Has it been another month already? Seems like the year just started and it’s already a third of the way done. Where’s that ‘slow down’ lever?”
This month’s short story was inspired by a recent parade I attended. I was trying to keep an eye on my son (who was playing in the parade) and I kept losing him as the band members marched and moved in various patterns. I couldn’t help but think how (theoretically) easy it would be for someone to slip out of formation, commit a crime, and return to his position with no one being the wiser. One idea led to another, and the result is the short story below.
An Imperfect Murder
Had Harry realized he’d be at the Pearly Gates, checking in with St. Peter before dinner, he’d have lingered a little longer over breakfast; maybe even gone for that third piece of bacon. He definitely would have ignored the alarm clock and stayed snuggled in his cozy warm bed, enjoying his warm, willing, delightfully naked wife. Looks like he’d have an eternity to regret that last choice.
Had they stayed in bed, they’d have missed the big reunion parade at the college – where he taught physics- and the subsequent marching band competition. More importantly, he’d have missed the damned bullet that put him here, in a refrigerated drawer at the morgue, rather than his favorite table at the local pub, cheering on Manchester United with his best friends.
Heck, being back in the classroom drumming advanced string theory into the thick skulls of an endless parade of clueless underclassmen would beat the morgue. On the plus side, at least he would no longer have to deal with retentive administrators or students who thought they deserved an ‘A’ for ‘C’ level work. Always a bright side. Still, he already missed that warm bed.
# # #
Across town, Detective Franks pressed his hand against the back of his neck, trying to relax the muscles there before his head snapped completely off from sheer stress. Five days away from retirement and here he was with a murder, committed in broad daylight, in the middle of a thousand potential witnesses who’d neither seen nor heard anything. I’m going to stroke out, right here in the office.
Of course, the way that one kid was wailing on the bass drum, it was unlikely that anyone would be able to hear anything any time soon. Not surprising no one had heard a gunshot, it would have been more surprising if they had. Still, you think someone would have heard or seen something; a man was dead for god’s sake.
Franks turned his back to the notes on the white board and leaned against his battered metal desk. “O’hara, tell me what you know.”
Quinn O’hara, a relative newcomer to the force, pushed his glasses back up his nose, the bright purple frames clashing with the shock of red hair sticking up haphazardly on his head and the blue and gold stripes of his polo shirt. Franks wasn’t sure whether Quinn was color blind or just had appalling fashion sense. Fortunately, he was much better at police work than color coordination. Plus, his apparent awkwardness was a real asset when it came to dealing with the local student population.
“We finished interviewing all of the people who were detained from the area where the body was found. We’re still waiting for the coroner’s report, but the time of death was somewhere between 4:05 and 4:52, when the bands were all playing ‘Beginnings.’ Harry’s wife confirmed that he was alive when the song started and dead afterward. Initially she thought he had just fallen asleep until she saw the blood.”
“Asleep, during all that noise?” Franks frowned. “Wait a minute, that’s a 4 minute song; how the hell did it take them 47 minutes to play it?”
O’hara shrugged. “Apparently it’s some kind of tradition. They were also,” he looked down at his notes, “weaving in and out of the crowd on the lawn, dancing, hanging from the nearby trees, and tossing instruments back and forth while continuing to play.”
“Of course they were.” Franks rubbed the back of his neck again. “No wonder no one saw anything. Someone could have set off dynamite in that crowd and no one would have given it a second thought. What about the gun?”
“We found one in a diaper bag in the bottom of a stroller a few yards from the victim when we did our sweep of the area. The parents swear they never saw the gun before and have no idea how it got there. We brought them in for prints, but the gun was wiped clean, so there was nothing to match them with. Ballistics has the gun now, checking to see if it was the one that fired the bullet in the victim. It had a silencer, by the way, so that helps explain why no one heard a shot.”
“So basically, we’ve got nothing,” Franks said, blowing out a frustrated breath.
“Well, we’ve still got all the cell-phone pictures and video to go through,” Quinn said, trying to remain positive. “There was a lot of filming going on during the event, we’re hoping someone caught something that will help us find the shooter.”
Frank had his doubts, but it’s not like they had any other leads to follow. “Check with those brainiacs over in the tech lab on campus,” he said with a wave in the general direction of the computer science department. “They’ve been boasting about that new facial recognition software they developed last month– might as well give them a chance to prove it actually works.”
O’hara gave him an abbreviated salute and headed out of the office while Franks turned to his computer and opened up the file on the victim, Professor Harry Wlikins, to see if there was anything in his background that would make someone want to kill him. The wife would have been his first choice but, according to the info in the file, they were happier together than piglets in mud. A student then. After thirty years policing a college town, Franks knew how ruthless they could be.
# # #
Sam slugged his roommate on the shoulder. “The guys and I are heading over to the Barn for burgers. Are you coming?”
Zeke waved him away, his eyes glued to the bank of monitors in front of him as pictures flashed by. “I have to get through the rest of these images for the police.”
“Better you than me.” Sam headed for the door. “You want me to bring you back something?” But Zeke didn’t hear him; he was focused on the set of images that were flashing on the center monitor.
The sequence of photos showed an individual in worn jeans, sneakers, and a baggy university sweatshirt, moving along the pathway between the people on the grass listening to the bands. Male, maybe. The person had a slight build and was facing away from the camera shots, so it was hard to tell.
Whoever took the pictures must have had their camera set on burst-mode. Flipping through the thirty or so shots was like watching a mini movie. The shooter moved through the crowd, crouched down as if tying a shoe, shot the victim, continued on, dropped the gun in a diaper bag a few feet away, and then walked out of the crowd, with no one the wiser. The whole time the rest of the audience was focused on the Sousaphone players snaking through the crowd, dancing and playing their horns.
Well I’ll be damned. Zeke sat back and stared at the screens. It’s like the perfect murder.
He went back through the photos one by one, trying to find one that caught the face of the figure, but no luck. He was ready to give up when he thought he saw something on one of the Sousaphones. He zoomed in on the reflective surface of the inside of the bell and there it was, a face. Upside down and a little distorted, but a face nonetheless.
After that, it was just a matter of cropping the photo, flipping it, and then having the facial recognition program bounce it against the campus database. Seven minutes later he had the shooter identified and was racing off to find Detective Franks.
Guess it wasn’t such a perfect murder after all.