Bullets kill quicker than cholesterol, but all things being equal, I’d rather a heart attack than a shotgun.
My surgery scar itches as I lean on the hood of a prowl car outside Fat Eddie Young’s Four Corners Diner and share a pack of cigarettes with a pair of hard-faced uniforms. My doctor would fret but I’ve already given up booze and any food worth a damn: he can have my smokes when I’m dead.
My partner’s late. The anonymous call came in over an hour ago and, even in rush-hour traffic, the station is only twenty minutes away. This time of night, with the streets to ourselves, he should have been here.
The black-and-whites talk sport. I grunt in all the right places as I watch pirouetting silhouettes through the diner windows. The coroner and his sidekick continue their waltz around Fat Eddie’s corpse, heedless that I’m no longer in the room, scribbling esoteric notes as they go.
Headlights slice across the block. An engine rumbles to a stop behind my parked heap. A gunshot door-slam then a tall drip in a hand-me-down suit adjusts his hat.
I toss my cigarette into the gutter, straighten. “Detective Woodley, good of you to join us.”
“Rivers?” Woodley’s bovine eyes widen as we shake hands. “I didn’t think you were back until next week.”
“It’ll take more than a bum ticker to keep me away, son.”
Woodley doesn’t ask how I am. He used to be conscientious. Punctual too.
A bead of sweat trickles from beneath his hat. The streetlights turn it to molten copper. “Nobody told me.”
Nobody respects bulls who sound like anxious children either.
“Come on.” I head for the diner entrance. A moment’s hesitation before he follows. The Woodley I remember would’ve raced me to the crime scene.
A mournful bell heralds our arrival. The two whitecoats glance up from beside the polished apple-red counter that runs along the back wall.
Instead of ham and eggs, the diner stinks of spilled blood and stale cigar smoke. Our shoes squeak on the worn checkerboard floor. I take the long way round, avoiding the tight gaps between chrome tables, and past the darkened jukebox.
Fat Eddie lies face down in a doorway, his head and upper body in the diner, his legs and feet in a backroom. A couple of shotgun blasts have turned his striped shirt to a bloodied ruin.
Woodley crouches near the body. He shoves his hat up to meet my eye. “He’s a friend of yours, isn’t he?”
I shrug. “I knew him, sure. He cooked a good breakfast. That doesn’t mean I was friends with him.”
My partner stands, tiptoes around the body without disturbing anything. “Looks like he was running from someone through there.” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder.
“The diner closed at three,” I say as Woodley continues his examination. No dinner crowd for Eddie: he always said the stress of a night shift would kill him.
The coroner takes that as his cue. “I estimate he’s been dead for a couple of hours.”
I check my watch. Just after midnight. “Call it ten, then?”
Leaving Woodley to finish giving Eddie the once-over, I step over the corpse and into the backroom. The stocked shelves speak to the room’s nominal purpose, but a round table with scattered cards, chips, and a couple of ashtrays reveal its double-life. More drying blood stains four overturned chairs like a forgotten Jackson Pollock. Another door leads into the alley behind the diner. Easy escape for the murderer.
Footsteps behind me. “What do you make of this?” Woodley asks, studying the carnage.
“Looks like Fat Eddie was running poker without a licence.” I point to the toppled seats. “Three others in the room and, judging by the furniture, things turned nasty.”
Woodley mops his brow with a handkerchief. “Maybe,” he says in a humouring tone. “But if enough people knew about the game, we could be looking at a stickup job gone wrong. There’s no sign of any money.”
I point at the blood sprayed around the room. “Eddie was the only one who got clipped.”
“Anybody who got winged with a shotgun won’t have made it far.”
“Nah, a shotgun would’ve torn this room to pieces.” I shake my head. “Whoever killed Eddie only had eyes for him. I reckon the others were handguns. Maybe a knife.”