A short story by Michael Morgan
A galaxy of urine colored stars crawled across the drizzle-speckled windshield as the road curved beneath the bridge. The usual shower of urine filled plastic bottles, and other refuse was absent. The commuters on the train passing overhead must have kept the windows closed today. A welcome benefit of the cold and wet.
Oak Lawn Avenue became a hill, and the light at the cross street changed, stopping all progress. No need to hurry. By the time the call comes in from the cops, the victim is already past caring. Too early in the morning for this.
A right turn, and old apartment buildings and once elegant houses converted to galleries or office space now pass down the narrow street. Once the pariah of Dallas and the focus of crude jokes, the area now proudly proclaims itself the “Gayborhood”. Whatever. Makes no difference to the customer waiting at the end of the block. Blue and red strobes mark the destination.
A dark silhouette separates itsef from the group leaning against the squad. “Hey buddy! You can’t park here. It’s a crime scene.”
The flash of a gold shield stops the uniform. “What’s under the tarp?”
“You’re the Detective,” the uniform spun on his heel and started back to his car. “You figure it out.”
‘Detective’. Almost an epithet now. We used to be Detectives before Dallas outsourced everybody. Now we solve cases for minimum rage, no pension, and fewer prospects. Darkness floods in as the uniforms drive off leaving a light blue disposable tarp covering an unknown disposable person lying in the drizzle.
A man in his twenties stared back at Archie as the tarp folded back. Slow steady rain washed streaks in the blood on his face. Nose broken. Bruise on left cheek. Puddled water flew as the tarp was pulled away completely. Torn shirt. Designer. Pockets turned out. The attacker or one of the uniforms? The flashlight chased away some of the dark and added shadows. No blood except on the victim. The light paused and went back. Watch is still here. Nice one at that. Not the uniforms. The light moved on. What happened to you buddy? Bad date? Dope? Glinting something on the concrete. The blue glove did not want to go on the damp fingers. Diamond stud. No back. One ear then the other. No piercings, at least none visible.
The phone rang forever, “Central, this is 819. One John Doe to pick up Brown and Hood Street.”
“Acknowledged. Brown and Hood. ETA fifteen.” The call disconnected leaving Archie standing in the early morning gloom.
The new email ping shook Archie out of his doze. He clicked and read, Cause of death: Blunt force trauma to the forehead causing swelling of the brain. Broken right humerous. Multiple severe abrasions on the hands and arms… The report rambled on without shedding any new light.
“Hey Arch, Got a sec?”
Archie looked up, Hoskins was standing next to a wild-eyed man in this thirties, “What is it Hoskins?”
Hoskins lead the man over, “This is Jerome Abernathy. His husband went missing last night, and you’ve got the only Doe.”
“Sit down sir,” Archie looked at Hoskins. “Get the man some coffee.”
“No thank you.” Jerome interjected. “I need to find Carl. I don’t care how much it costs.”
Archie made calming motions, “Slow down. What does Carl look like.”
“I have this,” Abernathy displayed a photo on his phone. “That was last week.”
A dead man stared out at Archie. “When was the last time you talked to Carl?”
“Yesterday about nine,” Jerome settled into the chair next to the desk. “He called right before he left work.”
Archie made a note. “What kind of car does Carl drive?”
“He doesn’t,” Jerome accepted his phone back. “I mean he does drive, but we don’t own a car.”
“How do you get around?”
“We walk mostly. Uber or DART if we need to go a long way.”
“It was raining last night,” Archie leafed through his notebook. “How was Carl planning to get home?”
Jerome shrugged, “He didn’t say. Just see you soon and I love you, like always.”
“Mr. Abernathy,” Archie took a slow breath, “I have some bad news.”
“Please tell me he’s alive…” Jerome’s voice faded at the look on Archie’s face. “How…?”
“We don’t know yet, but I intend to find out.” Archie leaned back, “Any chance you can track his phone?”
The stained dome tent beneath the DART rail bridge reeked even in the cold drizzle. Archie swallowed trying not to think about what the inside might smell like, “Hey! Anyone home?” He tapped on the tent pole with his flashlight.
The zipper parted a few inches and an eye peeked out beneath a scraggly eyebrow, “What?”
“You picked up a lost phone recently?”
“You a cop?”
“Detective. I’m just trying to find the phone. You got it?”
Archie sighed in frustration, “A man lost his phone yesterday. It was tracked to this location.”
“I didn’t steal it. I found it in a trash can,” the end of a phone appeared and it clattered to the concrete before Archie could grab it. “
“He rented a scooter,” Archie slid the phone into an envelope leaving Jerome’s hand hanging in the air.
“He wrecked out?”
“If he did, he wasn’t alone,” the envelope vanished into the desk. Archie sat back and picked up his stale coffee. “His pockets were turned out.”
Archie shrugged, “Wish I knew. The ME says he died of blunt force trauma to the front of his skull. He also had a broken arm and lots of abrasions.”
Jerome shivered, “He wrecked out? Hit his head?”
“His pockets,” Jerome sagged back into the chair.
“And the scooter…” Archie’s words faded.
“You were on duty in Uptown on the night of the 12th?” Archie was leaning against the side of the plain white pickup.
“Uh, yeah,” the young man with the dreadlocks and soul patch lifted a scooter from the curb. Setting it on the open tailgate, he plugged a wire into the battery pack. “That’s where I work. All night, every night. Chasing down these damned scooters and charging them up for our loyal ridership.” Another scooter joined the first, “You would NOT believe where I find these things. Some people are just messed up!”
Archie grunted noncommittally, “You make a pick up over at Brown and Hood?”
“I make pickups wherever the magic app tells me there is a scooter,” the juicer glanced at his watch. “What’s this about?”
“Notice anything odd when you picked up the scooter at that location?”
“You mean the stiff?” a cigarette was produced, and a lighter flared. “Yeah I saw him.”
Archie felt the stirrings of anger, “Why didn’t you call 911 and report it?”
“Because I would have been detained for questioning,” the man’s features glowed red as he inhaled. “I ain’t got time for that crap. I gotta work.”
“How did you know he was dead?” the building rage faded into ennui. “You might have saved his life.”
“Didn’t care then,” another drag and slow exhale. “Don’t care now. He wasn’t using the scooter, so I picked it up, and took it to the rec center all nice and ready for the next rider.”
Archie leaned away from the truck, “You happen to take his wallet and phone along with the scooter?”
“Nah, he’d been rolled when I pulled up.” the cigarette arced into a puddle and hissed. “Look, we done here? I got to get these scooters relocated for our loyal riders, and go pick up some more.”
“Yeah, we’re done.” Archie stepped up onto the curb and watched as the juicer closed the tailgate and heading to the cab.