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A Jeff Reynolds Mystery

by Burl Barer

. .."His brains exploded."

. .."Really?"

. .."Yeah, 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."

. .."Not for a transplant."

. .."No, right. Not for a transplant."
. ..

. ..Anyone who says they've heard it all, hasn't.

. ..Everybody's 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.

. ..Everybody's 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.

. ..Here's another piece of advice: always meet clients in public and record the conversations. You'll erase most of them, but some are keepers.

. ..Particular 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.

. .."His brains exploded, you understand. Okay?"

. .."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 to talk.

. .."I've kept my mouth shut, okay? I can do that, keep my mouth shut, I mean."

. ..He's not here to keep his mouth shut.

. .."Did you ask the cops about me"

. .."Never occurred to me."

. .."Good. 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.

. .."My 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.

. .."I 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.

. .."Of 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 uncanny.

. ..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.

. .."Ya know," says Tibbit seriously, "this is the first time I've been out."

. .."Out?"

. .."Out in public."

. ..He shifts his weight.

. .."Meeting 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.

. .."I 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 the Bahamas.

. .."People leave me alone when I drink, and I never had any trouble in years.

. .."So, 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.

. .."I 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.'"

. ..Tibbit pauses, smiles, and leans forward as if sharing a secret scientific discovery.

. .."Well, 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 anybody."

. ..Note: Never call Tibbit a son of a bitch.

. .."I 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.

. .."WHAM! 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 behind me."

. .."So, what happened?"

. ..Tibbit extends his hands in an expansive, inclusive gesture.

. .."Nothin' happened. No charges were pressed. Nothin' was ever said about it again."

. .."What did you do?"

. .."What do you think I did? There was only one thing to do - I changed bars."

. ..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 listening.

. .."I 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."

. .."Not Hindus."

. .."No, 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'."

. .."What did the bartender think of that?"

. .."He 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."

. .."Down 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."

. .."That's it?"

. .."Well, 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 going on."

. .."Was this after.?"

. .."No, 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"

. .."Richard, paranoid is when you think the person in front of you is following you."

. ..A pained expression crinkles his face, the waitress brings my breakfast, and he holds his response until she's out of earshot.

. .."I'm 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.

. .."Two 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.

. .."Tell me, Richard, exactly what message did you decode from these experiences?"

. .."Well, I figured someone was trying to put me in jail or something. At least discredit me, play me as a troublemaker, marginalize me, right?"

. ..Exciting stuff. I'm mopping up egg yolk with white toast.

. .."And there's more."

. .."There better be, Richard, I don't see the plot."

. .."Oh, there was more than a plot, there was."

. .."Let me guess - a conspiracy?"

. ..He sucks hard on that poor Bel-Air. I wonder if he saves the coupons. He has a wonderful smile.

. .."An 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."

. .."Your father was murdered?"

. .."Yeah, 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. Sure is.

. .."And 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."

. ..Figures.

. .."Well, 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."

. .."Was he?"

. .."Delivering 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."

. .."Wait a second. He wasn't doing anything wrong, right?"

. .."No, 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 yourself."

. .."All this happened at the same time?"

. .."Yeah, 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"

. ..Wrestlers 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.

. ..Wrestlers.

. ..Personally, 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.

. .."Seattle, but only in '74"

. ..Uh-oh. If he says "Masonic Temple, just off Broadway on Capitol Hill," we've got problems.

. .."Yeah. That's the place. I was trained by the Irish Rogue."

. ..I was there in '74.

. .."Did you ever know the Hell's Demons tag team? You know one of them died after a match?"

. ..I know.

. .."Heart 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.

. .."What name did you wrestle under?"

. ..He stubs out a Bel-Air and laughs.

. .."Hell, that was over twenty years ago. The promoter gave me a stupid name-- Larry Large"

. ..My, 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.

. .."They messed up all my ribs, muscles, tendons - they can do that if they want to, okay?"

. ..."Okay, but the wrestlers didn't have anything to do with your father's murder, right?"

. . ."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.

. .."I'm 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?"

. .."I think about spiritual things too, Richard."

. ..His squint tells me he doesn't perceive my radiant spirituality.

. .."Maybe 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?"

. .."It's 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."

. .."Find out what?"

. .."Find 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.

. .."That 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.

. .."Oh, 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."

. ..Swell. The more paper they give you, the more obligated you feel to follow through.

. .."Don't 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."

. .."Who are `they?'"

. .."I won't say. After all, you could be one of them"

. .."That's what you're paying me to find out, right? If I'm one of them, you'll be the first to know."

. .."Yeah, 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, remember?"

. ..I remember.

. .."Think 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?"

. .."No. Had it done. Funny that I would have a car restored when I don't go anywhere, right?"

. .."Right. Being a hermit keeps the mileage down for resale."

. .."Well, 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'."

. ..Except, perhaps, exaggerate.

. ..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 membership.

. ..Museums 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.

. ..Batista Prestini built it in memory of his artist and sculpture brother.

. ..Sadly, Leno committed suicide.

. .."It 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.

. ..Cats.

. ..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 dogs."

. ..Meditating 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 in heaven.

. ..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?

. ..Perhaps, 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.

. ..Right.

. ..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.

. .."Yes, hello?"

. ..It's Richard.

. .."Hey, 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.

. .."And I didn't tell you a few things that I realized when I got home."

. .."Dogs don't go to heaven?"

. .."Huh?"

. .."What did you want to tell me about, Richard?"

. ..He coughs out an unexpected answer.

. .."About 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' The Saint.

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

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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