by John Samony Jr.
.......I hadn't been practicing
for more than ten minutes before the pounding on the door started.
I gently laid my saxophone back in its case and went to
the door. "Who is it?" I said, knowing full well who
was going to answer back.
......."It's Mrs. Koler."
.......Her voice was like the
sound of a finger rubbing on a balloon. I opened the door.
......."What did I tell
you about that racket?" she scolded. She had curlers in
her hair and wore a floral print housecoat. She was definitely
a relic of a bygone era.
......."It's after eight,"
she continued. "You're interrupting my shows."
......."Too much TV'll rot
your brain. You should be reading a book," I suggested.
......."You think I could
read with all that racket?"
.......She had a point.
......."Practice is supposed
to sound bad," I said. "That's why it's called 'practice.'
How am I supposed to get better if I don't?"
......."That's your problem."
......."Don't you want me
to play like Coltrane?" I smiled.
.......She gave me a dull look.
"Coal train. Coal truck. Don't matter. I'd tell him just
what I'm telling you. Put it away."
.......She stomped back upstairs.
.......I closed the door.
.......Aside from Mrs. Koler's
taste in music, she was okay. She didn't pry into my comings
and goings and I usually returned the favor. The only time I
found myself at all interested in her daily affairs was when
I hadn't practiced in a while. She went away for the occasional
weekend up north to see her sister, or at least that was her
story. Frankly, she was so reticent about the whole thing that
I suspected she had a gentleman friend--but all I cared about
was that she was out of the house. When I was in grave need of
practice, I could usually worm her plans out of her and spend
that weekend playing. If she knew I practiced in her absence,
she'd probably get upset, even though she wasn't home to hear
it--just the fact that I disobeyed her would get me evicted.
....... I was getting ready to
wipe down my sax before I put it away when the phone rang. I
the voice said, wavering.
been...a murder." The voice was hysterical. I couldn't make
it out. It could have been male or female.
......."Calm down. Who is
the Evergreen Lounge." The line went dead.
.......I had never really gotten
a call like this before. My normal casework consisted of the
quiet mundanity of divorces and missing persons. I usually didn't
have much to do with murder. Once or twice it had become part
of a case, and I hadn't liked the ensuing investigation.
.......Still, since whoever was
on the phone had known my name, and since my landlady had shut
down my noisemaking session for the night, I decided to check
it out. I had spent many nights and early mornings at the Evergreen,
back when playing the sax was the only thing I cared about. I
grabbed my coat, locked up and hit the streets.
* * * * *
.......He was one dead jazz musician.
.......He had an alto saxophone
rammed down his throat so deep that it seemed he was smoking
it like a large pipe. But that wasn't what killed him--it was
the bullet hole in his chest. If I had been staring down at this
poor soul at any other time, at any other place, I probably wouldn't
have given him another thought. Like I said, but I wasn't a stranger
to dead men, or women, for that matter. I had seen a few--unlucky
souls who had sunk too deep into the new lives they had chosen
after running away from the old.
.......But this was different.
I knew him. His name was Wallace "Wigs" Morgan and
I had jammed with him a few times over the years, mostly on amateur
.......Like the other guys who
played the Evergreen, Wigs was a professional who had studied
his instrument academically. They were all young lions
with aspirations to the big time--in jazz, that meant steady
work as a sideman in clubs, studio work in film and television,
or as a leader on records of their own. Wigs had been the first
to accomplish that only a few days ago. A major record label
had picked him up after a talent scout saw one of his blistering
shows in New York last month.
.......What a way to start a
.......Then I heard my name.
.......I turned to the voice.
It was Detective Stelling of Homicide. He strolled towards me
with that languid gait of his. Behind him, at the mouth of the
alley, I could see marked and unmarked cars arriving on the scene.
An ambulance wailed somewhere in the city.
.......Stelling walked up, looked
at the body, then looked at me. "Who called you?" he
......."Anonymous tip. You?"
......."One of the barbacks.
Found him while taking out the trash," Stelling said. "You
recognize him? Or what's left of him?"
......."Yeah. His name was
......."Close, were you?"
......."I used to jam with
.......He raised an eyebrow.
......."I wouldn't have
figured you for the tortured artist type. Maybe torturing an
artist to get a confession but..." He grinned.
......."Hey, I'm sensitive.
If you were female, you'd already know that."
.......Stelling eyed me curiously,
then, "You may as well go home." He waved a mob of
people into the alley--the crime scene photographers, forensics,
coroner's office. Everybody knew the drill. "We'll call
you when we have some answers."
......."Sure," I said,
but I had no intention of leaving before I got some answers of
.......Before I walked back into
the bar, I heard one of the uniforms bark, "There's the
.......I turned to see him lifting
something out of a garbage can-a .22 pistol that he held by a
pencil inserted through the trigger guard. Hopefully, the lab
boys would be able to produce some damning prints. Crimes of
passion are usually good for that.
.......Inside the lounge, there
were only a few people milling about. A couple of uniforms were
already grilling people. One familiar face was sitting at a table,
smoking. I went over.
.......Leeks looked up. A slow
smile spread over his face like a sponge absorbing water. "McFetter.
Haven't seen you around for a while."
.......I sat down. "The
jet set got tired of me. They find you boring when you run out
of money. So here I am."
.......Leeks' laugh was clipped
short. "How 'bout Wigs? Man, we were just playing our asses
off a couple hours ago. Now he's dead."
......."Anything weird happen?"
......."Wigs left after
the second set. He said he'd catch us later 'cause he had something
......."Any idea what?"
......."Maybe it was with
a certain lady giving him the lucky eye."
......."From the audience?"
.......He took a long drag of
his cigarette then stubbed it out. "Sitting right at the
front table. A fan, I guess. She's hardly missed any of Wigs'
......."What's she look
Would come in wearing a funky hat."
.......I considered this. "You
seen Jimmy around?"
.......Leeks nodded. "In
.......I got up and went into
the men's room. Jimmy's sobs were amplified by the tiled walls
and floor. I opened up the middle stall. Jimmy was sitting on
the closed lid of the toilet, feet tucked up under his chest,
arms hugging his knees. He was a barback and busboy at the lounge,
a slight kid with a crooked smile. Everybody liked him, looked
out for him.
......."You all right?"
voice trailed. "All twisted up like that. Why did I have
to find him?"
......."We all see things
we don't want to see." I cringed at the cliche, but I didn't
have time for originality. "That's what life's all about."
I took a wad of paper towels, soaked them, wrang out the excess
water and gave them to Jimmy. "Wipe your face. You'll feel
.......After a moment, I decided
Jimmy was calm enough to talk to. I had one angle, hinted at
by Leeks. A jealous husband-boyfriend sees Wigs with his gal,
words fly, then fists, then the gunshot. I decided to explore
another. "You see anybody suspicious hanging around here
.......Jimmy said matter of factly,
"You mean like wise guys?"
.......That's exactly what
I meant. I knew Wigs had had a small problem with gambling, not
enough to get his legs broken but enough to get his horn put
in the pawn shop a few times.
......."No more than usual,"
Jimmy said. He finally came out of the stall and went to the
mirror above the sink to comb his hair.
......."Anybody else out
of the ordinary?" I asked.
......."No. It was pretty
dead. A few people at the bar."
......."Okay, Jimmy. You'd
better get back out there. The cops'll want to ask you some questions."
.......As I walked out of the bathroom, I knew I wasn't going to get much shut eye for the next few days.
* * * * *
.......After a few hours of fitful
sleep, I awoke to find Wigs' murder plastered all over the papers.
It even got thirty seconds on the noon newscast. Neither said
much except that the circumstances surrounding his death were
mysterious and that the police had no leads. So far, the only
lead I had was a well-dressed female jazz fan. Linking her to
Wigs would be tenuous at best, even assuming I could find her.
.......After lunch, I decided
to follow up the gambling question. I drove downtown and parked
in front of a nondescript storefront.
......."Hey, Leo. How's
business? Any more scalps hanging from your belt?"
.......Leo gave me a nasty stare.
He was short and wore a huge mustache that hung down over his
lips like a window shade. He had to punctuate each word with
a forceful blow of air to clear the hair from his mouth.
......."You wanna place
a bet? Fine," he said. "I'd like you to lose your shirt.
If not, get the hell out."
.......I walked up to his window,
pushing ahead of the other lowlifes waiting to put their unemployment
or welfare checks down on some longshot. "I need some info."
.......Leo shuffled some cash.
What he held in his hand was more than I made from six months
of steady case work. "Why should I help you? All the times
you put a cramp in my livelihood."
......."Ever hear of a good
deed? Maybe it'll help your chances in heaven. Lord knows you're
gonna need it when your number's up."
.......He actually seemed to
be considering this. But before he could come to his senses,
I sweetened the deal. "I'll ask some old friends down at
the precinct to lay off you a while."
.......That did it.
......."What d'ya need?"
......."Wigs Morgan. He
lay down any big bets recently? And lose?" I moved aside
so he could deal with his customers.
said. "I ain't heard his name anywhere."
.......I didn't have a choice
but to take Leo's word, for now. He was a small time bookie but
had big time ears. If Wigs hadn't personally bet with Leo, some
of the other bookies in the area would have spilled the juice.
They always liked to talk about the losers.
......."Okay, Leo. Thanks."
As I was walking out, I yelled over my shoulder, "Put me
down for $50 on Saturday's playoff game."
.......Leo mumbled something
that I was glad I couldn't hear, right before the door closed.
* * * * *
.......I drove back home through
lunch hour traffic. It didn't look like Wigs had been rubbed
out due to nonpayment of debt.
.......Later that night, the
Evergreen Lounge was hopping. There was a line to get in but
Batty the doorman waved me right through. The crowd despised
me for that.
.......Inside, the place was
quaking with two kinds of music--the feverish, pulsing drive
of the jazz quintet on the small stage at the rear of the club
and the more orchestral nuances of the bar itself--the hum of
nonstop conversation, the tinkling of glasses and the tympanic
thump-thwack of the bar's cash registers.
I walked over to the bar and got a stool that had just been vacated
by a very large man. I slipped into it in his wake, to the chagrin
of another single guy. He gave me a scowl and I scowled back.
I settled in. I looked over at the bandstand to watch the musicians,
but instead, my attention was drawn to Jimmy, who was off to
the side of the stage.
.......He was engaged
in what looked to be a heated dispute with two burly men dressed
in muscle shirts and wearing matching pony tails, the short kind
that you sometimes see on Sumo wrestlers. I hated that look on
anybody but Sumos. Every now and again, one of the guys would
grab Jimmy by the shoulder and shove him violently.
.......Just as I was about to
get up and offer Jimmy some assistance, they left. Jimmy
stood there a moment. His mouth hung open, and his eyes were
vacant . Then he snapped out of it and started walking over to
.......I called his name. He
......."Hey, Mr. McFetter.
You gonna play tonight?" His voice was tremulous.
......."No way, Jimmy. Tonight's
for the big fish. I'm just a small fry. They'd eat me alive."
When it looked like he wasn't going to offer any comment on what
had just transpired, I asked him.
......."That was nothing,"
he said. "Couple of guys got sore 'cause we didn't have
.......I didn't press it further.
Instead, I pushed a ten on the bar. "Tell Bill to get me
a gin and tonic."
.......Right after Jimmy left
to give the bartender my order, I noticed her.
.......A woman wearing a funky
hat had just walked in. I remembered her as the only detail Leeks
could give me about the night Wigs was murdered, and I realized
she was really my only lead.
.......She walked over to the
other end of the bar. A man saw her and gave up his seat. When
all she did was nod an imperceptible "thank you," light
a cigarette and focus her attention on her reflection in the
mirror behind the bar, I saw his lips move in an angry way before
he stormed off.
.......I got comfortable and
watched her. I could tell she was older by the way she carried
herself. Her movements were confident, direct. There wasn't any
hesitation in any thing she did, which really wasn't much, unless
you called blowing smoke in a thin stream toward the ceiling
and staring at me, "doing something."
.......This went on for five
long minutes. Then I turned around toward the bandstand in response
to an exceptionally piercing high note from the trumpet player.
When I turned back around to take another hit from my drink,
she was still watching me.
.......I couldn't pass up this
chance to talk to her. Besides, I hated sitting at bars alone....and
after all the time she'd spent sizing me up, I couldn't disappoint
.......I grabbed my drink that
Bill had placed in front of me and snaked around the bar, through
the three-deep crowd, to get to her. There wasn't a free stool
next to her, so I stood to her left and leaned in.
.......She was in the middle
of taking a drag, but courteously blew the smoke out of the corner
of her mouth, into the face of the woman next to her.
.......This was going good. I
downed my drink. While she suddenly gave in to a compulsion to
look in to her purse, I saw Jimmy coming up the small set of
stairs by the waiter station, carrying a rack of glasses.
I yelled, holding up my glass. "Get me another, will you?"
.......She closed her purse and
put a pack of matches on the bar.
......."So, you come here
often?" I cringed when I said that. Boy, was I rusty.
.......She reached for the bowl
of peanuts on the bar. She popped a few in her mouth. "Yes,
I do. And I've seen you here before, too."
.......I took a drink. "I'm
a friend of the musicians."
......."Oh, you play too?"
......."I hope you're not
like these guys." She made a motion toward the stage.
"All they do is take and take from those before them. They
never give anything back, like a piece of their soul. That's
what you have to do to be a great player."
.......She saw my reaction to
her bitterness. "I'm sorry," she said.
.......I nodded. "You seem
to know a lot about paying your dues."
......."Let's just say I've
seen it first hand."
......."You're serious about
......."Do you take your
musicians seriously, too?"
......."Where's your ring?"
......."It didn't go with
my outfit. I left it at home."
......."Come on. Diamonds
don't clash with anything."
......."Who said it was
......."It's always diamonds,"
.......She looked down at her
drink. "Not in this case. My husband couldn't afford diamonds
when we were married."
.......There was a break in the
music. "I'm going to try and get a table," she said.
......."No thanks. I need
to be close to the source," I said, patting the bar.
.......Before she left, she reached
up and started taking off her hat. So far I had refrained from
making any comments about it. But I had to say something.
She couldn't argue with that.
......."Thank you. The damn
pin was sticking me."
.......Ahh, the hat pin. How
.......After she got it off,
I helped her off the stool.
......."Nice meeting you,"
.......I watched her move through
the crowd, carefully holding the hat out in front of her like
it was bleeding and she didn't want to soil her dress. Then she
disappeared. This would have been a good time to down my other
drink, but Jimmy hadn't gotten it yet. So I left.
.......Outside, Batty saw me.
......."Leaving so soon?"
......."Some of us have
to earn a living." I walked to my car which I had parked
across the street, diagonally to the entrance of the lounge.
There I waited for Mrs. Hat to appear.
.......And she did, two hours
later. I figured I had nodded off a few times by the way my neck
hurt from that jerking reflex which snaps you awake whenever
your head droops.
.......She stood on the corner
and hailed a cab. I followed her.
.......After twenty minutes,
we stopped in what used to be a strong middle class neighborhood;
it now teetered back and forth between economic renaissance and
utter desolation. She got out and walked into a brownstone.
.......I parked across the street.
I walked over, stood in the vestibule and read the four names
on the mailboxes. Then I realized how stupid I was -- I had forgotten
to ask her name at the bar. Luckily, only one of the names was
a Mr./Mrs. so I figured Mrs. Hat was indeed Mrs. John Morris.
I jotted the name down in my notepad and took off.
* * * * *
.......After another night of
not practicing, I woke up, made some breakfast and hit the phone.
I got the Morrises' number from information. I dialed and expected
someone to answer---the someone who had been boozing it up the
night before while wearing a funky hat. But all I got was the
answering machine with a male voice.
......."You've reached the
Morrises," the machine played. "Please leave the pertinent
information and we'll get back to you as soon as possible. If
this is a student, please direct all inquiries to the Templeton
University Music Office at 555-1324."
.......I tried the office since
it was about ten thirty in the morning.
.......I waited a few rings and
......."Hello . You've
reached the Templeton University Music Department."
......."Hello," I started.
"My name is James..."
......."If you would like
Professor Handel, press one; Professor Marks, press two; Professor
Morris, press three. If you would like to speak with a graduate
.......I hung up. Damn. Fooled
again. God, how I hated voice mail. I redialed after I wiped
the egg off.
"Professor Morris," a man's voice said.
my name is James McFetter and I'm investigating a murder. I'd
like to come over and ask you a few questions..."
......."...about Wigs Morgan.
I was waiting for this," he said.
......."You knew him?"
......."I was his music
teacher for ten years."
.......Paydirt wasn't the word.
"I'll be right over."
* * * * *
.......Morris' office was a mess.
Piles and piles of staff paper were stacked on an upright piano
and were spilling over onto the floor as well as taking up half
his desk. Music stands stood in the corner like silent choir
members waiting to open their arms to receive their sheet music.
.......I sat in a dusty chair
in front of his desk while he reminisced. He was about fifty
and had a lilting quality to his voice.
.......'Wigs. Bright kid. One
of my best students."
......."You meet him at
.......He laughed. "No.
We're from the same neighborhood albeit two generations apart.
His mother brought him to me as a young boy, hoping to keep him
off the streets. The fact that he became a virtuoso was unforeseen."
......."What about you?"
......."What about me?"
......."Did it bother you
that a student of yours hit the big time while you toil in obscurity?"
......."How do you know
I'm not comfortable in obscurity?"
......."Save that for the
stock market." He leaned forward. "I'm happy for what
Wigs accomplished. It pains me that all his hard work was for
.......I looked around the office.
I tried a new angle. "Does your wife have extravagant tastes?"
......."What does she have
to do with it?"
......."I was just wondering
if your salary is keeping her happy."
.......He stood up. "That's
none of your business as I don't see how this line of questioning
is pertinent to Wigs' murder."
......."But I see. That's
all that counts." I stood up and walked over
to the door. "I might need to ask you a few more questions
in the near future. I'll be in touch."
.......I let myself out.
* * * * *
.......Driving home, I tried
to sort out what facts I had, and frankly, there wasn't much
sorting to be done. How did it all fit together? I decided to
start from the beginning.
.......When I got home, I called
......."Did you ever find
out the caliber of the slug?"
......."Not slug, slugs.
A few .22s to the heart."
......."Any make on the
......."We traced it as
far back as a pawn shop on South Street. Some woman bought it
for protection. Name of Janine Traver. Nothing on her yet."
.......I sank a bit. Was I really
expecting to hear the last name of Morris?
......."Anything else? Prints?"
......."Just the shop clerk's."
......."What about you?"
Stelling asked. "What have you..."
hung up before he could grill me for what I had dug up on the
case. It's not that I didn't like sharing but I wanted this finale
for myself. I wanted to look into the eyes of whoever extinguished
the flame of a genius in his prime.
.......Since I didn't have anything
else pressing, I decided to check out the pawn shop. I couldn't
very well have any loose ends flapping about.
* * * * *
.......I knew the pawn shop Stelling
had mentioned. It wasn't the typical, desperate last stop for
the drug crowd or the fugitives from gambling debts. It catered
mostly to musicians who swapped their old instruments for someone
else's old instruments. A lot of players changed axes (this
is a musician's term for his/her instrument, originating with
jazz players) like Madonna changes her image.
.......I walked in and introduced
myself to the clerk.
......."I already told the
police what I know," he said.
.......Obviously he hadn't been
impressed by my introduction. I slipped him a twenty.
.......I asked him about the
woman. "You sure her name was Janine?" I said.
......."That's what she
......."You have her signature.
A receipt anywhere?"
.......He looked at me like I
was stupid. "Some people don't like to leave a trail. We
traded even up."
......."That sounds illegal.
I thought there were reporting requirements for pawnshops."
......."And you never popped
a guy's chin for a little co-operation?" He stared at me
......."I know enough law
to know they call that aggravated assault."
......."Alright, Perry Mason.
What'd she trade you for?"
.......He bent down behind the
counter and popped back up. "This ruby ring."
.......It was a pretty good sized
ring. "A ruby for a .22 pistol?"
......."Yeah, I know. There's
one born every minute."
.......I thanked him and started
walking out. Before I got to the door, I stopped and spun around.
"By the way, was she wearing anything distinctive?"
......."Hell, yeah. She
was wearing a fur wrap. I hadn't seen one of those since my grandmother
had a fake one made to impress my grandfather when they were
courtin'. Or so family history tells it."
I turned back around to go out.
.......Before the door closed,
though, I heard him say, "It made that purple hat she wore
seem almost normal."
.......I sat in the serenity
of my car, the street sounds outside muffled by my rolled-up
windows. Janine Traver had to be Mrs. Morris. How many people
go around town wearing clothes like that? If this were true,
presumably she'd popped Wigs. But why? Were they having
an affair and in a twist of irony, she found him with another
woman? It was certainly possible. The musician's stereotype was
true in Wigs' case--love'em and leave'em before the next gig.
.......I started the car and
merged into traffic. I figured it was about time to pay Mrs.
Morris a visit.
* * * * *
.......I parked in front of the
Morrises' brownstone. I walked up the stairs, a lot of
unanswered questions swirling around in my head. I buzzed their
apartment and, as I waited, I wondered how I was going to broach
the subject of murder with Mrs. Morris.
.......Out of boredom, I let
my eyes roam around the vestibule. There was the usual accumulation
of unwanted grocery and department store circulars in one corner;
in another was a bunch of mismatched shoes. Then I noticed the
inner door was open slightly.
.......Not one to ignore any
kind of advantageous opportunity, I pushed open the door and
climbed the stairs to the Morris' apartment.
.......I found another open door.
......."Hello?" I called.
.......I pushed the door open
and walked into the apartment. There, on the floor, was a good
reason not to have that conversation with Mrs. Morris.
.......She was dead. Her throat
slit. Her blood had run the length of her body, outlining and
hugging her like a thin shadow.
.......I knelt down next to her
body to check for a pulse, just in case. None.
.......Since she wasn't going
anywhere, I closed the apartment door and decided to stroll around
the place to see what popped up. When I turned up nothing incriminating
from my initial check, I hit the drawers to begin
a more detailed search.
.......Her underwear drawer was
first on the list; usually, that turns out to be a goldmine of
.......I flipped through bras
and panties. Nothing. I checked the second drawer. Still
nothing. I reached my arm under and felt underneath the drawer
above and found something. A piece of paper with a phone number
written on it. Putting a bra over my hand to hide my prints,
I picked up the phone and dialed the number.
......."Yeah," a gruff
voice answered. "How much and on what? I ain't got all day."
.......I hung up. That voice
was unmistakable. It was Leo the bookie's.
.......I sat down on the bed
and leaned against the headboard. An interesting turn of events.
Probably meant nothing, but anything that pricked
up the hairs on my neck during a murder investigation was worth
.......I called Detective Stelling
to send over the works. Then I rolled over on my side facing
the nightstand, figuring I had a couple minutes before they came.
For a minute nothing registered but slowly a flashing numeral
caught my attention. The answering machine. It showed two messages.
I hit "Play." The first was from one of those "You
Just Won A Vacation To Bermuda" scams.
The second one was more interesting. The voice was hysterical.
"I know you said not to call but I'm desperate. I need that
money, damnit. They're going to kill me if I don't pay. Meet
me tonight at midnight in the alley behind the Evergreen Lounge."
.......It was the same
voice that had tipped me off to Wigs' murder roughly 36 hours
.......Then I broke the law again;
I erased the message. I wanted tonight's meeting to be between
me and the caller. No cops.
* * * * *
.......Later that night, I sat
in my apartment, just holding my sax, silently fingering the
keys. I could hear Mrs. Koler's TV above me. At least if I couldn't
make a sound, I could still keep my fingers limber. But these
exercises weren't just physical, they were mental, too. They
relaxed my mind and soothed my nerves, and I needed that before
going to meet the killer.
.......A couple hours later,
I was in the alley behind the lounge. I hid myself in a crevice
where I had a nice view of the alley.
.......From a small window above
and a few feet to my left, dim light filtered down to me, enough
that I could look at my watch. 11:53 p.m. The music from inside
came through the walls and lingered just outside of distinguishability.
I could tell that the band was playing a hot, fast one from the
dull yet constant snapping of the snare drum, but the melody
was just out of reach.
.......Then the back door opened
and Jimmy stepped out. What was he doing here? Catching a smoke?
But he didn't smoke. I looked down at my watch. Midnight.
.......I kept my voice low and
even. I didn't want to startle him.
.......Jimmy jumped anyway. He
to see you here, Jimmy," I said.
What're you doing here?"
.......I stepped into the light
from that small window. "I'm waiting for someone."
.......Even in the semi-gloom
of the ally I could tell Jimmy had gone pale on me. I decided
to take a chance. "Why'd you do it, Jimmy?"
.......Jimmy choked up. "I..."
......."Spill it. I know
you killed him. What does Mrs. Morris have to do with it?"
.......He made a move to run
but I had anticipated it and was already blocking his escape.
I shoved him up against the back wall, held him there by my forearm
pressed against his throat.
said, barely audible.
.......I released some pressure
from his windpipe.
......."Mrs. Morris hired
me...to kill Wigs."
.......I gritted my teeth to
keep my rage from boiling over onto his face and body.
I clenched my fists, digging my fingernails into my palms,
trying hard to keep from digging them in Jimmy's throat.
"She was...jealous. She said her husband had more talent
than any of these young punks. He should have been the famous
one, getting the record deals, raking in the cash..."
......."Why'd you do it?"
.......Jimmy sagged in my arms.
I let him slide down the wall to rest on a trash bag.
......."They were after
me," he coughed, rubbing his throat. "I owed them big
time. I needed the money. She was going to pay me."
.......I couldn't believe what
he was telling me. "You could have come to any one of us
and asked for help."
......."I was afraid. I
couldn't think..." His voice had that desperate, high pitched
tone I had heard before. On the night he phoned in Wigs' murder.
......."Why did you call
......."I don't know,"
he sobbed. He was silent for a beat. "I guess I just couldn't
leave him like that."
.......I looked down at him.
"That's too bad, Jimmy. Too bad you got a conscience after
you killed him."
* * * * *
.......That night I brought Jimmy
down to Stelling's office and explained what I knew. Jimmy signed
a confession without interrogation. When Stelling told him that
Mrs. Morris had been killed as well, it didn't seem to faze him;
he had already sunk down into a deep morass of guilt and fear.
He was living in his head now.
.......Stelling eventually traced
a bloody fingerprint off a carton of milk to a mob enforcer who
had, it seemed, satiated his appetite with milk and cookies after
killing Mrs. Morris. His mug shot brought up another lowlife,
a partner of his. They often worked in tandem and were the guys
I had seen shaking down Jimmy that night at the Evergreen Lounge.
They had hoped to get the money Mrs. Morris was going to pay
Jimmy, in order to cut out the middle man. But the source was
all dried up. According to her husband's statement, she wouldn't
have been able to pay off Jimmy or anybody else. When the collection
guys found out, they exacted a different form of payment--Mrs.
.......Leo had tipped them off
to Mrs. Morris' deal with Jimmy; it seemed she was a gambler
, too. Leo had introduced the two of them in the first place.
I planned to pay Leo a visit about his part in all of this. It
wouldn't be a social call.
.......It was only after the
entire case had been wrapped up that I began feeling Wigs' absence.
The chaos of solving the case had forced him from my mind, but
now, as I sat in my ragged old armchair and stared out the window,
he came to me.
.......I thought about what Morris
had said, about music keeping Wigs off the streets. I imagined
Wigs as a child, painstakingly learning his scales and circle
of fourths and fifths while his friends played stickball or tag.
If only he'd known that all the time spent on lessons would end
in his death, that each new lick he mastered, bringing him closer
to virtuosity, would ultimately be a factor in his demise. But
then another image came to me--him, on the stage, his face contorted
in ecstasy as he poured his soul through the bell of his horn.
If he had known about the future, would he have cared?
.......I opened up my sax case
and saw the gold glint of my old friend. I strapped it on, silently
warmed up my fingers on the keys for a few minutes and put my
lips to the mouthpiece.
.......I started soft and steady,
staying in the low register, slowly building, slowly getting
louder and louder until I was truly wailing the blues. This is
for you Wigs, I thought as the sound enveloped the room. I was
on fire, playing better than I had in years.
.......I ignored the pounding
on the door and the curses that punctuated it. Mrs. Koler would
have to wait until my tribute was over, until the last note slowly
faded through my open window and out into the night.
Copyright (c) 2001 by John Samony
John Samony has had poetry published in numerous literary magazines as well as humor in Cracked Magazine. Recently, he and his wife celebrated the birth of their second daughter, Gillian. He has been overheard to describe the experience of having two daughters--a two year old and a three month old--as being "hardboiled."
He counts Brett Halliday and Mickey Spillane as being two of his favorite writers in the detective genre and admits being a fan more out of sentimentality. "I know there are better and more influential writers in the field, but those two are inextricably linked to my high school years," he says. His tribute website to Mike Shayne, Flagler Street, is up and running and kicking ass. Check it out, ya lout.
Death Lessons is his first published story in the crime/detective genre.
Like what you've read? Head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
| Home | Detectives A-L M-Z | Film | Radio | Television | Web Comics | Comics | FAQs |
| Trivia | Authors | Hall of Fame | Mystery Links | Bibliography | Glossary | Search |
| This Just In... | Word on the Street | Non-Fiction | Fiction | Staff | The P.I. Poll |
Remember, your comments, suggestions, corrections and contributions are always welcome.
At the tone, leave your name and number and I'll get back to you...