomorrow, partner.” With a wave and a lightness to his step that I envied, he was off in the direction of home.

I headed the opposite way, thinking of a strange feature of sleepwalking. Like those of the dead, its victims’ eyes stayed open, seeing nothing.

I went home to Sally.

THE END

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