I sat at my desk, my fingers interlocked in front of me. My cup of coffee, the third one of the morning, slowly grew cold beside me.
The body was down on the slab in Samuelson’s back room, and I’d carefully locked up that briefcase in our evidence locker. Lewis had helped me put the thing in there, although neither of us spoke a word for the entire ride back to the station.
It was only after the thing was out of sight, under lock and key, that we started to drift back to normal. I gave him a couple tasks to do – run down the prints off the dead body, try and get an ID, check for a wallet or other personal items – and sent him off. Maybe we’d get lucky, find the guy in the system.
I, meanwhile, had a tougher decision to make.
I held the position of senior detective for our precinct, not that the title meant much. When the county’s only got the money to pay four of you, not counting Marian’s volunteering on the weekend to sort through our files, the rank of “senior detective” is a bit like being the tallest kid on the playground. Sure, it sounds nice, but it’s not worth printing up on a business card.
My boss… technically, I figured that would be the county sheriff. Alan Hayfield was a nice enough fellow, bit forgetful these days, but he always showed up to the local school to encourage them to say no to drugs. Still, he’d be just as over his head in this as me.
I drummed my fingers against the scratched wood of my desk, thinking hard. I could still see the slight glow of the contents of that case, could feel the weight of its contents. That case didn’t belong out in a field, in the middle of nowhere.
So what was our dead man doing with it?
And, perhaps more importantly, what was I going to do with it?
Fortunately, Lewis came barging into the station, breaking me out of my looping thoughts. I stood up as he stomped his feet against the welcome mat, knocking off caked-on snow and huffing as he unzipped his heavy jacket.
“Any ID on the stiff?” I asked, giving him a hand with his coat.
Once he’d managed to remove a few heavy layers, Lewis nodded, looking a bit happier. “Yeah, he had a wallet on him,” he replied, pulling out a plastic baggie containing the item in question from a pocket. Detectives always looked happier with a lead..
I took the baggie, fumbled to manipulate the object inside until I had it flipped open. “Bill Loonan,” I read, and chuckled at the resemblance.
Lewis frowned at me. “What’s so funny?”
I thought about trying to explain to him how the dead guy had reminded me of Biff Loman, the dead salesman, but decided not to bother. Lewis’s reading mostly consisted of the articles in the nudie mags he furtively bought at the gas station down the road and hid in the bottom of his desk’s drawer.
“Nothing,” I replied. “Let’s run it. See if there’s any missing persons out on a Bill Loonan.”
I fired up our office’s single, boxy computer, pulling out the brown-tinged keyboard. Lewis dropped into the chair across from my desk. When I looked up, he was frowning.
“What?” I asked, as I waited for the old machine to load.
“The car,” he said slowly, looking out past our front door. “That farmer, Ewan, said he hadn’t seen any car.”
“So how did this Loony guy get out in the field? We both saw his shoes. Leather dress shit. He didn’t walk there.”
I shrugged. It was a good question. “Maybe someone dumped him there. Wasn’t much blood underneath him on the field.”
But Lewis was already shaking his head. “Who’d dump him, but leave, well, that?” he asked, leaning on the last word.
He didn’t have to say what he meant. We both knew. I didn’t have any answer.
Thankfully, the computer beeped a minute later. I typed in Bill Loonan’s name and hit Enter, waiting for the machine to creakily send off the request. When I’d first arrived here, I asked the town council to increase our budget so we could get a faster network, a better computer. I had young, big ideas about improving the police force.
A decade later, we had the same connection and the same computer.
While I waited, I retrieved my coffee cup, frowning when a sip revealed that the liquid had gone cold. I didn’t feel motivated enough to pop it into our food-splattered microwave, though, so I just took a few more sips, grimacing at each one.
Finally, the computer beeped back. No results. I glanced at Lewis, and he nodded, sighing.
“Looks like we’re stuck with old fashioned police work,” I said, turning the computer off. “You got a picture of the stiff? Head and shoulders shot, one folks might recognize?”
He nodded, pulling out his camera and loading up a picture for my approval. I took a look, and gave it a nod. It was clear upon close examination that the guy was dead, but he still at least looked human, apart from that hole between his eyebrows.
“What about, well, the briefcase?” Lewis asked, as I reached for my coat. “Are we just going to leave it locked up?”
I grunted. That damn briefcase. That was the worst twist of all with this mystery, so far, and I didn’t even know how to deal with it.
“For now, yeah,” I finally said. “Maybe, as we find out more about this Loonan guy, it will make some sense.”
Lewis nodded, trusting his boss, but I wished that I had more conviction behind my own words.
A phone rang, three short, sharp trills, before a hand picked it up.
“Yeah. Someone searched his name? Police database? From where?”
A brief pause, as if the speaker needed a few seconds to adjust. “What? Really, from there? Who even has an internet connection out there?”
Another pause, followed by a sigh. “Well, get someone out there, for God’s sake. Shut this down, get it all cleaned up.”
“And whatever you do, make sure you recover that goddamn briefcase.”
The phone call ended.