Hey there all you dudes and dudettes, I’m trying real, real hard to be the shepherd over here. Which means it’s time for another dose of my current work in progress: Is it Not Midnight?
If you haven’t been reading along so far. You can catch up here:
“Hey Winslow, Frankel! Some guy named Zoltan. He’s waiting for you two.” The desk sergeant jerked his thumb towards the conference room.
“Fuck!” The expletive leapt from Frankel’s mouth with violent force.
“Tell him we’ll be there in five minutes,” said Winslow. With an imploring smile, he led Frankel to the drab cubicle they shared.
“Listen to me,” he said. “I don’t like this any more than you do, but we have to play nice with the Hungarian or the Lieutenant is going to make our lives very difficult. I don’t want anything getting in our way and neither do you.”
Frankel nodded his assent.
“You’ve got a point,” he said. “Let me do most of the talking, though. He might not appreciate it if a black man started telling him how it is. Most Hungarians aren’t as open minded as we are in America. The last time most of ‘em even saw a black guy up close was probably during a Turkish invasion 400 years ago or something.”
“That makes so little sense I don’t know where to begi- ”Frankel cut Winslow off as they neared the conference room again.
“Hey! How come Eastern-bloc gets to smoke inside and I don’t??” He gestured at a small cloud of smoke that had gathered near the light fixture in the conference room. “I’ve got a good mind to see my union rep about this.”
“You be nice.” Winslow said.
They entered the conference room to find Lieutenant Metzger sitting at the long table with a short barrel-chested man. His close-cropped hair was dark brown, nearly black with a sprinkling of grey at the temples and in his prodigious mustache. His face was broad and square, punctuated by two narrow, but cheerful, brown eyes. His clothes were a tidy study in brown, but decidedly out of date. To make matters worse, he wore a tie with his short-sleeved shirt.
“Ah, there you boys are,” said Metzger. “Allow me to introduce Mr. Griorgy Zoltan. He’s gonna be helping you with this one.”
Zoltan stubbed out his cigarette in an ancient brass ashtray. He stood to shake hands and dipped his head in a little bow to each detective. Spoke English well but, not without an accent.
“Dis is a great honor,” said the Hungarian. “Your Lieutenant speaks very highly of you both. I must congratulate you on a very interesting case.” He waved his hand at a small stack of papers on the table.
“I’ve taken the liberty of briefing Mr. Zoltan on the forensics report and the autopsy findings,” said Metzger. Winslow observed Frankel’s jaw clenching.
“Yes very peculiar,” said Zoltan. “I wonder why da body was so well cleaned.”
“Well cleaned?” asked Winslow.
“Yes cleaned,” said Zoltan. “Presumably da tramp is not in da habit of cleaning his fingernails so thoroughly. Ergo, it was da killer or an accomplice. A peculiarity to be sure. Someone took great care so da body wouldn’t tell any tales, but even now we can learn someting.”
“Like what?” asked Frankel. His challenge hung in the air waiting for an answer.
“Such a careful, meticulous killing cannot be accomplished anywhere,” Zoltan replied. “Da very nature of the act requires equal measures of time and privacy. Dis information narrows our search considerably.” The Hungarian lit another cigarette and let out a small plume of blue smoke. Metzger nodded his agreement.
“We’re looking for someplace secluded,” he said. “Where noise isn’t a problem.”
“There’s something else that strikes me as peculiar.” Winslow unfolded his long, pinstriped legs. “Why did they dump the body where they did? Why not dump it in the river or bury it in a field? Why go to all that trouble preparing and cleaning the body only to dump it in an alley where it was sure to be found in a few hours?”
“Maybe that’s part of our friend’s M.O.,” Frankel suggested. “Maybe he’s taunting us or sending us a message.” Metzger cleared his throat.
“Ah, yes. Well actually, Jim. Mr. Zoltan had the same question, and it turns out that there was a traffic stop with several patrol cars just south of the alley in question on the night in question. It seems highly likely that the killer got spooked and dumped the body to avoid any awkward questions.” Frankel opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it and sat back with a sullen expression on his face. Zoltan continued as if unaware of the tension in the room.
“What did you learn at de shelters?” he asked. Winslow retrieved his notes and began reciting the prior day’s work. Zoltan’s nut brown eyes were shut tightly as he absorbed the information and analyzed it in silence. At the conclusion of Winslow’s report, Zoltan’s eyes opened again.
“Excellent. Now I have but one more question,” he steepled his rough fingers. “When is lunch?”
“I’ve never seen someone eat like that, so much garlic.” said Frankel. He and Winslow strolled out of Kreuger’s Tavern and into the brisk afternoon. The cheerfully painted brick facades of Over-the-Rhine were at odds with the chill in the air.
“Maybe he’s worried about vampires?” said Winslow with a slight grin. At Lieutenant Metzger’s insistence, the two detectives had accompanied him and Zoltan to lunch. The presence of well-prepared food was instrumental in keeping Frankel’s hostility in check. At the conclusion of the meal, Metzger told them to run along while he and the now garlic-infused Hungarian consultant “caught up on old times.”
“I never thought I’d see the day,” said Frankel as he stomped down the sidewalk. “Where my own Lieutenant would pull some Sherlock Holmes bullshit like this.” Winslow cocked his head.
“Yeah, sure.” Frankel’s face was flushed. “Like in a Sherlock Holmes story where the police are investigating a real head-scratcher and then the “great detective” swoops in to save the day and make them all look like shit stains on a white blanket.”
“I didn’t know you were such a literary man,” said Winslow. Frankel grunted in response. Then came the muffled tune that Winslow recognized as the factory pre-set ringtone of Frankel’s smartphone. The elder detective stopped his forward progress and began fumbling through his suit pockets. At last, he produced the battered device and slid his finger across the screen to answer the incoming call.
“This is Frankel. Yes. Yes of course. 3 o’clock would be fine.” Frankel scribbled down an address on a compact note pad. “We’ll be there.”
Frankel hung up. He was grinning broadly as he stuffed his phone back into his suit jacket.
“Guess who that was?” he said.
“One of those hippy-dips from the New Church of the Golden Age calling to set up a meeting with the mysterious Miss Glinden. And since the Hungarian is still stuffing his face with the Lieutenant, we get her all to ourselves.”
“You want to go down there now?” Winslow asked. “Lieutenant’s not going like it if we cut the Hungarian out of the loop.”
“Nuts to that. She probably doesn’t know anything worthwhile, and if she does we’ll share it after the fact. Besides, I could use a drive.” Frankel rubbed his belly. “It helps my digestion.”
Leave a comment if you think it’s not too terrible.