At ten-thirty, Brad Swistack left The Overton Lounge. He had no idea what had happened to Wayne, but he was a little worried when his friend didn't show. Wayne was soft -- weak.
For all Brad knew, he (Wayne) could be down at the station right now spilling his chicken-shit guts.
Brad shook his head. Wife-beaters were the worst. A bunch of simpering cowards, it seemed they couldn't live with their wives, but they couldn't live without them either.
Brad took his hands from the steering wheel, one at a time, and wiped his palms across the blue surge of his uniformed legs.
Why in the hell any man would want to tie himself to a whiny shrew of a woman by getting married, he simply could not understand. Growing up in a house full of women, Brad had spent his childhood watching his mother tear down his Dad at every given opportunity. The man finally keeled over with a stroke, more than fifteen years ago. Bradley Swistack, Senior, had been one of Memphis’ finest -- he'd probably still be out patrolling the streets and collaring thugs if his wife and daughters hadn't nagged him into an early grave.
Brad's three older sisters had managed to find husbands, and while Brad had attended each lavish wedding -- shaking hands and smiling broadly -- inside he was full of sympathy for the poor new husbands. Beverly (Brad's mom) had also remarried.
Dutifully Brad visited her in California each year. It didn't surprise him that his mother grew ever fat and content while her new husband aged and dwindled with each passing year.
Brad liked his life. Liked to come and go as he pleased. He moved between girl friends like a bee buzzing from flower to flower, never feeling any compulsion to settle down. Hell no, he'd seen what marriage had done to his father, to his stepfather, his fool brothers-in-law, and Wayne.
Wayne had finally snapped.
Elizabeth Turner had been a blonde beauty in high school, the shy, quiet type, too.
Brad shook his head again. What happened to women after they got married? Was there an unwritten rule that they needed to become complaining hags?
Reaching Mount Mariah, Brad's mind wandered back a week ago -- the last time he'd been called out to the Michaels' place.
Hadn't been the first time. Hell no. Probably once a month for the past year he'd gotten a call from Elizabeth because Wayne was acting up. Like any good cop, Brad'd drive out there and settled things down. What he had failed to do –-
(Was it so wrong?)
-- was to fill out and file reports on those calls.
After all, it was just Elizabeth assuming the bitch position on his good friend, Wayne.
Why ruin the name of the county's finest ranger by filing a damn report?
Brad had thought it odd last Saturday when the call came in from Wayne -- instead of Elizabeth. Wayne, sobbing and bawling like a woman.
Brad had checked it out. There was Elizabeth – looking much like a recent road kill -- sprawled by the front door. Brad had to kick it open to get in. Wayne, bawling at the top of the stairs: the buzzing phone still cradled in his arms.
What could Brad do? He wrote it up as an accidental death.
The report had said that Elizabeth tripped on the phone wire and took a header down the stairs.
Poor dear, broke her little neck.
There had been no investigation.
Brad, the good cop.
Admired by all.
Far as the precinct was concerned, Brad's word was golden.
Pulling up before the Michael's neat little house, Brad keyed off the motor and wiped his damp palms across his knees. A prickle of apprehension beaded his brow.
(I could just go home.)
Eleven p.m. and most of the homes on Dogwood Street were dark and quiet. A faint blue light shone from a downstairs window at the Michael's place.
(Guy probably just dozed off in front of the tube.)
Brad's footsteps clicked off as he approached the front door. Visions of Elizabeth's broken body flashed through his mind as he stood before the heavy front door and rang the bell.
Chimes sounded deep inside the house.
Brad rapped his knuckles smartly against the oak door, then grasped the handle. It turned easily and the door creaked open.
"Hullo. You better have beer in the fridge, you sorry sack of sh . . ."
Brad's words choked off. Drawing his service revolver, he quickly backed to the nearest wall. He'd seen a lot during his ten years on the force, but nothing like this.
The room smelled like a slaughterhouse. Wayne Michaels, slumped back in his recliner, was speared through the chest with a grisly hunk of bone. Blood oozed from his ruined body. But the worst . . . the absolute worst sight at the whole grisly scene was the abysmal -- no it was more resigned -- expression on Wayne's pitiful face. A look of complete surrender as though any thoughts of hope had been torn from him along with his arm.
(Looks like I'll have to write a report this time, buddy-boy.)
Brad wiped his hands across his thighs and donned a pair of latex gloves. Careful not to disturb evidence, he checked out the house. It looked secure, but before he called the station for a homicide crew, he wanted to check something in the basement that had seemed wrong.
Feeling a little like a nosy woman, Brad retraced his movements to a shadowy corner in the unfinished basement. He was sure that the junk in this corner had been deliberately placed to look haphazard. Broken furniture, appliances and other bits of scrap had been carefully placed around a large tarp-covered object. At first glance, it appeared to be a small table or similar piece of furniture that was being refinished, but the smell was wrong. There was a familiar odor, but it wasn't turpentine or paint fumes. Brad was sure he had smelled this odor before . . . Someplace else . . .
The cemetery. Damn if this cellar didn't smell like his cemetery. Earthy, with a faint trace of mint. The same minty smell that drifts from the heavy green carpet of moss that stretches between the gravestones at the old Shelby Cemetery.
Brad was a frequent visitor there, since he liked to keep his father's marker clean and free from bird droppings and insects.
His father had been a great man, he deserved a flattering memorial.
Puzzled, Brad lifted the plastic tarp from the object squatting in the corner. Visions of old vampire caskets full of rich loam, crossed his mind. But the relic wasn't a coffin. It was an old, flat-topped, brassbound trunk: complete with a shiny new padlock!
Since Wayne and Elizabeth were both dead, he felt no hint of trespassing as he whopped on the small padlock a few times with a length of old pipe and broke its springs. Although the exterior of the trunk was grimy with dust, the interior was neat and organized: the earthy mint odor stronger.
Brad stared into the trunk for many minutes before he realized what he was seeing. Twisted lumps of black wax, knives, books, vials, and small tin boxes. "Practical Black Magic," "Satan, Revisited," and "Sacrificial Rites" were the titles of the first few books that Brad took from the neat stack. The vials looked like little test tubes and were corked. Some of them contained a red substance that looked like blood, while others contained clear liquids. After cracking open the first of the tin boxes and spilling out a mound of small bones, Brad became more cautious with the rest. He found one box filled with dirt: minty smelling dirt. Another box held drawings and symbols -- some etched on bits of leather, some scratched into metal shapes, and others drawn in red ink on crinkly, parchment-like pages.
Now Brad was truly perplexed. He couldn't imagine Wayne down here playing with old bones and dirt and reading this garbage. Wayne was weak, but he wasn't demented. That left Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, always so calm and quiet -- even after the beatings. Maybe she had been a little unhinged.
(One shot too many to the head.)
Brad knew a homicide crew would turn this place upside down looking for clues to the perp. It'd be extremely detrimental to his friend's good name to be connected with this garbage. Wayne was gone now. Better to let him rest in peace that to drag his good name through the mud.
(What are friends for?)
Without giving it another thought, Brad snatched up an empty cardboard box from the junk pile and filled it with the repugnant contents of the old trunk -- including the shiny broken padlock.
Thankful for the latex gloves, he rearranged the debris in that corner and stowed the carton in his trunk before he radioed in the call. Brad stayed outside by his car to wait for the crew.
He couldn't bear looking into the empty face of his former friend.
Continued . . .
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