The body lay in the trash-strewn alley as if it was just another broken thing someone tossed away. Like a shroud, my shadow fell across the man’s face, cast by the forensic techs’ floodlights. I knelt on the cracked blacktop to get a better look. He was about my age, pushing fifty, but more powerfully built and wearing a suit that probably cost what I made in a month – at least before the blood ruined it. ID gave him the name Ken Wallace and his expression was strangely composed, as if death brought some peace he always longed for. I hoped that was true, because two bullets to the chest was a high price to pay for it.
I turned at my name and struggled back to my feet, knees popping and protesting. The job got harder every year, but not in the ways I imagined when I was a rookie.
A uniformed officer named Kemp, about the same age as my son, pushed a medium-sized, nervous-looking man towards me. His hairline was in full retreat and sweat sheened the bare skin. Like Wallace, his suit was also better than mine. “Sergeant Malone, this guy was with the vic when he was shot.”
“He tell you that?” I asked Kemp, intentionally ignoring the third man.
“Yessir. Folks in the bar pointed him out and he told me himself afterwards. Says his name’s Bryce Heisner.”
I looked at Heisner. His gaze shifted downward.
“Okay, Kemp,” I told the uni. “Leave Mr. Heisner with me, but don’t go too far.” Kemp nodded and backed off several paces, keeping his eye on the two of us.
I said, “You seem awfully nervous, Mr. Heisner.”
“Wouldn’t you be?” he snapped. “I witnessed a murder, for God’s sake.”
“Did you?” One of my eyebrows rose with the question.
“What are you implying? You think that I'd lie about-" He broke off and looked me directly in the eye. “Ken and I have been friends since college, officer. Believe me, I want the animal that did this caught." He made a noise in his throat. "Shot down in a filthy alley. It's horrible. Disgusting. I can't stand guns. They terrify me – and with good reason. To think I was so close to... My God, you can’t go anywhere in this city anymore.”
Heisner was talking a lot, but not really saying anything.
“Let’s hear what happened then.”
“Like I said,” Heisner began, “Ken and I have known each other since college. He went into law, I went into finance. I’ve been his broker for years, but aside from business now and then, we hardly see each other anymore. He suggested we get a drink.”
“He pick this place?” I asked, thinking that Marky’s Bar wasn’t exactly where you’d expect a lawyer and his broker to meet. It wasn’t quite a dive, but it was about as far from class as you could get without being one.
Heisner nodded. “We used to drink here when we were in school. It’s… changed more than we realized.”
“Sure. Go on.”
“Well, we had our drink, caught each other up, and talked a little business. About nine, I guess it was, I said I better call it a night. Ken offered to share a cab uptown. We left through the bar’s side-door, out into the alley here. A man down at the far end stepped out of the shadows, pointing a gun at us. It was one of those cheap little Freedom .380s, the kind you can get used for fifty or sixty dollars. He demanded we toss him our wallets and Ken just sort of…” He shrugged and shook his head. “Lost it, I guess. He charged right at the mugger, making for the gun, I suppose. The man fired twice, watched Ken fall, and then turned and ran. It all happened so fast, I could hardly take it in.” He shook his head again. “You know the rest. A crowd of people came out of the bar and I guess someone called 911.”
“Uh huh,” I said, noncommittally. “Anything else you can tell me?”
Heisner squared his jaw and clenched his fist. “Just that I’ll never forget the face of that… that murderer. It’s burned into my memory. I’d recognize him anywhere.”
“Sure,” I told Heisner. “Most people can recognize their own reflections in a mirror.” I gestured towards Kemp. “Cuff Mr. Heisner, will you?”
“Wha, wha, what?” Heisner stammered. He tried to shake Kemp’s hands off, but the young officer had no problem controlling him. “What’s the meaning of this? You think I killed Ken?”
I nodded. “I’m all but sure of it. We’ll get the rest of it later, motive and so forth, once you feel like telling the whole story, but you’ve practically already confessed.”
“How?” Heisner demanded, his voice shrill. “What do you mean? What makes you think I killed Ken? We were friends for God’s sake! Why would I kill him?”
“You’re his broker, so I’m guessing it’s about money,” I ventured. “As for the how, you know an awful lot about what kind of gun this supposed mugger used for a man who says he hates guns and wants nothing to do with ‘em. You identified the make from a glance, in a dark alley, something even an expert might not have been able to do, and knew how much a used one runs. You stashed that gun around here someplace, and once we locate it, I’m sure forensics will find your prints on it. Even if you wiped the outside or wore gloves, you probably forgot the cartridges.”
I looked at Kemp over Heisner’s head. “They always forget the magazine and the cartridges. We get a lot of good thumb-prints off them.” I took a last look at Heisner. “I hope Ken Wallace wasn’t your lawyer. You’re gonna need a good one.
“Read him his rights and get him out of here,” I told Kemp.
Looking back at Wallace, I sighed. Some days, the job was rough, but it’s not actually the work. Not usually. It’s the people. Even when they make it this easy, it’s always hard to take.
About the author:
Brandon Barrows is the author of the novels STRANGERS' KINGDOM, BURN ME OUT and THIS ROUGH OLD WORLD. He has published over seventy stories, selected of which are collected in the books THE ALTAR IN THE HILLS and THE CASTLE-TOWN TRAGEDY. He is an active member of Private Eye Writers of America and International Thriller Writers and lives in Vermont by a big lake with a patient wife and two impatient cats. http://www.brandonbarrowscomics.com