Obsessive Compulsive Amateur Sleuth, Scene 8

Written by Mark Wm Smith

An overeducated, blue-collar cowboy, Mark Wm Smith grew up on along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana. Raised by a long haul trucker and a bartending waitress, Mark learned the hard ways of the modern frontier, scraping life from the unforgiving high chaparral.

June 13, 2020

“Obsessive Compulsion” Scene 8

It was bright outside, and the sun appeared friendly. Bennington drove ten prolonged minutes to the hospital. Previous surveillance efforts paid off, because Erin was just reaching her automobile in the parking lot when he arrived streetside. 

He ducked as she pulled into the street. “Expert move, Benny the Gumshoe,” he muttered.

Erin sped into traffic and headed downtown. Bennington kept a suitable distance, an unexpected skill that convinced him to keep three cars between them as they entered the primary business district. The afternoon sun stretched shadows into geometric artwork. 

He passed the entrance to a parking garage and glimpsed the tail end of her MG’s taillights before he realized he was following the wrong car. 

“Dammit, dammit!” 

Quick right turn at the light. Slam the brakes at the alternate access door. His wheel bumped over the curb and his fender kissed the guard shack.

“Keep that thing between the lines,” the attendant was saying as Bennington’s window slid clear. A stern fellow with nineteen-sixties half-framed glasses. “We take pride in keeping patron vehicles undamaged.” 

“Yes sir,” Bennington replied. “I appreciate that kind of professionalism. Just lost my bearings for a moment.”

The guardian nodded.

Bennington crept into the gloomy tunnels, squinting at the layout. He kept the window down, hoping for aural clues. 

A squeal of tires on the smooth concrete gave him direction.  

He wheeled left, up a level, with his blood pressure kicking higher as well. The search for the little MG intensified a blossoming headache. 

The building was not the paragon of order the guard claimed. Empty soda and beer bottles, leftover fast food sacks and plastic wrappers littered the areas between cars.

After two levels of utter failure, a door slammed just up the row. He’d been scanning right, and it nearly cost him. 

A security system chirped. 

Detective Hanibal Bronson appeared from his left, taking long strides across the lane toward somehow familiar taillights. The lanky cop was only thirty feet away. 

Bennington’s car skidded. 

His heart boomed. 

Nowhere to go. Every spot full.

The police officer held up a palm as he crossed.

Once clear, Bennington zipped past, praying the lawman didn’t turn and recognize him. He planned a quick reason for the serendipitous meeting. Gloria sent their dry cleaning to a place nearby. An item, torn or stained beyond their capacity, needed picked up.

All of this was running through his brain as his car crossed behind Bronson. Bennington could not contain his curiosity. He twisted to see Hanibal bend over and open the door.

A perfectly turned calf. Man reaching inside. Woman leaning into the assist. Redhead.

Erin! 

The name rushed to his lips and was half out of his mouth before he stifled it. His foot hung in the air over the brake pedal, poised to smash it through the floorboard. With a split second correction, the car jerked forward. His peripheral vision saw them glance over.

His chest hurt with fear for Erin. Bronson must have lured her into a trap, to arrest her. He should stop. Holler out loud with his made-up story about picking up an unsalvageable pantsuit for his wife from the dry cleaner. “Fancy meeting you here, Detective!” 

Heart racing, he swerved around the bend, nearly scraping paint from a large SUV headed for the exit. He poked the car’s nose into the first vacant slot, bumping the concrete buttress. Two deep breaths were all he allowed before squeezing out of his vehicle.

The structural design included arched openings between sections. Thick columns at ten-foot intervals held the burden of its six levels. 

Bennington peeked between these pillars.  

Erin and Detective Bronson stood close, between her open door and the car’s interior, some twenty-five yards and ten feet below his position. Their voices were indistinct, tempered. 

Helium filled his skull. He tottered. His racing heart and the clammy contact of clothing when he moved heightened the fear of passing out. His breath came in short, raspy inhales.

He grabbed a castoff paper bag next to his foot, dumped its contents and held it to his face. 

A thick odor of paint assaulted his airway, inflaming nerve endings throughout his lungs and generating prodigious momentum. He bore down with every stomach muscle to contain the pulmonary explosion and avoid discovery. 

As the urge subsided, he ticked off reasons for their meet.

What could the detective want? Was this a plan to trap the killer? Did he think she murdered her ex-boyfriend? 

During the interview in his office, what had the lawman said? Bennington recalled feeling oily after the questions. The memory stirred a worse idea. 

Maybe they planned to pin the murder on him.  

He shifted his body for another glance.  

Detective Bronson was lowering his head toward Erin’s face. They kissed. A passionate, flaming connection.  

A tiny moan escaped Bennington. He slid down the pillar’s cleft. Far, far away the slap of Hanibal’s hard leather shoe soles hammered the polished cement.

He’d made an utter fool of himself with Erin. Now he was the target of a conspiracy, holding a secret much greater than any whispered during therapy.  

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