Hard-Boiled Amateur Sleuth, Episode Seven

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.

February 11, 2019

Murder at the Edge of the Orient, Episode Seven

My drive toward the empty house was crowded with short list items preventing me from boarding the plane. Roll up the tatami mat and sleeping bag, grab my duffel, do a hand-off with the First Shirt to keep Housing off my back and then beeline for the TAPS counselor and a wet signature on my DD 2958 because some idiot shredded my original. 

I ticked them off around mental snapshots of Sharon Pasfield’s dead body with a bullet hole in her gorgeous head. 

Our government issue abode was all but cleared. I’d spent the weekend before the murders scrubbing crayon marks for a Monday inspection. The work kept my mind off my wife and kids. My duffel and a tatami mat were the only personal goods left. I didn’t like being stuck in the old home place without company, but billeting was full up with specialists working on an unspoken maneuver to keep Iraq in line. 

Caught in a whirlwind of death and loneliness landed me in front of the Half Moon Love Motel. 

Crime scene tape crossed the garage door. A Prefecture cop stood guard. Sort of. The guy was smoking a cigarette and chatting up a young woman wearing a uniform of pastel blue. It was hard to tell if he was trying to convince her she couldn’t clean the scene of a crime or pry a phone number out of her. She held her cleaning cart with the grip of a powerlifter. 

I drove on past and found a parking spot around the corner.

What I was looking for I didn’t know. It damn sure couldn’t be worth getting stuck on the Rock. I was going home. Starting a new life. A new chapter with better character. Except my gut had churned up an unanswerable question. My subconscious wanted more detail. It insisted on making sense out of this crime. Demanded finality for the affair with Sharon. It was a turmoil I I’d bedded down in the straw-covered barn of my memory. Then she got herself killed. That she died half-naked with another man kicked up emotional chaos. The lullaby I’d sung for auld lang syne had long passed. Now the demon was awake, howling at bygones with a big question mark.  

Before attempting to sneak into the love motel without detection, I shuffled through the photos once more, hardly seeing the details. He had maybe twenty in the pile. Their content didn’t satisfy my curiosity or relieve the unrelenting obligation to get closer to Sharon’s death. They just made thoughts of Logan Pasfield’s guilt more palatable. Pictures of Sharon reminded me of our time together as broken and impure as shoes stolen off a homeless man. Pictures of Jimmy making time with Sharon put a lot of power behind motive for her husband. And why else did he keep the secret? 

It was time to decide. Go in. Or pull away from the curve and cut into early morning traffic. An odd reflection in one photo caught my attention. I pulled it close enough to make out an image of Master Sergeant Higa. He stood at a storefront about thirty yards behind the two chatty lovers.

“What are you doing there, you lunatic?” My mind reeled with possible causes. Working for Logan. Stalking his lover. Or his hoped for lover. He was a bit clunky for Sharon’s tastes to my mind. Only, to be honest, my ego held a strong bias. The confusion involved in choosing a reason for his presence was too much. I tossed the pictures on the seat and popped the door open.

It didn’t take much stealth to get past the prefecture’s guard dog. Ironically, if he had been a dog instead of a horny young officer trying to get a date, it would have been more difficult. Lucky for me.

I slipped under the half-opened door and into the parking area. I was half a shoe into the room when I heard it. 

A ghost, warbling. No. Sobbing. Quiet, lonely sobbing. 

A peek around the hall corner revealed the wounded culprit. A living person. 

Jimmy sat on the corner of the bed beside the bloody patch, head in hands, rocking like a fishing bobber in an ocean storm.

Compassion inflated the center of my chest, followed by embarrassment at catching him weeping in secret. “Hey, kid,” I blurted.

He jumped to his feet. “Who is it?” His whimper stifled the strength of him.

“It’s your grandma the wolf, doofus. What the hell are you doing here? The cops will tie a bow on your guilt.” I checked the room with a glance.

 “Same to you, man.” He’d taken a defensive stance with his fists half open and ready to pop me.

I raised a palm. “No thanks. One ass-kicking a day is my limit.”

Jimmy dropped his combat hooks to waist level.

“This looks bad for you, son.”

“I’m no son of yours, mister.” His blue eyes glinted with hatred.

“Fair. So why are you here, incriminating yourself?” I scanned the room again, this time to pretend nonchalance.

Jimmy deflated back to a seated position on the bed. “Nothing. I’m here for the memories.”

The pitiful sound of it compelled me to put an arm around him. I held back. “Did you kill them?”

“No,” he said with more energy than I expected. “They killed each other.”

“Is that a metaphor? Because it sounds kind of stupid.” 

He tipped a half-assed glare at me.

“For an alibi is what I’m saying.”

“He was a piece of coyote scat. I stopped caring what he did with his shit life, making himself feel important. Cutting out the real value in his life.”

“So, you didn’t care about him. What about Sharon?” I threw the verbal dart and waited for it to hit a nerve.

Jimmy’s head snapped up. Confused shock stared at me.

“I saw photographs of the two of you, Jimmy. Looks a little compromising.”

His confusion transformed into bafflement.

“You know the story. Boy meets exciting woman. Plans revenge against his boot heel of a father. Sets up a dalliance to get the job done.”

Comprehension bloomed in his eyes. “I wanted to know more, is all. About Biff. I followed him. Saw them together. After one of their hookups, I confronted her. She fed me a line of crap about how they worked together. I called bullshit. She said they were friends. I told her I knew his wife pretty well. She told a nice story about two people who married the wrong other. I almost puked on her expensive shoes.” He mimicked vomiting.

“Maybe,” I said, feigning acceptance with a simpatico nod. “Or try this one. The kid falls for seductive older woman. Wants to show his baddy daddy what a man he’s become. Wants to get under Daddy’s indifferent skin by stealing Daddy’s girl. Catches Daddy and seductress en flagrante delicto. Jealousy pulls a gun. Blam, blam, thank you ma’am.” I studied the turbulent furrows in his brow, looking for guilt. “Any of this registering in your teenage brain?”

The forehead unfurled and his eyebrows rose to full mast. “Shit.”

The reaction surprised me. Not that of a cold-blooded killer. “You didn’t do it.”

“Not that way!” He cupped his crotch with one hand. The other went to the blanched skin of his open-mouthed gape.

I grabbed his shoulder to steer him toward the door. “Why don’t we get out of here? Unless you plan to assume guilt for murdering them. In that case, we’ll hang out until lover boy outside breaks his trance and wanders in to find you reliving the crime.”

He stood. “Let’s go.”

“And avoid a full investigation?” that intrusive, show up whenever I didn’t expect it voice drawled from the hallway.

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