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A Jeff Reynolds Mystery
by Burl Barer
that's what killed him. His brains exploded right in his skull.
I demanded an autopsy, but before I could do anything, they donated
his brain to science."
for a transplant."
right. Not for a transplant."
who says they've heard it all, hasn't.
got a story.
. ..Out of
courtesy or curiosity, I'll listen to anything -- tragic family
histories, details of financial deception, implications of insurance
fraud, and steamy escapades of erotic sexual infidelity.
. ..I'm Jeff
Reynolds, a private investigator who also writes books. That's
not my real name, and I've been other things in my life - radio
DJ, professional psychic, show-biz promoter, and producer of
irritating television commercials. I invented the name "Jeff
Reynolds" because folks are always asking, "What name
do you write under?" and "Have I ever read anything
you've written?" Either way, the fake name lets them off
the hook. It sounds vaguely familiar, and it's easy for them
to say, "Oh, yes. I'm sure I've heard of you."
. ..Being a
crime-cracking private eye author is really an easy gig. You
can do it too, in your spare time. I'll share the basic trick
right off the bat: tell everyone you're an author. When people
find out that you write books, they want to talk.
got a story, and you can always use a plot, a motive, culprit,
or victim. Victims and plots are plentiful because victims never
stop calling. That's why I became a P.I. - make a few bucks;
find a few plots.
another piece of advice: always meet clients in public and record
the conversations. You'll erase most of them, but some are keepers.
tales border on madness - private hells acted out in public places,
delusions born of desperation or undiagnosed chemical imbalances.
. ..Like I
said, everybody's got a story.
. ..And then
you have guys like Richard Tibbit.
brains exploded, you understand. Okay?"
. ..I met Richard
mid-morning in the Red Apple, a downtown coffee shop, bringing
my small cassette recorder and a yellow legal pad. When I pulled
out my recorder, he pulled out his.
. ..He's late-fifties,
husky, careful, edgy, pale, and smokes Bel-Airs with heartfelt
dedication. The guy is sly -- the kind who checks his rear-view
mirror too often, packs heat, and considers it prudent.
. ..He's ready
kept my mouth shut, okay? I can do that, keep my mouth shut,
. ..He's not
here to keep his mouth shut.
you ask the cops about me"
occurred to me."
I have no credibility in this town, not with the cops. She took
care of that. She was smart, real smart. Remember, we're talking
murder here, okay?"
. ..I browse
the menu, sneaking a quick glance at my watch. The Red Apple
has one hell of a taco omelet, and a dandy chicken fried steak.
I order two eggs, basted, with bacon and hashbrowns.
wife said to call you," he admits, "it wasn't my idea.
She saw your picture in the paper, read about your books. True
crime, right? Fiction, too. You won some award, okay? She showed
me your picture, said you looked honest."
. ..I also
looked ten years younger.
just want to know it's over, that I can stop looking over my
shoulder because of what I know. If I tell the story, get it
out, maybe there'll be some closure"
. ..Maybe he
listens to Dr. Laura. Middle-aged toughs don't seek "closure,"
they seek vindication or cash.
course, if you turn this into a book, I want money."
. ..His Zippo
clicks, the flame wavers, and another Bel-Air begins a slow burn.
. ..His narration
is an unintentional imitation of Jack Nicholson so accurate it's
. ..He says
his life was normal once, but not now, not since that first night
in Walla Walla's Dacres Saloon over fifteen years ago, before
the murders, before the brains exploded.
know," says Tibbit seriously, "this is the first time
I've been out."
. ..He shifts
with you today is very important to me. This is the first time
in fifteen years I've been out of the house."
. ..I reach
in through the top of my shirt and slowly peel the Nicoderm patch
off my shoulder, toss it in the ashtray, and fish the Old Golds
out of my jacket. This story's a keeper.
. ..Go ahead,
Richard, I'm dying to hear everything.
. ..Roll tape.
would go downtown and play the punchboards. Well, I figured out
the punchboards, I'll tell ya right now. I would make money,
but on this particular evening I wasn't into punchboards at all.
I'd had trouble with my oldest son, so I went downtown to drink.
I found it relaxing."
. ..He stretches
out "relaxing" as if five beers were seven days in
leave me alone when I drink, and I never had any trouble in years.
there I am, walking into the Dacres Saloon"
. ..Nice place,
the Dacres. It's just around the corner from the County Courthouse.
The lunch crowd is lawyers, judges, and businessmen; the nighttime
crowd is peppered with undercover drug cops pretending they don't
know each other. The Dacres was the first luxury hotel in Washington
State. It had a fancy balcony, upscale clientele, and a whorehouse
across the street. The hotel lobby is now a furniture store,
upstairs is empty, but the saloon remains.
. ..As you
walk in, there are tables on your left and a long bar awaiting
you up front. Tibbit says friends were at a table when he walked
in, but he didn't join them.
was in a foul mood," he made "foul" a two-syllable
word, " I wasn't good company. The bar was empty, I could
sit on any stool and it wouldn't matter. So, there I am, alone
at the bar, drinking beer when this guy come up and sits down
next to me. Never saw him before in my life. He calls me every
name in the book. I tell him, `Get the hell away from me, man.'"
pauses, smiles, and leans forward as if sharing a secret scientific
I knew something was wrong. I mean this guy just flat wouldn't
leave me alone. Damned if I'm gonna get up and move. The last
thing I remember, he called me a son of a bitch. Later in the
story you might understand that's a word I will not take from
. ..Note: Never
call Tibbit a son of a bitch.
used to laugh at people who said `I lost it. I don't remember.'
What a bunch of shit, right? You're up for murder and you don't
remember? Well, I lost it."
. ..He forces
a laugh, flicks ash, and involuntarily flexes massive biceps.
I see them moving beneath his windbreaker. I also see another
bulge just under his right arm. Like I said, prudent. I lean
back, as if relaxing, measuring his reach.
I mean I decked that guy but good," says Richard, "I
came to on top of him, pummeling his face into pulp. They had
to tear me off of him, drag me to the door, and toss me out.
They had me for assault, pure and simple.
. ..There were
lawyers and judges sittin' back there while I'm beatin' the guy's
face in, for Christ's sake. Hell, it might have a prosecutor
who pulled me off, and a public defender who slammed the door
extends his hands in an expansive, inclusive gesture.
happened. No charges were pressed. Nothin' was ever said about
did you do?"
do you think I did? There was only one thing to do - I changed
. ..Oh. Hell
of a story. I check my watch. I've only been here a few minutes;
he's been in his house for fifteen years. I can afford to keep
switched taverns, and went into McFeely's one evening to play
the boards- the punchboards, right? There are three big Indians
in there. I mean good size Indians."
Native Americans they call 'em now. Big Indians. I walked up
and gave the bartender a twenty, ya know. Before he got the money,
this Indian grabs it and rips it in half. Throws it down. And
I'm going, `Jeeesus'."
did the bartender think of that?"
never said a goddam word. Not a word. So I got my beer, got my
change, and went to sit down. There's this woman, I don't know
her last name, but her name is Verna. She's been a prostitute
in this town for years. I'd always been polite to her, Okay?
If she chose to do what she wants in her life, I'm not gonna
judge her. She knows me and I sit down. We're chattin' and the
three big sons of bitches walked up. I took off my glasses, and
one of em grabbed my arm. He says, `c'mon, let's go outside.'
. ..Verna said
"Dick, don't do it."
at the end of the bar was a lady I had never seen in my life.
She's doing one of those long French inhales with her smoke,
ya know, up her nose. I'm thinking maybe I can handle this. I
can handle two of these guys anyway. And the lady I don't know
looks right at this one big Indian, and I mean this guy was huge,
and she says `He used to be a professional wrestler.' Well, this
giant guy turns around and look at me, right? It was like she
was meant to be there. Freaky. Things changed. That was like
hitting a switch. He backed off right then, and so did his buddies.
Hell, they practically climbed over themselves to get away from
me. Tell you the truth, I was glad, real glad."
then I knew. I knew right then, or at least I suspected, who
was behind it, but I didn't know why. But I knew something was
this is way before. Before the murder. See, I'm telling you this
in order, but I'm not telling you everything. It was all a set
up. Everything - the first guy, the Indians"
paranoid is when you think the person in front of you is following
. ..A pained
expression crinkles his face, the waitress brings my breakfast,
and he holds his response until she's out of earshot.
not paranoid, and I know what you're thinking. Ya see, I played
my own shrink. I put myself through the wringer on this whole
deal, right? I examined myself very carefully. I'm not paranoid,
at least not without reason. You should be careful too."
. ..A cop car
drives slowly by the coffee shop. Big deal. They do that all
the time. I usually don't notice.
weeks later, I go back and there're two guys sittin' there. One
turns and suddenly grabs for me. Wrong move. I had him in a headlock
so fast he didn't know which way was up. I pressed his head down
against the bar, and said, `What's your problem?' He just says
he thought I was somebody else. I'm so sure. I let him go, bought
a beer, played the punchboards. Believe me, I got the message."
. ..He smiles
as if everything is now obvious. I may be slow on the uptake,
but I'm not ashamed to ask questions.
me, Richard, exactly what message did you decode from these experiences?"
I figured someone was trying to put me in jail or something.
At least discredit me, play me as a troublemaker, marginalize
stuff. I'm mopping up egg yolk with white toast.
better be, Richard, I don't see the plot."
there was more than a plot, there was."
me guess - a conspiracy?"
. ..He sucks
hard on that poor Bel-Air. I wonder if he saves the coupons.
He has a wonderful smile.
anti-credibility conspiracy," he laughs, but it's more from
irony than humor, "I have no credibility in this town, and
even less with my family. Hell, even my dad wouldn't listen to
me. I tried to warn him. He thought I was just paranoid. By the
time he was murdered, there was no one left to believe me."
father was murdered?"
that's what I'm trying to tell you," Richard says emphatically,
"my father was murdered. His brains exploded. I tried to
warn him, I could see it comin' and I knew that's what was behind
all this weird shit."
. ..Weird shit.
I mean real weird shit. For example, about this same time, someone
kept trying to pick the lock on my house. This would happen every
few days or so, some guy sneaking around, peering in the windows."
I just had a hunch he was comin' 'cause I hadn't had any trouble
for a day or two. I took my .38 and hid out in the car and waited
for sundown. Sure enough, some character comes right up to the
house. Well, I collared him, shook him like a rag. Oh, he almost
wet himself, claimed he was only delivering my newspaper."
the newspaper? Yeah, he was delivering the paper, and he went
to the cops and claimed I shoved my gun up in his face, which
I didn't. Little liar."
a second. He wasn't doing anything wrong, right?"
he was later arrested for being a peeping Tom. I wasn't paranoid,
I was absolutely right. If you don't believe me, check it out
this happened at the same time?"
that's the point. My life up 'till that first guy in the bar
was normal, at least for me. I never had weird shit happen, except
for maybe when the wrestlers had it in for me, but that was just
a minor incident back in '74. They ripped me to shit, I sued,
but I later dropped the whole thing. They didn't trust me"
will do that. They have to trust you. Wrestling is all about
trust. You don't let three hundred pounds of sweat-drenched muscle
jump on you from the top rope without trust. No man is more despised
than an untrustworthy wrestler. In my adventurous youth, I worked
the old Pacific Northwest wrestling circuit as the flamboyant
lawyer of the Hell's Demons tag-team. You don't need a law degree
for that kind of gig - you just need a gift of gab, a vivid imagination,
and the ability to keep a straight face. I met all the qualifications.
I always liked them. They work hard, have a strong internal code
of ethics, and a flair for the dramatic. We always got along.
Then again, they trusted me. Apparently, they didn't trust Richard.
It's off topic, but I have to know where he wrestled.
but only in '74"
If he says "Masonic Temple, just off Broadway on Capitol
Hill," we've got problems.
That's the place. I was trained by the Irish Rogue."
. ..I was there
you ever know the Hell's Demons tag team? You know one of them
died after a match?"
. ..I know.
attack, they said, but he took a lot of pills. Gay too, I always
figured, him and the other guy.."
. ..No question.
For athletes, they drank a lot of beer and took plenty pills.
Not a good combination.
name did you wrestle under?"
. ..He stubs
out a Bel-Air and laughs.
that was over twenty years ago. The promoter gave me a stupid
name-- Larry Large"
. ..My, my,
. ..Larry Large.
. ..I watched
him get pinned by a big Indian back in '74. It was a one-fall
match warm up before Killer Kowalski took on Pretty Boy Pat Paterson
for the Championship Belt. Never saw him wrestle again. Neither
did anybody else. They carried him out of the ring on a stretcher.
I thought it was part of the act. Apparently not.
messed up all my ribs, muscles, tendons - they can do that if
they want to, okay?"
but the wrestlers didn't have anything to do with your father's
. . ."No,
no. They never knew my dad, my brother, my stepmother, or anything
like that. Dad wasn't murdered 'till five years later, you understand."
. ..No, I don't,
but the breakfast is good.
. ..His eyes
narrow as if looking at me for the first time.
using up too much of your time, okay? I mean you probably think
I'm crazy hiding out in my house for fifteen years. The time
was I would have just gone after the bastards, all of 'em. But
I don't do that anymore, right? I gave my life to God, I think
about spiritual things, and I don't try to get even, snitch on
a snitch, ya know?"
think about spiritual things too, Richard."
. ..His squint
tells me he doesn't perceive my radiant spirituality.
you're not being straight with me, Jeff," murmurs Tibbit
menacingly, I mean, isn't it peculiar that you were on the wrestling
circuit the one year I was?"
called a coincidence, Richard."
. ..He reaches
under his jacket, going for the bulge.
. ..The damn
guy's a hermit for fifteen years and comes out of hiding just
long enough to shoot me? Had I known this was my last meal, I
would have ordered the chicken fried steak.
. ..It's not
a gun, it's money - a stack of bills bound together with an old
rubber band. He slaps it on the table and shoves to towards me.
"Here's a thousand bucks. Find out."
out what went on, who was involved - find out everyone who got
away with murder. I have my suspicions, my beliefs - I'm sure
it way my stepmom and her dickhead friend - but there could be
others. Most of all, find out if it's over. My wife can't take
it anymore, me just pacing around the house all these years.
Hell, they could get me on the way home. Maybe they will."
. ..He snuffed
his last Bel-Air, tossed seventy-five cents down on the table,
and made movements to leave. I pocketed the grand. The bills
looked older than both of us.
loot should get you started, maybe even finished, right? If you
make a book out of this, I'll get it back."
. ..He's sure
there's a book.
before I forget." he reaches into his jacket's opposing
inside pocket, "here're some photocopies - death certificate,
insurance stuff, tax returns, newspaper stories, things I figured
you'd need, ya know. You'll find all primary players' names,
and I'll tell ya more as we go along, I mean, if you're on the
case. Here, take this stuff."
The more paper they give you, the more obligated you feel to
bother checking with the police," insists Richard, "They'll
just fuck with you. You're a smart guy, I can tell. I want to
know if they're still after me."
won't say. After all, you could be one of them"
what you're paying me to find out, right? If I'm one of them,
you'll be the first to know."
I guess so. Don't worry, I won't call and bug ya. You call me
anytime. My number's in the book. I gave it to you over the phone,
. ..I remember.
it over, Jeff. Hell, you can always give the money back, okay?"
. ..Not likely.
. ..I wrote
a check for my breakfast and followed him out. He had a perfectly
restored 1961 Borgward Isabella. "Do all the work yourself?"
Had it done. Funny that I would have a car restored when I don't
go anywhere, right?"
Being a hermit keeps the mileage down for resale."
to tell the truth," admits Tibbit, "I'm not a complete
hermit. I mean, I go to the store, drive my wife to work, and
visit my son in prison. But that's it, okay? I don't go out,
I don't play the punchboards, I don't do nothin'."
. ..I drove
home, positive no one followed me. For some reason, I kept checking
the rearview mirror. I also check my mailbox. Bills, a K-Mart
flyer, and two more museums informing me it's time to renew my
are one of my weaknesses. I don't care if they're spectacular
or tacky, a museum is a museum. I once drove out of my way to
visit the Leno Prestini Memorial Museum in Clayton, Washington,
not far from Loon Lake.
Prestini built it in memory of his artist and sculpture brother.
Leno committed suicide.
was right here in this room that Leno blew his brains out,"
stated Batista. I'll never forget the way he said those words.
I'm not making this up. If you go to the University of Washington
campus, you'll find statuary crafted by Leno Prestini.
. ..Two cats,
the feline kind, were waiting in the kitchen when I got home.
There's only one hill in Walla Walla. I live on it. Snob Hill,
some call it. In honor of my cats, probably. Both are spoiled,
pampered, and ill-tempered. Angel, the female fur ball was meowing;
Pooter, the arthritic asthmatic male, wheezed a rattling command.
. ..I fed them
and they shut up.
. ..A dog will
love you forever, but take a dump on the kitchen floor. Cats
could care less if you live or die as long someone can pop the
top of a Friskies can. I like them anyway. Dogs and cats don't
have souls, but I can't hold that against them.
. ..Life after
death and other spiritual topics are my hobby, and don't tell
me that doesn't make sense. I always did love a mystery. I'll
curl up on the big, red, art-deco chair in my bookshelf-lined
living room, and contemplate serious matters, unresolved issues,
and eternal questions - conundrums such as "heaven without
on matters spiritual opens the mind to criminal solutions. Trust
me. It's good for you, like watching "Twilight Zone."
Remember the episode where a simple backwoodsman dies and finds
himself at the gate to the life beyond? He's encouraged to enter,
but there's a catch -- he can't bring his dog.
. ..No dogs
. ..To this
man, heaven would not be heaven without his dog. Despite all
urging, the man can't commit to an eternity of dog deprivation.
Good for him, 'cause that was the Devil tryin' to lure him into
his personal hell. The real heaven had dogs.
. ..If heaven
has dogs and cats, I doubt they're real. I don't buy the "pet
soul" theory. When Fido drops his last bone, his bones will
never roll to Canine Jerusalem for the Great Resurrection. Tell
that to my dog-lovin' Cousin Tom and he'll call that hell.
. ..So, what
does God do for those dog lovers, cat lovers, cactus lovers,
marsupial fanciers and ferriers with terriers? Simple. The All
Merciful allows them to retain their pets in the next world just
as long as they think they need them. How long is that? How transcendent
is the desire to hug a pooch, be licked by Lassie, or rescued
by Rin Tin Tin? If you fall down a well in the next world, who
will run and bark to Gramps?
when we die, we get what we need or expect for as long as we
need it. In the realms beyond, dogs may seemingly run through
waving astral planes of wheat, barking amongst the barley and
romping mud-pawed in alternative reality rice paddies. Pet lovers,
delighting in the antics of these etheric dog-equivalents, find
heaven in compassionate illusion.
. ..Mom says
I should have been a Rabbi.
. ..Rabbi Reynolds.
. ..The phone
rings. I stand to answer it and Pooter plops from my lap like
a sack of onions. The poor thing can't land on its feet.
. ..It's Richard.
I know I said I wouldn't call, but I thought I should let you
know I was followed home. All the way, okay?"
. ..Okay. Now
he sounds exactly like Jack Nicholson.
I didn't tell you a few things that I realized when I got home."
don't go to heaven?"
did you want to tell me about, Richard?"
. ..He coughs
out an unexpected answer.
the dead body in the park..."
To be continued...
Copyright (c) 1998 Burl Barer
Burl Barer, Brilliant Author, is an Edgar Award
winner and two-time Anthony Award nominee. In addition
to the new Jeff Reynolds
series of mind-altering PI mysteries, Barer writes true-crime,
popular culture, and the new adventures of Leslie Charteris'
He is also a mystery babe, notoriously handsome, undeniably
charming, and the most sympathetic (yet dynamic) character you've
ever met. A former high-rated Seattle radio personality, Barer
is currently an unemployed derilict with a rapidly expanding
waistline and thinning hair. He is fun at parties, and while
in the Orient learned the power to cloud mens' minds. As for
women's minds, he sort of fogs them up.
He also writes his own bios.
For info on his other books, visit his web site at http://www.bmi.net/burlb
And head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct comments on the above story
and inquiries about submissions to
the editor, or check out this page.
"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking
to a man that likes to talk."
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