Join Our Newsletter


Read a sample mystery every week


 
Exposure
About the Author: Stephen Couch is a computer programmer, an occasional cover band vocalist, and a lifelong Texan. His short fiction has appeared in such markets as Cemetery Dance, Space and Time, and The Best of Talebones. Visit him online and poke him with virtual sticks at stephencouch.wordpress.com.


The man sitting on the bench looked alive until they got close. In their defense, Corrine and Mitch were worn out. They’d been at it for hours, combing the park for folks without a bed for the night, and the failing light of dusk didn’t help either.

“Hi,” Corrine called as they walked along the path. “We’re from the Logos Shelter. Do you have a place to stay this evening?”

The man said nothing, sitting with the barest slump to his shoulders, head tilted down as though napping.

Mitch shouldered his big sack of tightly-rolled fleece throws. “Hey, sir,” he said, raising his voice. “Everything okay?”

Corrine reached up and scratched under the brim of her itchy Santa hat. Mitch wore one, too, but it didn’t seem to bother him. “Asleep?” she asked her co-worker.

“Is that a suit he’s got on? Hang on, gimme a second,” Mitch said, and sat his sack down on the paved walkway. Corrine hugged herself against a quick knife of a breeze that whipped through the trail.

Mitch made the last few steps to the man and put a large but gentle hand on his shoulder. “Sir?” he asked, and made to shake him. Corrine saw Mitch draw his hand back with a start.

“Ice,” she heard him say. “He’s got—” Mitch pulled out a pocket flashlight and played the beam over the man.

Even from a few feet away, Corrine could clearly see the icicles hanging off the seated figure.

“Ah, God,” she whispered, and stepped closer, reaching in the pocket of her equally itchy Santa coat for her cell. “911?” She looked at Mitch, then at the man. “… Wait,” she said. “Hold up. I know him. Oh, my God …”

Mitch kept the flashlight on the frozen man, grimacing. “Hmm?” He looked back at Corrine, who stood there, phone hand dropped numbly to her side.

“This … this is the city treasurer,” she said.

“The hell you say.”

She shook her head. “No, no, it’s him. I told you, I know this man. We meet with him every quarter to talk about the budget for the city shelters.” She took another step forward and peered at the man’s face, his balding head and bushy, iced-up eyebrows. “This is Walter Fagen.”

“Should we get his wallet?” Mitch asked, and when Corrine shot him a look of horror, he raised his free hand to placate. “No, I mean to check his ID, make absolutely sure.”

“I … yeah. Okay.”

Mitch gave her the flashlight to hold while he peeled back the lapels of the man’s coat with a sickening crackle. “Christ, he’s frozen all over. It’s like he went swimming fully clothed then sat down here and waited to free—” Mitch drew back his questing hands. “… Cory, does that look like a gunshot to you?” he asked, his voice quiet.

She leaned in close with the flashlight to see the small, scorched hole in the figure’s chest. Smaller icicles, red in color, hung from its ragged bottom.

Corrine looked up at a noise from Mitch to see the big bear of a man clamping a hand over his own mouth. He gagged again, then took several deep breaths through his nose.

She drew breath herself, and reached into the inside pockets of the peeled-free suit coat. Corrine pulled out a wallet and a folded set of papers, both crusted with ice. She pried open the wallet with a snap and fished out the driver’s license.

“Walter Fagen,” she said, playing the flashlight over the plastic card. “God almighty, Mitch. What happened here?”

“911,” he said, still looking green. “But from a payphone. Then we get the hell out of here.”

“We can’t leave him!”

“They find us hanging around a dead city official? You think we’re going home tonight if that happens? They’ll probably lock us up for convenience’s sake!”

Corrine stiffened. “This man fought for us, every year, every quarter. He squeezed as much out of the budget as he could. I … I can’t leave him, understand? He deserves to have someone to … to be with him.”

Mitch took a step back, but stumbled and spat out two-thirds of a cuss word. “Tripped over a …” He reached down and picked something up, something that made a slithering sound as it was pulled through the nearby bushes. Corrine moved the flashlight beam.



This story appears in our DEC 2019 Issue
(Visit Amazon for a print version)

Buy DEC 2019 Issue

Buy It Now

Digital Subscription

Price $24.75 Cdn

You will immediately receive the current issue.
Future issues are emailed on the 1st of each month.

Reader Discussion


Add Your Comments