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The Open Door
About the Author: Matt J. McGee work appears in Spectrum, Gnashing Teeth and The NonBinary Review.

The sun was still a calm early yellow when Detective Hayden Drake and his supervisor Linda Donovan walked around an idle 90’s sedan. The car had parked at an angle in the dirt lot of a state park beside the lots only decent-sized tree. Yellow crime scene tape circled the tree’s trunk and ran the length of the sedan. The driver’s door was ajar and a body, half in the car and half out, lay beneath a sheet.

Donovan looked the car over, bumper to bumper. “Who in their right mind, especially in this neighborhood still owns a hoopty like this?”

Drake, crouched near the body, didn’t crack a smile. “A what?”

Donovan shook her head. “A hoopty. What, you’ve never heard that before? Don’t tell me I’ve got superior automotive knowledge over you now.”

“Something tells me that’s not superior automotive knowledge. Probably just something they say on the side of the country you were born in before moving out here.”

“Got me there. In Chicago, if you’re driving anything older than four years, you’re teetering on hoopty status.” Donovan gestured at the mid-90’s Mercury sedan. “This guy’s got hoopty covered five times over.”

“And what do you mean ‘a neighborhood like this,’ ” Drake added.

Donovan swung the tip of her pen at the spread out houses. “Each lot’s got at least an acre, most of them a whole lot more. Permits to build up here by a state park are highly coveted and hard to come by. Base price of these houses are minimum three mil.”

Drake scanned the hillside homes, the rolling open spaces full of scrub oak and creosote bush. “Maybe our guy is a renter. Crashing on someone’s couch.”

“Either way, this car’s had a lot of lives. Look,” she pointed the tip of her pen at the open door jam. “Car’s been painted twice. You look inside where the hinges are, original looks like black. So maybe a PD car. After that,” she dragged her pen upward, “apparently yellow. My guess is, car like this? Repainted to be a taxi.”

Drake nodded.

“Then along comes our owner,” Donovan pointed at the sheet, “our late owner. Buys this hoopty, gives it a new coat of paint and drives it all around LA, doing his thing.”

“Until now,” Drake said.

Donovan nodded. “Hoopty’s gonna have to find a new hero.”

“There’s that word again.”


“Hoopty. I’m beginning to think you just like saying it.”

“Geez, man! All kinds a people say hoopty.”

“Sure. And for the record I know what a hoopty is. It’s just that no one in L.A. says it.”

“No? Then what? ‘Nice sled, bro?’ ”

“A 1991 Mercury Mystique is hardly a sled. To anyone.”

“Gotta agree with you there,” Donovan shrugged. “Not exactly the kinda thing that was ever a chick magnet.”

“Maybe around the retirement home,” Drake said. “But our guy seems a little young for that kinda life just yet.”

Donovan read from a sheet. “Says here that our vic’s forty-two. I’d say way too young for the retirement village.”

“But still in his prime hoopty years,” Drake said. He eyed the car a little longer. “Once had a girlfriend, she had a Mercury. Smaller than this. Think it was called a Topaz or something like that. White, like this.”

“Well let’s not reminisce about your love life today. Let’s get into this.”

“Right.” Drake crouched near the body again. He leaned the sheet away, exposing the victim’s head and neck. The man wore a rumpled t-shirt, the kind that might have been slept in overnight, though there wasn’t the musky odor that often accompanied someone who’d just slept in his car. Drake noted the injury to the man’s neck, twisted at an unnatural angle.

Donovan put her eyes back in the form, clipped to a board. “Officers who arrived on scene say they think he died of a broken neck.”

“With his head turned that way I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet,” Drake said. “The question would be how?”

“No sign of a noose or other object he could’ve hung himself with, or on.”

“Window’s up,” Drake pointed. “Couldn’t have threaded anything through the window frame.”

“Roger that,” Donovan said. “So. We’ve got ourselves a forty-two-year-old victim with a broken neck and no visible source or method with which to snap his neck.”

This story appears in our DEC 2023 Issue
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