Thursday, February 19, 2009

Words! 2,893 of them!

I'm still dealing with my twin tragedies, but I did get a couple of hours to myself, and got some necessary characters moving forward. It's not much, but progress is critical in a writing project, and if you miss a day, you just have to pick up where you left off tomorrow. It's the only way to ever finish anything.

Here's a taste, then, of my two new favorite people, Finch and MacElroy:

Detectives Ethan Finch and Jack MacElroy rode to their first call together. MacElroy drove while Finch worked the box of donuts. Every day with the donuts. Finch was five six and weighed 120 pounds at his heaviest. But the man could put away a dozen donuts like no one’s business and not have a thing to show for it. Every morning, he got donuts from his neighborhood bakery, and a big cup of coffee. He used to share them with MacElroy, but after six years of the same thing every single day, Mac couldn’t look at donuts anymore, cop-jokes be damned.

MacElroy watched Finch for not the first time in the morning and ruminated on the notion that if Finch was ever on the slab, they could cut him open and figure out his age by counting the rings of sugar and coffee inside of him. Mac sipped the coffee that Finch brought him; it burned his empty stomach and exacerbated his already agitated state. They were going to a murder scene.

Six years on the job, and his stomach always soured up when there was a murder. He wasn’t squeamish, not after all this time. It was performance anxiety. So far, he’d managed to close every one of his homicide cases, so in some ways, he was thankful that he still got nervous. It made him more careful.

“You sure you don’t want one?” Finch asked.

“Poso-tively,” MacElroy said.

“Charlie put a couple of cake donuts in today,” Finch said. It was part of the deal. Finch got a deal on a dozen donuts, at the discretion of Charlie. Inventory control.

“Cake donuts? Oh, hell.” MacElroy held out his hand. Finch filled it with one of Charlie’s masterpieces. He ate it quickly, not really tasting it. The donut soaked up his coffee burn, but did nothing for the butterflies.

“Who’s first?” MacElroy said. They were on the third floor of a six floor tenement, looking down a long hall. Cops had cordoned off the elevator and were sending all but the elderly down the stairs. Every other tenant on the third floor was in a small clutch at the end of the hall, being questioned by a uniformed officer. The crime scene guys, Riveria and Lowe, were busy taking photos and taping things off. Another uniformed officer popped his head out of the victim’s apartment. “Me, sir,” he said, hurrying over.

“Talk to me,” MacElroy said.

“Got a call over the wire, open door, man on the floor, phoned in by the neighbor, Mrs. Perez,” the officer said, flipping through his notebook as he spoke. “She didn’t go in the apartment because she had to walk her dog.”

“Makes perfect sense,” MacElroy said.

“We got here before the paramedics, and when we saw...well, we told them not to bother, they’d just get in the way.”

“What happened?” Finch asked.

“Uh...well, it looks like the guy stabbed himself with a sword.”

“Really.” Finch’s eyebrows rose. Half-lidded eyes made him look like a mildly interested hound.

The officer nodded. “That’s what it looks like.”

“But that’s not what you think,” said MacElroy.

“No, I think someone killed the old man and then staged the crime scene.”

MacElroy looked at Finch. “What say you, Brother Ethan? Shall we go test the kid’s hypothesis?”

“Okay,” said Finch.

They walked into the apartment and the uniformed officers parted before them. MacElroy led the way; he always led the way. At six-two, two hundred and fifty pounds, he had the shoulders and the presence to command attention. Finch, on the other hand, looked like someone’s dirty little accountant. He wore wire-rimmed glasses when he needed to see, and this gave his face a more blank countenance than normal. He just didn’t impress. But his mind was fast and agile. Mac’s brain was smart enough to make detective, but he knew who the real thinker in the team was, and he was okay with that. Mac got what he wanted through charm, guile, and physical presence, in that order. It was a set of skills that Finch never had. Together, they were one really good detective.

Finch sneaked around MacElroy to get a look at the body. They stared at the victim for several minutes as life around the crime scene slowly resumed.

“Who is the Everyman?” Finch read. He reached into his pocket for his notebook and began scribbling.

“Willie Loman?” answered MacElroy. He looked at the victim; black male, mid-sixties, pretty healthy except for the gut. He died with his eyes open, probably looking at the killer.

“Could be,” said Finch, who was leaning over the body with an unsharpened pencil and poking at it. “Well, there’s no way he did it to himself.”

The uniformed officer nodded in self-congratulatory triumph. MacElroy asked, “Says who?”

“Says his right hand. It’s broken.”

The officer’s eyes bulged. MacElroy smiled. “When you’re right, you’re right, Bre’r Finch.” Mac rubbed his chin. “Where the hell did he get that sword? There’s something familiar about it.”
Finch smirked. “You got a positive ID on the sword?”

“No, not like that. I just get the feeling I’ve seen something like it before.” The blade was thirty-six inches long, flat, but with a bevel in the center, wide at the pommel and tapering to a triangular point. Like something a knight would carry. The blade was awash in blood.

“No one saw or heard nothing, eh?” Finch asked the officer.

“We’re questioning everyone now, but so far, no go on either side of the apartment or up or down. However this went down, it was quiet.”

“Dunno, Finch, it was me, I’d be wailing like a banshee if that thing went into me,” MacElroy said. “So, what does this tell us about our guy?”

Finch made a strange face. “Maybe that he’s no stranger to pain.”

“Sheesh. Who was this guy?” MacElroy asked.

The officer on the scene pulled MacElroy aside. “Name’s Lincoln Childs. Landlady says he’s retired, living on a fixed income and the occasional settlement check, which we found in his wallet. Library card. Other stuff. Not much there.”

“It’s enough,” MacElroy said. They had done more with less information in the past. He’d never tell the uniformed kid, but there was something about this murder that made him wish he had stacks of information to sift through. “Any signs of a robbery?” he asked, even though he knew the answer.

“No forced entry, no money taken from the wallet, no other parts of the house disturbed.”

“Jeez Louise,” MacElroy said. He drained his coffee and pocketed the cup. “This is one for the books.”

Finch turned to his partner. “Anything else you want to see here?”

“Guess not,” MacElroy said. “When it hits our desk, we’ll start calling.” He fished out one of his cards from his coat pocket and handed it to the kid who’d been their guide. “Nice job. Give us a call if something big happens here.”

The uniformed officer looked at the card like he’d been stink-palmed. “Sure thing,” he said. As soon as they were out of earshot, he wadded the card up and shoved it in his pocket. “Some detectives.” He looked down at the corpse of Lincoln Childs. “You poor bastard.”