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Sepia Skies

by Stephen Kramer Avitabile 4 months ago in Short Story

Is it that the sky is a reaction to the murder, or do the murders happen in reaction to the ugly sky?

Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash

I haven’t traveled everywhere, but I’ve traveled a lot. And Los Angeles is the only city I’ve ever been to where you can have a tan sky. Of course, there are the blue skies we’ve all seen, the sky can turn amazing colors of orange and yellow and red and purple… and we’ve all seen drab, gray skies. But I’ve never seen a dirty, tan sky anywhere other than L.A. There’s the air pollution, the wildfires, sure, maybe that contributes. But sometimes it is a sunny, dirty, tan sky. Like today.

I pull the curtains open and hot, tan sunlight pours into my place. Filling my living room with sepia tones and feelings of a dimly lit 70’s crime movie. It is so ugly. For all the beauty we think of in California with crystal blue oceans and lush greens… the browns and tans are surely left out for those of us who weren’t born here.

Tannish, brownish sunlight. Tannish, brownish grass. Oh, the leaves are changing colors! No, it isn’t like back in Massachusetts, where the leaves change from green to the most brilliant colors found only in crayon boxes. Here in L.A., the leaves are changing from green to… tannish, brownish. I had no idea how brown and blah things were before I moved out here. But I’m used to it now. Except for this occasional tan sunlight that is hot and light and dark and not hot all at the same time. I only see it occasionally. But I swear, every time I see it, I get pulled onto a murder case.

Is it that the sky is a reaction to the murder, or do the murders happen in reaction to the ugly sky? You’d never look at these lifeless sepia skies and think, ‘Oh, something good is going to happen today!’ You’d think the opposite, like it’s a bad omen. No idea if there is a correlation, but as I pop open a fresh, new box of cereal, my phone buzzes. I refuse to look. I know what it is. And if I read it, I will have to leave immediately. At least, for the time being, if I pretend I didn’t hear it, I can sit an enjoy a bowl of cereal and have a normal morning. I pour the milk in and ‘buzz, buzz’ there goes my phone again. Maybe I didn’t hear it that time because I was in the other room. As I pour some blueberries into my cereal bowl ‘buzz, buzz’ maybe I was running the garbage disposal and missed that one.

Why do I make these excuses? I am not making them to anyone. I’m alone here. And I am making the excuses in my head. It makes sense to me for some strange reason. I crunch away at my cereal, trying to crunch loudly in order to drown out any possible future buzzings of my phone. I finish breakfast and check my phone. Murder. Turse Manor. I knew it. Well, it’s not like I knew the location. This shitty brown sunlight doesn’t tell me locations. It just tells me… murders.

All through my training, I had been told that solving murders was difficult. And I always believed that. Until I had been doing it for two years. I had been pulled onto nine murder cases in those first two years. Solved every single one of them. And in the next six years, I’ve been pulled on plenty of other cases. And I’ve never come across a murder case I couldn’t solve. Solving a murder isn’t hard. You have all the information you need right in front of you. It’s just a matter of what you choose to do with that information.

I finally pull up to Turse Manor. My new partner, Detective Perez, is waiting in front of the building. He hasn’t gone in yet, he’s been waiting for me. I like this guy. Respectful, smart, he’s going to make a good detective. Several other police officers roam around inspecting the rundown apartment building.

I get out of my car and make my way towards Detective Perez.

“Detective Frumkin.” He greets me formally before we get to the informal, nitty-gritty. Did I mention I like this guy? “Murder victim here in apartment five. They say it was from a stabbing. Murder weapon still… lodged in his chest.”

I look up at the building. It is a figurative piece of shit… and it is so close to being a literal piece of shit. Just another building in L.A. with a low enough cost for people to be able to live in cheap, but without any signs of upkeep. If you took away me, Detective Perez, all the cops, all the caution tape, went back to yesterday and showed someone this building and said, ‘A murder occurred here.’ They’d look at the building and respond, ‘Well, yeah sure, look at this place. It’s a dump.’

“Should we head inside?” Perez notices I’m off in Wonderland, staring at this city dump with windows and a front door.

“Yeah, let’s go.” I respond and wait for him to take the lead.

We arrive in the lobby, which is not a lobby in any sense, other than it is just the first nasty, fucking room you are in once entering Turse Manor. Immediately, several cops hit us with a flurry of information, hoping to impress and get a recommendation to detective.

“Eight apartment building.”

“The vic is in apartment five. Second floor.”

“Security camera in the lobby caught no one going in or out of the building after the last known sighting of the vic when alive.”

“Hold up!” I stop the boys in blue from reading their lines of information scribbled in their pocket-sized notebooks. “This dumpster has a security camera?”

One cop, who I’ve worked with before, Davis, points up to the corner. An ancient security camera, the first one ever invented, sits stupidly in the corner.

“Only camera in the whole building.” Davis is excited to get the spotlight on him. “We checked. Last person in the building was our vic, Glenn Foles. No one in or out since 11:25 P.M.”

“What the fuck is 11:25 P.M.?” I ask. “Glenn’s bath time?”

“Frumkin.” Perez is stifling laughter. He knows I’m just fucking with the cops as I always do, but it always makes him laugh. “As the officers let me know, we have a resident, a Sven… something Swedish… he is the last known person to have seen Glenn alive. Roughly 30 minutes after he arrived home. That was at 11:25. No one in or out since then. Everyone is still in their apartments now.”

“Ah, good work everyone. Good work Davis.” I pat him on the back. He nods with appreciation. “So, it sounds like the killer lives in the building. And everyone is still in their apartments?”

Davis nods. “We took statements. But if you’d like to take your own…”

“Yeah, let’s do that.” I scan this poor excuse for a residence. Narrow hallway. Four apartments on the first floor. Staircase leading up. Another four apartments on the second floor. And a killer is in here. “Everyone, stay down here. We’re going to be sending residents down to the lobby. And then we’re going to question them one by one in their apartments… me, Perez and Davis. But no one is to leave this lobby except to come with us.”

We start with apartment one. Wanda, 40’s, a science teacher at a nearby middle school. In her initial statement she tells us Glenn was a bad person and she is not surprised he’s dead. Well, that’s honest. We send her to the lobby. In apartment two is Tavo, mid 20’s. He too, is not surprised to hear of Glenn’s death. He shows no sorrow. We send him to the lobby. In apartment three is Thad, about 30. He tells us he was surprised at first, but the shock has already worn off. But he feels badly for Glenn even if he wasn’t such a great person and even though Thad didn’t know him well. Off to the lobby, Thad! Apartment four has Frank. Frank, barely 21, with bloodshot red eyes, hardly knows what is happening, but the news of Glenn’s death comes as a surprise to him. Even though he has already been told once. Frank doesn’t seem to entirely know what is going on, but he says if Glenn was killed, he probably deserved it. Interesting. Please go wait in the lobby, sir. We skip apartment five, as Glenn is in there and he can wait. Apartment six has Cindy, young thing, pretty, maybe late 20’s. She wears sunglasses and tells us she is hungover. And she has only nice things to say about Glenn. We send her to the lobby, sunglasses and all. Apartment seven has Sven, late 30’s. He is grouchy, but also happy to cooperate. He is curious as to how Glenn was killed and is also not surprised. He tells us openly, he was not at all a fan of Glenn. He and his wife. His wife is out of town, visiting relatives. To the lobby, Sven! And finally, apartment eight has Ada, 40, red eyes, missing teeth, both appear to be results of heavy drug usage. Ada seems like maybe she is even on drugs now. She tells us she disliked Glenn. She didn’t have sole custody of her daughter but liked having her daughter visit her… although it made her feel uncomfortable to have her daughter visit when Glenn was around. Well, you may wait in the lobby Ada… Glenn will not be there.

“That was an interesting rundown.” Perez says after we send the last of them down to the lobby.

“Are you guys ready to see the body?” Davis motions towards apartment five.

We stroll through the hallway and come to Glenn’s corner of the building. The door is broken open. A clean break. Hardly any mess. We enter the one-bedroom apartment and Davis leads us to the living room. Glenn is on his back in the center of the room. A splintered and large piece of wood sticks out of his chest. It looks to be broken off of something. Much careful examination proves that the piece of wood wasn’t broken off of anything inside this apartment. Stuck in the splintered wood is a light brown thread.

Davis shows Perez some of their findings. I wander off into Glenn’s bedroom. Scanning around. Check inside his closet. It’s a shallow closet. Can’t even fit much in there. Symptom of a shitty, old building. I join Perez and Davis back in the living room.

“Frumkin!” Perez calls to me. “This is that Glenn guy, the guy that was on trial. With the girls in that middle school.”

I look down at the face. I didn’t notice it before, but now I see it. That’s right, this was a big deal. Glenn was accused of having relations with a few different girls in the nearby middle school. Rumors of abuse, intimidation, non-consensual factors, the whole lot. The girls wouldn’t testify though. And the case, which originally seemed promising, just sunk. There wasn’t enough proof for the court, even though it had been more than proven to the public. Everyone knew this guy was guilty, including the judge that announced him innocent. Then, this Glenn guy, has the audacity to countersue. His name was dragged through the mud. Wins a big settlement. Tons of money. Piece of garbage… suited well for his garbage apartment in this garbage building. Looks like he met his fate.

“Well.” I shake my head. “That gives us a lot of motives for our seven suspects.”

“Guy probably deserved it.” Davis mutters.

“No.” I correct him. “The guy definitely deserved it. But that stays off the record. What stays on the record is… we still have to find the killer.”

Peres and David nod. We return to the lobby and prepare to interview Wanda from One, Tavo from Two, Thad from Three, Frank from Four, Cindy from Six, Sven from Seven, and Ada from Eight. How neat and tidy. It’s like we’re investigating inside of a Wes Anderson movie.

Davis goes ahead of us to join everyone in the lobby. I stay back with Perez.

“So, who do you think we interview first?” I ask him.

“We should…” Perez is thinking. “Look for the person with the most to gain?”

“First, we look for anomalies.” I explain. “Everyone had nothing nice to say about Glenn. Except for Cindy from Six. Nothing BUT nice things to say. That’s suspicious, since the guy is a scumbag. And she’s the only one wearing sunglasses in here. Like we’re at the beach.”

“She said she was hungover.” Perez responds.

“For one, that was a lie. And even if it wasn’t, two, you always interview hungover people first. They’re the easiest to crack the truth out of. Looking for any way to end a conversation from going on.”

So, we head down to the lobby and grab Cindy from Six first… and we bring her up to Six to question her.

We’re in Six with Cindy, her sunglasses still on.

“Mind taking the shades off?” I ask politely.

“Oh, I’m—I’m just so hungover. The uh—the lights—” Cindy points up and around at all the lights on her ceiling as if I don’t know where lights are fucking located.

I flip the light switch off. “There you go. Lights off. Shades off.” A little more sternly.

Cindy takes her sunglasses off revealing a big, swollen black eye. Perez is shocked to see this, but I could tell. I’ve probably seen 20 women trying to cover black eyes with a big pair of shades.

“So, we’re not all that hungover, are we?” I motion to her eye. “Mind telling us what happened there? Was that from Glenn?”

“What? No!” Cindy from Six is appalled. “No, Glenn never laid a hand on me”

“Look, it’s okay if he did. We’re here to help.” I reassure her. “We’re here to help you, help anyone and everyone who needs help.”

Cindy walks away from us and ambles towards her couch. We follow. She sinks into a dusty, old couch and places her face in her hands.

“It wasn’t Glenn. Just forget it. The guy who did it—I don’t want to create an awkward living sit—look, I just don’t want to cause any problems.” Cindy lifts her heads out of her hands. “I have already let it go. I just want to forget it happened.”

Perez sits next to her on the couch and puts his arm on her shoulder to comfort her and she inhales sharply with pain. We see a bruise poking out from the collar of her shirt. Perez pulls it slightly revealing a large bruise.

“Cindy, you have to tell us who did this to you.” Perez is trying to console her as she begins to get emotional. “This isn’t right.”

“He’s right! I was asking for it. The way I dressed I—” She trails off. “No wonder why he hit me, after trying to hut him down in the middle of…”

“Cindy.” I move a little closer, cautious not to move too close so as not to overwhelm her. “It is never okay. And whoever did this to you… did they do more than just hurt you?”

“Look, I think I technically said yes, that I wanted—that I—I just changed my mind but—can we please not? I don’t want t press charges, I just want to forget this happened!” Cindy from Six’s eyes well up.

“So, it wasn’t Glenn?” I double check. Cindy shakes her head no.

“Glenn was the only person who listened to me about it all actually. Maybe he wasn’t actually a good guy, but he was good to me.”

“Alright.” I think Cindy needs a break. “Perez, you stay with her. Cindy, you’re fine. We’ll stop with the questions for now. I’m just going to have a look around.”

I scan the apartment. She does have wooden furniture, nothing that’s broken. I can’t find anything that would suggest she did this to Glenn. She sounds like she’s telling the truth. So, now we need to find out who did this to her. It may help us in our investigation, and also the son of a bitch needs to be held accountable. I check Cindy’s closet. Much deeper than Glenn’s closet. Isn’t that the way it goes with these old apartments, nothing is consistent. And she seems to be hiding nothing. Just a closet full of expensive clothes.

We bring Cindy from Six back down to the lobby, sunglasses off. All the other residents see her black eye. They all show surprise, but my guess is at least one of them is feigning surprise. Perez and I hang back for a moment.

“So, we start questioning the guys now?” He asks. “Find out who did this to her?”

“We do want to find that out next.” I tell him. “But first we make the asshole sweat. He sees his work out in the open. He knows we’ve seen it. Every pore on his body is opening now and his body temperature is rising. So, we’re going to interview the other two women first.”

“Got it. So, start with Wanda from One?”

“One sounds like a good starting place to me.”

We head into One with Wanda. She happily shows us around. She offers us tea. We both decline. I don’t know about Perez but I actually would love some tea right now. But I always decline offers from a suspect. Unless the offer is cookies. I can never turn down a cookie.

“Davis told us that you watch over the place when the landlord is gone?” Perez asks.

Wand from One nods. “Yes, she gives me her master set of keys, just in case anything is needed. I’ve lived here awhile so she trusts me.”

We notice the master set of keys sitting on the counter. Wanda has some wood furniture, nothing out of order. Nothing broken. In fact, everything is quite tidy here. I check her closet. Another shallow one, filled with a bunch of black knit hats, gloves, scarves, and the like.

“Frequent cold places?” I ask, motioning to her closet filled with Non-Los-Angeles accessories.

“I like to knit. Sometimes give them out. Plus, you never know where you may end up.” Wanda responds. “This won’t take long, will it? I have a flight tonight at 8.”

“No, you should be fine by then I assume,” I respond. “Vacationing somewhere cold?”

“Mexico.” She answers softly.

“Ah, so not really.” I smirk. I close her closet and head back into her living room. Perez is looking through a photo album briefly and sets it down. I pick it up.

“You were the teacher to those girls.” Perez says bluntly. “The girls that Glenn…”

“That’s why I’m not surprised he’s dead.” Wanda from One responds. “And not at all sorry. We all knew he did it. And those were such lovely girls. And they’re so messed up now. They were 11. Did you know that? Not only are they not adults, they are not even teens!”

I glide through the photo album carefully. Taking it all in. Wanda watches me. Perez looks up.

“Anything?” He asks.

“You were the teacher to how many of the girls?” I ask.

“Just two.” Wanda answers. “But I know all three of them very well.”

I close the photo album and set it down. “We’re good here. Thank you Wanda from One. You can head back out to the lobby.”

Wanda from One joins the others. Perez and I have a private huddle.

“Cindy from Six,” I start. “Says Glenn was nice to her. She says someone else hit her. If she is telling the truth, she wouldn’t be a suspect. But she could be lying.”

“And that woman was the teacher to those girls.” Perez says, deep in thought. “She’s definitely got motive. And she’s got the keys. She could go right into his place.”

“True.” I ponder this. “But the door to Glenn’s place was broken open. Why would she break it open if she has the keys? Unless she’s trying to make it look like someone else?”

Perez nods. “What do you think? She seems pretty normal.”

“I think we need to interview the rest of them and find out who has the most motive here.”

Now, we’re bringing Ada from Eight up to Eight and having a look around. Ada is continuously scratching her arms nervously, rubbing her eyes nervously. Her place is a fucking mess.

“Sorry my place is a bit of a mess.” Ada from Eight says delicately.

“No, not at all.” I lie. “It’s fine. My place looks like this most days.” No, it fucking doesn’t.

I come across a stack of grocery newsletters and coupons, Ada snatches them from me and lays them on the counter, careful to keep her coupons in order. She has no wood furniture. Her tables are all plastic IKEA numbers, half of her chairs are also IKEA jams and the other half are beanbags.

I check Ada’s closet. Deep. Only a few outfits hang in there. No dresser. No other place where clothing seems to be stored.

“You don’t have a lot of clothes, do you Ada?” I try to put it gingerly.

“No, I uh—I sell, well, I sell a lot of them, is what I do.” Ada is tripping all over her words. She is so nervous. “You know, girls got to make ends meet. Got to make food—food to eat.”

Perez opens her fridge. The only contents are an expired box of baking soda, a bottle of white wine half empty, two apples and a loaf of sliced white bread.

“Clothes not selling for much?” Perez shuts the refrigerator door.

“Ah, I just had a lot of people over.” Ada from Eight is spinning a web of lies that is so thick, I’ll need a machete to slice through it.

“And Glenn?” I look to Ada, more nervous than before. “Your feelings on him were, less than good?”

“Yeah, look, I know you guys are here investigating his murder.” Ada gains a little confidence. “And I didn’t do it, but I’m not going to talk about Glenn in a way that makes me sound less guilty, or like I thought he was a saint. Glenn was a piece of fucking trash! Everyone knew it! Except that Cindy girl. You guys know the whole deal with him and the girls? I got a girl that age. She stays with her Dad, but I used to have her over here all the time until I found out about Glenn. After that, I didn’t feel comfortable having her over here. He would always say hi to her and have a conversation with her… probably plotting his nasty, disgusting plan… but now… now that asshole is where he belongs.”

Cindy points down. And I am assuming she isn’t referring to the first-floor apartments. “I’m glad he’s dead. Now, my girl can come back around here.”

“I truly appreciate your honesty.” For the first time in our conversation, Ada and I are not lying to one another. “Any idea what happened to Glenn? Who might have wanted to do this to him?”

Ada from Eight shrugs. “I was passed out before 11 last night. Early night for me. Didn’t hear or see anything. But in terms of who would want to do this to him… what’s the population of L.A.? 4 million? Probably 3,999,999 people would want to do this to him.”

“Thank you for expanding the suspect list.” I say with sarcasm as I wave Perez towards the door and we exit. Ada follows as well, gives us an awkward wave and heads down to the lobby. Perez and I stay behind.

“Wow.” Perez watches her walk down the stairs. “Just, wow. Suspect still?”

“Yeah,” I say plainly. “She gave us the ‘Let me not hide anything from you even if it makes me look bad’ routine, but she still hid information from us. She was still lying. That’s a clever play by her, but she didn’t do it perfectly. Plus, she has a young daughter. Of course, she would want him dead.”

“Think she could’ve done it, Frumkin?”

“I still think any seven of these people could’ve done it.”

We stand in the lobby before seven suspects. Three girls we’ve already spoken to once. Four men… any of them sweating yet? The ugly tan sunlight creeps in through dingy windows and puts everyone in sepia tones. I don’t see anyone sweating yet. The abuser of Cindy from Six is keeping cool still. Not for long.

Frank from Four, is playing it so cool, he might even be asleep. Sitting on the floor, head back, mouth open.

“Frankie Baby!” I shout sharply.

Frank from Four shoots himself awake, eyes red and confused. He looks around.

“Want to take us into apartment four?”

“Apartment four?” He utters. “Shit, that’s where I live.”

We head into apartment four with Frank and the stale smell of weed and unwashed fabric attacks our noses. I check Frank’s closet, deep, filled with baggies of weed.

“Uh, weed is legal in California, officer.” Frank is right behind me as I look around.

“Detective.” I correct him. “And I know… because… Detective.”

Frank nods and backs away. I continue looking around. A lot of wooden furniture, all in bad shape. Nothing looking out of the ordinary.

“Know what happened to Glenn?” I ask plainly.

“I don’t.” Frank from Four is suddenly alert. “But I have a theory. So, Glenn, he sells shit… uh, he sold shit. But he would sell bad shit. Shit that wasn’t even the shit he said it was.”

“You want to use words that actually tell us what the fuck you’re talking about?” Perez is annoyed with his stupidity.

“Okay, okay.” Frank collects himself. “So, Glenn would sell shit—weed, coke, whatever. But most times what he sold wasn’t what he said it was. He’s sold weed to—well, I’ve heard he’s sold weed to people, but also coke to people, and it’s turned out to not even be that… weed or coke. It’s been some bullshit herbs, or laundry detergent, flour, baking powder, whatever. He’s even sent people to the hospital. A lot of people. I know people that know people that did business with Glenn and spent time in Urgent Care and—I wouldn’t be surprised if someone—” Fran imitates a stabbing motion.

“How did you know he was stabbed?” I ask.

“Oh, cause…” Frank from Four looks around. “I didn’t know, I just guessed—I mean, I didn’t guess, that’s just the thing… that’s the motion you do to signify… killing… you know…” Frank does the stabbing motion again.

“Got it.” Frank is a lot for even me. “And what about Cindy from Six? Her black eye, her bruises, do you know who could have--?”

“Oh, that was Glenn for sure.” Frank says confidently. “Glenn and Cindy had a little thing, but Glenn wanted her real bad and Cindy always kind of seemed like a tease. And I’ve heard him even say how angry he would get when she teased him… not that I think she deserved any of that!”

“You ever buy from Glenn?” I ask. “Don’t worry, we don’t give a shit about a little weed dealing.”

Frank waits a second or two before answering. “Let’s just say, I don’t buy from him now.”

We send Frank down to the lobby. We walk behind him. Perez and I exchange glances. Suddenly, Frank reaches the lobby and looks right at Thad from Three.

“What the fuck!” He screams. “This asshole is still alive?! I thought you said he was killed!”

“I’m not dead.” Thad is confused. “Glenn’s dead.”

“You’re not Glenn?!” Frank from Four is confused as all Hell. “Oh shit.”

“You thought he was Glenn?” Perez grabs Franks arm firmly. This is important.

“Yeah well…” Frank is collecting himself after a massive shock to his system. “Well, those two were always hanging out together, working on that app. Every time I had bought from—any time I uh, I went up to see them, they were both together. I just thought that was Glenn.”

“Working on an app together?” I smile at Thad from Three. “Fun stuff to do with someone you hardly know, eh Thad? Let’s head to your apartment.”

Perez and I are about to have some fun in Three with Thad. All the confidence in the room rests with us and if Thad was wearing boots, he’d be shaking in them.

“Okay, let me just start and clear this all up.” Thad is going to explain this one away, right? “Me and Glenn did work on an app together. We didn’t know each other too well before, but after he came into some money, from a uh, some settlement, he wanted to do something with it. I was trying to start up this app and he offered to put money down. A lot. So, we spent time together and then he got all crazy and thought he was going to lose all his money and just when we had investors coming to take a look at the damn thing, he pulled his money and then the project just kind of halted and everything went to shit. He was all crazy about the money and everything and then didn’t want anything to do with the app. And we haven’t really talked since. So, that’s why I didn’t mention that, because other than that brief period, one or two months tops, we didn’t really know each other.”

“And so now you’re bitter about the whole experience.” I state.

“No, not bitter!” Thad is getting defensive.

“You’re sour.” Perez tries a tasty adjective.

“Not sour, not bitter.” Thad searches for his own word. “I mean, I guess people nowadays would say salty…”

“Whatever the fuck it is, you ain’t sweet on him!” I’ve had enough with this exploration of what the tongue senses.

“Sure. Who would be? But I didn’t do anything to Glenn.” Thad from Three insists. I only left that stuff out because it felt like it wasn’t pertinent.”

“We’ll decide what’s pertinent.” I leave the room, check his bedroom. Open the closet, shallow, moderately filled with clothing. I return to the living room. Perez keeps a close eye on Thad from Three, arms folded. As I look around, I realize Thad does not have one single thing in his apartment that is wood. Everything is metal, has a slick, modern feel. I don’t see anywhere that the murder weapon could have come from. But he is a definite suspect. He absolutely could harbor angry feelings towards Glenn for pulling out of a project.

“Alright.” It’s all I have to say for a moment. I continue to look around. “What do you know about that Cindy girl? And don’t say you don’t know her that well unless you don’t know her that well.”

“Oh uh,” Thad is suddenly flushed, face red, there’s the sweat I was looking for. “Well, yeah, we’ve talked, we’ve hung out. We almost had a—well, not a thing but—we almost—but we never did anything really.”

“Pff!” Perez can’t control himself. “Convincing.”

“Do you sell anything? Drugs? Anything like that?” I stare right into Thad from Three’s eyes. My eyes trained on his. I will see any change, any movement, any flicker.

His eyes dart towards his bedroom door and then back to me. “I will tell you the absolute truth. I do not sell drugs.”

“Very good.” I motion towards the door. “Head back to the lobby, we’ll be right there.”

Thad from Three walks off swiftly. Perez and I linger in the apartment.

“He will tell me the absolute truth… that he doesn’t sell drugs.” I recount to Perez. “But he mentioned nothing about selling things and passing them off as drugs.”

“Aha!” Perez waves a finger in happy discovery. “This guy has got massive motive. But no wooden furniture.”

“Yeah.” I am slightly saddened. “I noticed that.”

Back to the lobby. The only two we haven’t spoken to at length yet, Sven from Seven, who sits with perfect posture and a determined stare. We’ll leave that guy for last. The other is Tavo from Two.

“Tavo! You’re up!”

We’re in apartment Two with Tavo and it’s fairly neat, tidy, clean. Tavo has art projects strewn out all over the place. Paintings, drawings, that sort of thing. Perez checks the refrigerator, I don’t know why. He keeps doing this. He sees a lot of produce, a lot of juice, a few dishes of leftovers. Alright Perez, now that we know the guy eats all his food groups. Is that good enough for you? Actually, he does have the most stocked refrigerator of anyone. It does sort of suggest that he is often here, often in his place with all that food. Perez shuts the refrigerator door. Did he gather the same information as I did, or did he just decipher that Tavo likes his orange bell peppers?

Tavo waits patiently for us. Almost too patient. No sweat. But sometimes no sweat is a symptom of something else, someone who is too cool under pressure. Even those who have nothing to worry about in these moments worry. It’s human nature.

“What do you know about Glenn?” I ask.

“That he was an absolute asshole.” Tavo is still calm and cool and collected. “That mother fucker called the cops on me so many times. That guy out there, Davis, I know him well. He’s been here several times to check me out.”

“What has he called the police on you for?” Perez is legitimately curious.

“You guys know all about his escapades with young girls.” Tavo explains. “But did you know he was a complete racist too? Used to throw racial slurs my way, tell awful racist jokes, always called me Taco, and called the cops on me countless times because he saw ‘a suspicious person who doesn’t live in the building.’ I’ve lived here for a year longer than that asshole! And he one time planted drugs in my place. Well, they weren’t real drugs. Mainly baking soda. But he tried to get me thrown in jail for some shit!”

“What a fucking dick.” Perez is starting to take this personally. Which is fine. But I give him a look to let him know to reign it back a little.

“You want my theory?” Tavo from Two asks, clearly not going to wait for an answer. “I think he pissed off a lot of people, and he finally pissed off the wrong person. And he got what he deserved. You guys should rule it a suicide and let the saint who removed this devil from our world go free.”

“Thank you for the theory and the tip.” I say dully as I scribble notes on my hand. I’m not really writing anything, I am just doing this to see what it gets Tavo to emote. He does look to me with worried eyes.

“Hey, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t kill the guy.” Tavo explains. “I hate him as much as anyone else but I would never do that. I was just planning on moving away once I could. I got too much promising stuff in my life.”

Tavo from Two motions towards his artwork. Paintings, drawings, and a sculpture he is making from wood. My eyes dart around, no wood furniture in here either. But a lot of wood on his sculpture. I rush to the bedroom. Fling the closet door open. Shallow, just some clothes. I return, scanning, no more wooden furniture anywhere.

“Do you know how Glenn was killed?” I ask.

Tavo shakes his head. “No. I just know they said murder. I didn’t hear anything so I’m assuming not a gunshot or anything.”

“Where do you get all the wood for that sculpture?” I motion towards his artwork.

“Just… around.” Tavo stares at his own artwork.

We usher Tavo from Two out of his apartment and he heads down to the lobby.

“Motive…” Perez begins listing. “Lots of wood in his apartment. Fridge is stocked full, spends a lot of time here in his apartment.”

Ah, so Perez did notice the same thing I did about the refrigerator. Good job. This guy will make a great detective.

“He’s got a lot of wood at his disposal… and finds it ‘around’ but why would he leave it all out in the open like that?” I ask Perez.

“Maybe to throw us off and make us think exactly what you’re thinking right now.” Perez explains.

“Definite possibility.” I lead Perez out of the door and we go get our last guy.

We are now in Seven with Sven. It’s me, Perez, and Sven from Seven. Sven has a very confident look, unwavering.

“Your thoughts on Glenn?” I ask.

“Piece of shit. Not surprised he is dead.” Sven’s voice is confident as well. “He used to make advances towards my wife, would say lewd comments to her, make her uncomfortable. Called her awful, unspeakable words. I made it clear to him if he ever laid a hand on her…”

Perez looks to me, eyes wide open.

“That you’d do something?” I try to finish Sven’s sentence.

“That I’d kick his ass.” Sven corrects me. “I’d never kill anyone. I’d never even kill him, piece of shit he is, he deserves suffering. I would have beat his ass and let him suffer through pain.”

“Doesn’t really take you off our suspects list, Sven.” I look him over seriously. In all honesty, it kind of does. He just hates the guy. His hands are well-kept, nails trimmed, clean, skin soft, body untoned, simple, he doesn’t look to be the killing type.

“I didn’t kill Glenn.” He says simply.

“Alright.” I think for a moment. “Wife’s out of town?”

“Yes,” he responds. “Thank goodness. She would be horrified by all of this. As it is, we’ll have to move now. But she always thought that maybe he wasn’t really so bad, and was just a troubled individual. She always gave him the benefit of the doubt. I always told her to forget about him. Forget it. He is rotten to the core.”

I walk into his bedroom after doing a quick scan of his living room. All wooden furniture was intact. In his bedroom, everything seems ordinary. I open the closet and look inside, another shallow one. I leave the door open and Sven from Seven follows me along with Perez.

“What kind of things would Glenn say to your wife?” Perez asked curiously.

“Oh, all sorts of stuff.” Sven was recalling a past event and getting angry. “You know, there was one time he ordered this big wooden reclining chair and when my wife came home, he asked her to help him. She did, and the whole way up the stairs he kept making lewd comments. Talking about the wood on the chair, the wood legs, you can guess the fucked up things he said to her. Nothing overly clever… wood related… sexually suggestive things, called her a slut, a whore, kept asking her to come into his place…”

“Glenn didn’t have a wooden recliner in his place.” I interrupt him. “When was this?”

“Oh, just a few weeks ago.” Sven from Seven recalls. “But he only had the recliner a couple days and then gave it to that Thad guy. Gave it to him as a peace offering for the app project going to shit. Thad lives below me, thin walls, thin floors, I hear a lot.”

“Thad didn’t have a wooden recliner either.” I recall. I look back to Sven’s closet. I look to Perez. “Four deep closets and four shallow ones, if you’re keeping track.”

“Oh no, they’re all deep.” Sven moves past me to his shallow closet. He goes inside and pushes on the back wall. It’s a false wall. Behind it is the rest of the closet. “Some of them just have false walls. I don’t know, weird thing about the building because it’s so old. But they’re all deep closets. I’ve seen all the apartments, been here a while so our landlord has taken me through them all. I just keep my safe back here, jewelry, that sort of thing.”

“Sven from Seven.” I smile for the first time in a while. “Thank you.”

Sven returns to the lobby and Perez and I head to Glenn’s apartment. I go right for the shallow closet. I open it and push the back wall. A false wall, revealing the rest of the closet. Large shelves, a few baggies of drugs scattered around, rubber bands, and that’s it.

We head to Sven’s apartment. To the closet. Open it up. Push on the back wall. Another false wall. And I stare inside and smile again.

We return to the lobby. All seven suspects look up at us.

“Cindy from Six.” I say. “Did you know Glenn had a false wall in his closet?”

“Yeah.” Cindy from Six responds quickly. “That’s actually where he hid all his cash after he pulled it out of that fucking prick’s project—or um—yeah, he didn’t trust Thad and he didn’t trust banks. He thought everyone was out to get him. So, he withdrew all his money in cash and hid it in that closet.”

“And why is Thad a prick, Cindy?” Perez stares right at Thad.

“Oh, what the fuck!” Thad explodes. “I didn’t touch her—it’s not like you could get my prints on—if—if it is in self-defense then—”

There’s the sweaty individual who confesses to his own sin. Cindy from Six has been gifted temporary confidence of maximum strength.

“That’s why he’s a prick!” She shouts right at him from across the lobby. She points to her eye. “This is why he’s a prick. Among other things that… that I am now willing to put on the record.”

“Good Cindy.” I smile at Thad from Three. “And does anyone know what Thad has behind his false wall?”

We’re all squished into Thad’s small apartment… number three that is. We stand in front of his closet as I show everyone, Perez, Thad, Cindy, the other residents, the cops, Davis, I show them all a wooden recliner, with a big piece broken off of one of the legs.

“What? How did—how did that get there?” Thad from Three starts hurling questions into the air. “I threw that thing out.”

“Is this where the trash goes?” I ask. “Or, is a false wall in your closet, where the hidden murder weapon goes?” I point to the leg of the chair. Perez raises a baggie with the piece of wood that was pulled from Glenn, Glenn’s blood stained on the end of it.

“No!” Thad is wide-eyed. “I didn’t do this! I didn’t do anything!”

I walk into the closet and pull off of a shelf, a light brown pair of gloves, one glove, with a thread clearly pulled out of it. I hold the gloves up to the piece of wood in the baggie. The color matches the thread stuck to the splintered piece of wood.

“I’ve never seen those gloves before in my life!” Thad is bewildered, or acting like it.

“You must have been doing Glenn in with your eyes closed then.” Perez jokes. He motions to Davis. Davis starts cuffing Thad from Three.

“You got to be kidding!” Thad is furious. “I mean, you can’t—you can’t prove—can you prove? Is this really—really happening?”

“Glenn pulled out of your project. You were bitter, sour, salty, whatever… you were mad. You did him in. The piece of wood was broken off of the chair he gave you. And it was perfect because there isn’t one piece of wooden furniture in your whole place. So, it couldn’t come from you. Right? No one would expect that. You just had to hide the chair, and the gloves you wore, in your closet. Perfect... until we found all of this.”

Oh, it feels so good to put someone like Thad in their place. And after what he did to Cindy, and she is going to give a statement down at the station, he is getting everything that is coming to him. They haul Thad from Three off. Maybe he’ll get cell number three and won’t have to change his name.

Everyone leaves the apartment. Residents return to their places. Cindy from Six takes a ride with a cop. Perez and I stroll through the hallways. Perez is proud. It’s one of his first. For me, it’s one of many. Still have a perfect record.

“Good work Perez.”

“Thanks, Frumkin.” Perez stops for a moment. “I just wonder where all his money went.”

“Who knows,” I open the front door. “Probably in Thad’s bank account or hidden somewhere else. Dumped it into an app. Hey, you go on down to the station without me. I’ll catch up. Got one last thing to take care of.”

Perez nods and heads off. I wait for him to get into his car and drive off. Perez is going to make a good detective. I spin on my heel, back into Turse Manor. Mosey my way up to one of the doors. Knock, knock, knock. Footsteps slowly approach the door. The door opens.

And there is Wanda from One. I ask her if I may enter. She says sure.

I walk slowly through her place. Picking up her photo album.

“Can I help you, Detective Frumkin?” She asks.

I continue into the bedroom and open her closet, looking into her shallow closet. I open the photo album onto one specific page and toss it onto the bed. Wanda from One watches me with wide eyes.

“Two of the girls were your students, but you were close to all three of them.” I recount. I point to the album. “The third one was not a student of yours… because she was a niece of yours.”

There in the photo album is a picture of Wanda at a family reunion with one of the girls that was involved with Glenn. I remember exactly what all those girls look like after that case. You don’t forget those innocent faces.

“And a master set of keys gets you into any room you want. Into Thad’s apartment and his false wall behind his closet, where you could place a chair and a pair of gloves. And it could get you into Glenn’s place, though you could break the door to throw the scent from yourself.”

I push on the back wall in her closet. A false wall. It opens to reveal a bunch of cash and a big bundle of light brown thread.

“And here you can hide the cash, you can hide the light brown thread and of course, you are a fantastic knitter.” I pick up a pair of her black knit gloves. “You even do fine craftsmanship on a pair of gloves. Gloves… for L.A.? Gloves… for Mexico? And a trip to Mexico… tough to afford on a teacher’s salary… without some other influx of cash. So, we have motive, we have access to all the apartments, access to the murder weapon, and evidence that proves you created other evidence left behind in Thad’s apartment.”

“Glenn was a horrible person. You know that.” Wanda from One speaks slowly and steadily. “And what Thad did to that Cindy girl, horrible. She confided in Glenn. She told him everything. He lives just above me. Thin walls, thin floors, I hear a lot. The abuse, the taking advantage… it was exactly what Glenn did to those girls… and… what Glenn was probably even planning on doing to Cindy. Glenn and Thad both deserve the worst.”

“So, you figured you’d set it in motion?” I ask, not expecting any answer. “And all the money?”

“Half of it was going to go to the girls.” Wanda responds immediately. “It wouldn’t ease the pain and suffering and trauma… but it’s something.”

“The other half for Mexico?” I look to Wanda and she stares down at the floor. “Well, you better pack up your gloves. I hear it gets cold there this time of year.”

Wanda from One looks up at me, sheer surprise in her eyes as they begin to shed tears.

“Flight’s at 8?” I check my watch. “Oh, you have plenty of time Wanda. Plenty time to stop off and see the girls on the way too.”

“Oh, uh—uh—” Wanda is almost speechless. “Thank you so much!”

“For what?” I ask with a smirk. “Solving murders is my job.”

I leave her place and exit the front door of Turse Manor. I stroll towards my car. The sunlight is starting to regain some colors of life again. Shying away from tannish brownish ugliness and starting to gain some aspects of bright and happy yellow. Finally, the ugly tan sunlight of murder is about done hanging in the air.

I’ve never come across a murder case I couldn’t solve. Solving a murder isn’t hard. You have all the information you need right in front of you. It’s just a matter of what you choose to do with that information.

Short Story

Stephen Kramer Avitabile

I'm a creative writer in the way that I write. I hold the pen in this unique and creative way you've never seen. The content which I write... well, it's still to be determined if that's any good.

Read next: Bedtime Stories

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