The bump on the top of my head was starting to make me wish for bed and a cold compress, and the last thing I wanted to be doing right now was sitting in a dank cellar chatting with the two folks, no matter how good their intentions had been, who’d made me feel like this. Still, there was something compelling about the way her lower lip trembled when she was emotionally distraught that made me want to investigate how she reacted to other stimuli.
But those were idle thoughts suited to other occasions, and even contemplating them made me wince with pain. Anyway, they looked like a couple of nice, earnest, concerned types who wanted to save the world, and from previous experience I knew that was one road better left untravelled. They weren’t casual about anything, and politicized sex was always on the low end of the enjoyment scale for me, especially when working on a migraine.
I suggested that we keep in touch and if they thought of anything more, or if anything happened, that might lead me to an answer about who croaked the professor and what happened to the Kyoto accord they should call. I told them if I ever did get any answers that I would make sure they were filled in, if for no other reason so they could stop bashing people over the head when they came into the store asking about the Kyoto accord.
Couldn’t be good for business if you kept hauling concerned environmentalists down into a cellar and giving them the third degree. Unless they had a sideline in headache remedies: “Hey does that store of yours have anything for a wicked headache, induced by a minor head trauma?” I asked her pointing at the point on the noggin he had tried to stave in.
He had the good grace to look embarrassed and mumble another apology, while the smile she bestowed made me start reconsidering my earlier resolution and thinking a little tender loving care administered by her capable mouth might not be such a bad thing after all. But when my eyes made contact with daylight, it was still only mid-afternoon; when we reached the street all thoughts of anything but lying alone in bed with the blinds drawn and me out cold quickly vanished.
Even her bashful, eyes looking up at me through her eyelashes couldn’t distract me. “Is there anything else that I can do for you…” only elicited a request for a cab. Her suggestion as she shepherded me into the cab that she’d call tomorrow to see how I was doing was laden with meanings, but all I could do was smile weakly and mumble my address to the cabbie.
His initial reluctance on driving me was quickly overcome by my suggestion that the quicker he got me home the less chance there was of me puking on the back of his head. Mentioning the names of a couple of gentlemen I knew in the people cartage business who were known for their efficiency in dealing with those who upset their friends helped to overcome the last of his doubts.
It also ensured I was spared the usual commentary on the state of the world that cabbies seem to believe is their prerogative to deliver. By the time we pulled up to the office whatever placebo she had given me was slowing me down sufficiently that I tipped the cabbie a twenty, which led to the unprecedented sight in Ottawa of a passenger having his door opened for him by the driver of his hack. He also did me the favour of pointing me in the right direction of my building’s door, so I didn’t wander dazed into traffic.
Harry the day doorman had seen me in quite a number of states before this, but even his eyes showed some concern as he clocked the state of my pupils and the discreet swelling on the back of my head.
“You want me to check on you every couple of hours or so Mr. Steve, to make sure you haven’t slipped into a coma?”
“Actually”, I told Harry, “a coma sounds pretty attractive right about now. Just get me on the elevator and hit the button for the right floor and I should be able to take it from there.” The last thing I needed right now was to be mother-henned by six foot–seven-inch, 300lb, ex linebacker with one eyebrow, a shaved head, and a gold loop earring the size of a hoola-hoop. Nope, I just needed my bed and a lot of pitch dark.
Which I almost didn’t get until I remembered how a key and lock mechanism worked. After surviving that challenge, navigating through the clutter of the office to the private room in behind was nothing. The only distraction was the flashing red of the answering machine light, which caused a momentary fixation, quickly overwhelmed by the intense pain its pulsation produced in my skull.
I let the back of my knees hit the side of my bed. That allowed it to welcome me into the comfortable bosom of its embrace. I wish I could say I slept like a log and didn’t feel anything until I woke the next morning, but I was disturbed all night by wild dreams that featured Ms. Magnesen and the environmentalist cutie tearing me in half; Professor Magnesen lecturing both of my parts on separate occasions on how to control emissions; and in amongst it all was the sound of people pounding at my door and yelling for me to wake up as they were the police and it was long past time that decent people were awake and at work.
Unfortunately that last part turned out to be true, (I don’t want to think about the implications of the other parts thank you very much) and I eventually had to stagger to the door so as to prevent the noise from continuing. It was only as I turned to lead my old buddies from the crime scene back into the apartment that I realized the ten o’clock I had read on the dial of my bedside clock meant the next morning, not later that same evening.
“I didn’t even know you drank tea, let alone took sugar in it” was followed by harsh laughter as the assholes chortled at my misfortune. “Was that one lump or two?” That ain’t the kind of shit you deal with before coffee on the morning after the day I had had yesterday. I couldn’t even muster the energy to give them a baleful stare, let along a snappy retort.
I didn’t know what I had done to deserve the honour of a home visit, but I figured I’d better be slightly somnambulant before trying to cope with the excitement of it all. I pointed in the general direction of where I remembered my bathroom as being, and received a leering grin and a sweeping, be my guest, arm gesture in return.
It was only after I had held my head under the cold tap for five minutes that I began to realize the potential for trouble that a visit from two cops, who were being overtly genial, could forebode. For two guys like McIntosh and Gates to show up at my door without kicking it down first meant they had either come to gloat or… I couldn’t think of any other reason.
If they were going to arrest me they would have kicked the door down and hauled me away; that would seem more their modus apprehenda – so to speak. Of course this all could just be an elaborate game of good cop bad cop, as I noticed Gates hadn’t done anything except show his teeth at McIntosh’s jokes. Like with any wolf, that could mean he’s laughing or readying himself to go for your throat.
When I could look in the mirror and only see one of me looking back I figured I could just about cope with the boys in bad suits and headed back out to the office area. Still studiously avoiding any sort of contact with them I headed to the coffee pot awaited. From the damage inflicted upon my kitchen and the level of the pot, I could see my guests hadn’t hesitated in making themselves at home.
“You must have finished the lumps off last night,” Gates called through ” We couldn’t find anything but these packets of “nude” sugar. Oh and your out of cream.” It’s a good thing I like black coffee cause 25 years with no chance of parole is a long time to spend behind bars, and guards inside don’t like cop killers.
After gulping a first cup, burning the roof of my mouth and finishing the process of returning to consciousness simultaneously, I poured a second cup and headed out to meet my early birds, hoping I wasn’t the worm awaiting eating. From the way Gates was looking at me like a side of beef I couldn’t help feeling that prospect was pretty good.
“Who gave you the love tap?” McIntosh asked pointing his chin at the lump on my head.
“Someone who wasn’t as genteel in looking for information as the police officers of our nation’s capital. Now what can I do for you boys, I wouldn’t want to think I’m holding you up from serving and protecting the good people of Ottawa.” I tried to look at them with as much innocence as I could muster with my eyes still slightly crossed and the knowledge that the last time I had seen them a dead body with a machete in its back had plopped at my feet weighing heavily on my mind.
“It’s what we can for you chum.” Gates was licking his lips, hopefully licking off lingering drops of coffee but it was hard to tell what was going on behind those beady little eyes. “We thought you might like to know the identity of the stiff who fell at your feet the other night. We thought hearing his name might jar your memory, although I see others have tried less subtle means. Which reminds me: do you need to report a crime? We’re police officers you know and we’re here to protect the public.” He laughed a horrible little laugh that sounded like a cross between a growl and the wind blowing over a grave on a cold November night.
“That was just a misunderstanding, and why should hearing the dead guy’s name jar my memory?” I was trying to think if I had given beautiful anything like my card that she could have given her dad, which would take some explaining if it were found on his corpse.
“The crime scene boys found this,”, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic baggie of the type you use for sandwiches, pot, and evidence. This one held a piece of yellow paper torn on two edges so it had obviously ripped from the bottom corner of a larger page. “Your ad in the yellow pages was found in Mr., I should say Dr./Professor Magnesen’s jacket pocket with the name of the bar scrawled on it, and the words “last brass pole on the barkeep’s side” written in the same hand.”
He paused and looked at me, and just in case I hadn’t caught the implications of what he was suggesting, spelt it out for me.” We think you were arranging to meet him there, and you’ve holding out on us for some reason and we want to know why?”
I took a sip of my coffee and looked up at him. “Well that’s better then your usual average; batting .500 could almost make a person think you know what you’re doing. Yes I was supposed to be meeting him at the bar, but I wasn’t holding out on you because until you just told me I had no idea that the corpse at my feet was Dr. Morgensen. We had only talked on the phone up till that point, which is probably why he had the directions on where to find my scrawled on my ad in the yellow pages. I just figured he had shown up after the murder and found the bar locked up and him not able to get into seeing me. I’ve been hoping to hear from him again since, but now it looks like that hope is a pretty vain one…”
It’s always good to leave a thought or sentence hanging when talking to cops, they don’t like to think you know everything, and it gives them the illusion that they have some room to manoeuvre with you, even though you’ve built a pretty thick brick wall up for them to run into. And if they do have something in reserve, you can always hold on to “I hadn’t finished”.
I wasn’t going to have to worry about that this time, because although it was obvious they didn’t like it, they didn’t seem to have anything more than that piece of paper connecting me to the dead doc. If they thought otherwise, obstructing a murder investigation would be the least of my worries. I’d have to start worrying about my name finding its way to the attention of individuals I don’t want knowing it.
They had finished their coffees by then and knew their chances of refills were non-existent, so they’d have to head over to Tim Horton’s and have an official coffee break if they wanted any more. Gates was out the door and McIntosh was close behind him, when he turned and looked back.
“This is more than just a divorce case gone bad, peeper. It’s even more than just a homicide. There’s a lot of pressure on us to get results, but results that end it without it going far. There’s talk of not letting it go further than this room, unless something else shows up soon. Everybody’s called the chief today from the horsemen, to the spy guys, and somebody from Parliament Hill to ask that we keep them posted. Everybody’s walking around the station house right now so uptight that they’re scared to fart. Whoever worked you over last night was an amateur compared to these boys from up high. I’ve heard that they can make it so you get to the point that you want to tell them what they want to hear just so the pain will stop.”
He nodded at me then and closed the door behind him. Have a nice fucking day. It looked like my time on this case was running out fast, no matter what I wanted, so the option of another day in bed, however tempting was a no go. The problem was that unless something fell in my lap pretty soon this case was no-go as well.
I had to hope that someone was having more success than me or I could be looking forward to a long time away from home.
To be continued…