I had no reason to expect two snowdrops from the military police to walk into my detective office, but as soon as I saw them I knew exactly why they had come.
They were young guys. Tanned. Good-looking in their regulation haircuts and crisp pressed uniforms. Bright eyes and big fake smiles. I doubted that my own infantry uniform had ever fit me as well as theirs did. But now, fifteen years since I last hung it up, my aching knees and trembling hands and protruding gut made me feel miles out of their league.
Then again, I doubted that this pair had ever seen combat. Not in Korea, and not anywhere before that. They’d probably done their overseas tours in Japan, during the occupation. For one thing, they were too young for anything else. For another, they still had those bright eyes and big smiles.
The kind of eyes and smile I’d never have again. Not with all the heavy baggage I’d picked up during my time in France and Germany. Baggage I’d drag around with me until the day I finally keeled over and died—
“You know who we are, Lt Zahn?” asked one of the snowdrops.
“It’s Mr Zahn,” I said. “And sure, I’ve seen DIC insignia before.”
“All right then, Mr Zahn, do you know why we’re here?”
I didn’t answer right away. Instead, I opened my top desk drawer and took out a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. I unscrewed the cap and took a swig straight from the mouth, forcing the thick pink liquid down my throat.
“Peptic ulcer,” I said. “Sticks me like a hot poker about ten times a day.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, trying to batten down the pain in my gut as I waited for the Bismosal to work, my sizeable stomach twisting awkwardly against the wooden arms of my chair. Looking at me, the two MPs probably thought I must be a real soft touch. Hell, when I was their age, I hadn’t even known that a man could get so fat without trying to.
But it wasn’t my weight that had slowed me down and aged me before my time. It was lack of sleep. Most nights I was up again a few hours after going to bed, and I didn’t always get back down before dawn. Nightmares, sometimes. But more often a suffocating feeling like if I stayed laying down I would stop breathing forever. It had started happening back in France, in ‘44, and had kept on going ever since then.
No surprise then that I just didn’t seem able to get along with people anymore. Not unless they were paying me, and even that was getting to be a struggle. Part of it was black moods and part of it was too little patience on my part. Or at least that’s what people said, since they never seemed to mind telling me what bad company I was to my face. I guess nobody much cares how hard they are on a fat man. A lot of them even act like they’re doing me a favor.
“I’d rather let you boys tell me why you’re here,” I said. Then I carefully folded my hands across my belly to keep them from visibly shaking. It was bad enough to be taking swigs of Pepto-Bismol at the sight of a pair of MPs. Much more of that, and they’d think it was a guilty conscience giving me heartburn.
“Mind if we sit?” I nodded at the two chairs on the other side of my desk, and they both stretched their legs out and kicked the chairs back easily as if to show off how well their bodies fit the design. “The fact is, we wanted to review some of your testimony regarding the unfortunate death of Sgt Leroy Sanborn—”
“Jesus Christ!” I said. I couldn’t help myself.
The MP paused and looked up at me with one raised eyebrow. “Is there a problem, Mr Zahn?”
I shook my head and tried to swallow my irritation. I didn’t totally succeed. “I gave that testimony fifteen years ago. How am I supposed to remember it all now?”
Of course, I didn’t tell them that I had been looking at my own files from the investigation about a week earlier. As far as the official story went—the one that I had told to the military police back when it happened, and the one I intended to stick to now—I was better briefed on the details than I had been in ages.
I even had a solid guess why they had come to see me now, showing up out of the blue to dig up Sgt Sanborn’s old bones after all this time. It must have been Lucius Sanborn who had put them on to me. Sanborn’s son. A man who I hadn’t even known had existed until he had dropped into my office with no prior warning a few weeks ago.