Friday, June 18, 2010

A Subtle Knife

It’s not like he had never seen a dead body before. He’d seen lots of them. But they were always laid out in fancy coffins, wearing their Sunday best and made up to look like they were sleeping. At least that’s what everybody always said, “Looks like he’s just gone for a nap, doesn’t it, Vinny?” Looked more like they dropped dead on a stage somewhere with all that makeup troweled on their faces. But Vince always nodded solemnly, the way he was supposed to, and then went in search of the cookie table. There was always a cookie table at a proper funeral.

This body, though, was not in a coffin, not wearing its Sunday best and definitely not made up to look like it was sleeping. This body was sprawled behind a dumpster with a look of shock on its face and blood all over its shirt. It stared blankly up at the sky with its mouth open and a knife sticking out of its neck. Before it was an it, while it was still a he, it must have made a feeble attempt to remove the offending knife, for its hand lay with curled fingers underneath the blood-soaked handle.

Vince staggered back and groped for his cell phone. He had spotted the body’s legs sticking out from behind the dumpster when he went into the alley to throw out a bag of garbage from Martinelli’s, his current place of employment. It took three attempts at dialing before a nasal voice informed him that he had reached 911 and asked how he could be helped. Before he could say he would like to report a murder, his lunch decided to vacate his stomach and he hurled the Martinelli’s special all over the body’s feet. The nasal voice waited for him to finish and repeated the offer of assistance.

Wiping his chin with his sleeve, Vince stammered, “There’s a dead body in the alley behind Martinelli’s. I think it was murdered.”

“Please stay on the line, sir,” the nasal voice directed calm as a cucumber.

An eternity passed. Then the nasal voice began asking rapid fire questions, most of which Vince answered correctly. The body was that of a male. No he didn’t feel for a pulse. Yes, he was sure the guy was dead. No, he didn’t know the victim. No, he didn’t think he’d seen him before. No, he didn’t see anybody else in the alley. He was there to throw out some garbage from the restaurant. He just arrived. No, he didn’t touch anything – he wasn’t sure if vomiting on the body counted, so he left that part out.

The sound of sirens filled the air and suddenly Vince found himself surrounded by cop cars and cops. The nasal voice wished him a good day and disconnected.

“You the guy that called it in?”

Vince spun around to face a large man with a grey crew cut, grey eyes, grey suit and brown shoes standing in the alley. Several uniformed officers were bustling about, erecting barriers to the alley and stringing crime-scene tape like streamers at a wedding. A short man in khaki pants and a blue polo shirt started snapping photos of everything but the body, including Vince.

“Yes,” Vince said.

“You know the guy?” the large man asked.

“No,” Vince said.

A balding man in a white lab coat, carrying an enormous metal case, sauntered up from behind the large man and passed Vince on his way to the body. The photographer greeted him with a smile and a click of the shutter. “Emergency tracheotomy gone real bad,” he said. The bald man was not amused. He muttered something that rhymed with duck and doff and proceeded to shout orders to the uniforms to move the damned dumpster so he could get to work.

The large man motioned Vince to follow him. His grey eyes never rested on anything for more than a second, but Vince had no doubt that he had been thoroughly examined and every detail had been neatly filed away in some memory bank for later total recall. He followed the man away from the body and the cursing bald man, who was now demanding to know who had wasted a perfectly good lunch special all over his crime scene. Vince blushed, but did not confess. He decided he felt safer with the large man in the mix-matched wardrobe.

“Name,” the large man grunted.

“Vince Hemmingway,” Vince grunted back.

“Tell me everything,” the large man said.

Vince described in as much detail as he could how he had come out to the alley to throw a bag of garbage away, how he noticed the legs sticking out from behind the dumpster, how he thought it might have been a homeless guy passed out and was going to tell him to move along and how he was shocked to see that it wasn’t a homeless guy and how he wasn’t going to move along anywhere of his own accord. He told the large man that the body had not been there two hours ago. He would have noticed it on his way in to work. He always entered the restaurant from the alley. Martinelli didn’t like his employees using the customer’s entrance. He didn’t mention the lunch special’s reappearance.

Speaking of Martinelli, it was at that point that he emerged on the scene, ripping mad and screaming at Vince to get his ass back inside and quit doing terrible things to dogs. What was he paying Vince for anyway? Obviously it wasn’t doing dishes!

The large man approached the irate restaurant owner and, steering him back toward the door, spoke a few quiet words to him. When the large man returned, he assured Vince that Martinelli was okay with Vince taking as much time as he needed. No problem.

“Now what time did you get to work?” The large man asked.

“Ten o’clock.”

“And you came in the alley from which way?”

Vince pointed east toward 33 Avenue. “That way.”

“Is that the way you always come?”

Vince nodded. “I live on Denver. It’s the shortest route.”

“Of course. And did you see anyone? Anyone at all?”

“No, sir,” Vince said. “The alley was empty.”

“You’re sure, now?”

“Yes, sir. There was no one here. I got here at ten o’clock like I said and the alley was deserted.”

“Very good, Vince. I think that will do for now. We’ll be in touch if we need anything else.” He large man patted Vince on the shoulder, turned and walked out of the alley.

Vince watched him go. That’s odd, he thought.

Just as he was about to enter Martinelli’s Restaurant and get back to work, he was stopped by a stocky man in a battered fedora and a tall woman of Amazonian proportions wearing a stark and ill-fitting business suit. They, too, both wore brown shoes.

“I’m Detective O’Donnell,” the man said, “and this is Detective Warshanski. Are you the young man who called this in?”

Needless to say, Vince quit his job, moved out of his apartment on Denver and failed conveniently to leave a forwarding address.


  1. Great story..I really enjoyed it well done

  2. I really enjoyed this. Gripped my attention until the very end. Nicely done!

  3. yeah i think i would too..chilling...nice magpie!

  4. I'm scared of Detective Warshanski!

  5. yep- I'd be moving on! Great story!

  6. Your Magpie is so well written ~ kept me reading from beginning to end!

  7. I had been avoiding longer Magpies for the moment as I have a headache, but couldn't resist reading yours, always consistently good. Needless to say, I was not disappointed ;D

  8. Thank you, Aoife! I do hope you are feeling better soon.

  9. Thank you all! And, Willow, Detective Warshanski kind of scared me too! LOL