This is an idea that's been rattling around my noggin for some time. To be recklessly frank: It might be a novel/novella here in installments, or something to shop to an agent (as If I had one). So, no promises at all, but read on for the first chapter of ...
The corpse lay, as one would imagine, still. Limbs awry on the freshly mown grass; a serene visage; left arm pointing up with open hand, almost as in a greeting; a body that seemingly had found peace as life fled from it.
Except for the right side of its head, which was almost perfectly flat. As if the person had lain on his side for years.
Quentin Kelso just watched. A veteran detective in the New Haven P.D., Kelso had never quite seen one like this. Especially on Orange Street, up this far, almost to East Rock Park. Trees bending in cadence to a slight breeze. Stern homes of Yale professors, replete with well-tended gardens and wives. The wives marched in the breeze as well, contorting Scandinavian strollers around the knot of civil servants: cops, firefighters, EMTs and their attendant vehicles.
Local residents, not wanting to appear alarmed, skirted the hubbub. If this had been in Westville, thought Kelso, we'd need a riot squad to repel onlookers.
Still a half-score of rubberneckers—mindfully keeping their distance—buzzed among themselves. It was as if no one wanted to be so rude as to stare; that would be bad form for this part of town. Kelso overheard enough to know that the decedent had passed right on his front lawn. Uniforms began to circulate among the neighbors seeking nubs of data; the cops' initial reports had not been promising. Generalities were already patent: Peter Treadwell, 42, and never to age another day, an adjunct professor of linguistics at Southern. Lived with a male partner who was currently on holidays on Long Island. The house seemed to look down on its deceased owner with shadowy disapproval. The late-spring air turned choppy; Kelso secured his floppy belt around his gabardine.
How many people are murdered—violently—on their front lawn?
Then Kelso (who was known to all of his co-workers, and even friends, by surname only) noticed the young man. Rather than edge up to the actual scene with the other discreet gawkers, the young man stood at the far corner of the Treadwell lawn. He was making notes in a small book. Tiny notes, at that, Kelso surmised. No harm here; the kid's nowhere near the scene.
Or was he?
Kelso strolled over to the youngster. He said, “Whaddya doin' here, young man?”
The young man looked up from his notes. He capped his fountain pen and blew on his words before closing his book. He said, “I am making notes and ascertaining data, sir. Very pertinent data concerning this savage crime.”
Kelso's experienced eye was failing him. Is this a kid or a young man? He could be thirteen or nineteen. Grown enough but slight, almost thin. Kelso also noticed the hands: abnormally large but delicate; the way he handled the pen and paper; the old-school notebook, bound, not the spirally kind; ash-blond hair. But his eyes stopped Kelso's mind. Those are the eyes of someone who's been around, fallen off more than a few turnip trucks. Eyes that have been there.
Kelso broke and spoke, “And what wouldja need this data fer?” His voice wrung the word out.
The young man stood—almost at attention—and grinned after a demure fashion. “You see, Detective-”
“You see, I am a detective also. Of a far different ilk than you, with only a smidgen of experience. Yet a detective just the same.”
Kelso bristled; his brow reddened and rimpled.
The young man continued, “There is no need to voice your objections. I don't brook scolding. I will do you a favor and vouchsafe you a clue. A footprint; a very interesting and evidence-laden footprint, Detective Kelso.”
Kelso said, “Lissen, buddy. We find the evidence. And determine iffen it's 'evidence-laden' or whatever. Now, I'll thank you to back off and go detect someplace else.”
“That's a Croc.”
“A WHAT! You wanna take a ride downtown with that fresh mouth?”
“No need. And you have my humble apology. I meant Croc: see-are-oh-see-kay. It's a brand of rubberized sandal. Popular with chefs and gardeners—now de rigueur for students, artists and people with piercings, as well as sensible housewives. There's an imprint right here. And deep it is
“Plus, I think I have espied a few more, in a direct line from here to the decedent. The penultimate and final prints are the deepest. As if the wearer put all his weight into his step.”
Another detective, Smoke Slattery, beckoned to Kelso. He walked back toward Smoke, but froze when the strange young man said, “And I firmly believe that the doer is in our midst. Why don't we close the book on this one, posthaste?”
Months later, Quentin Kelso would remember his next decision as being momentous. Not that he ever used that word. “Okay, kid. Lessee whatcha got.”
The detective waved off his partner and followed the young man to the edge of the crowd. They stood directly behind a smallish, blond man with a poorly wrought combover. He wore stained khaki pants and a battered London Fog Barracuda.
The young man stared at Kelso, winking with confidence and spoke loudly, “YESSIR, DETECTIVE. I BELIEVE IT WAS WITH A HOE. MY FATHER'S AN AVID GARDNER AND THEDEAD GUY'S HEAD LOOKS JUST LIKE THE GROUND WHEN DAD SLAMS THE HOE DOWN WHEN THE RED SOX LOSE. 'CAUSE HE LISTENS TO 'EM ON HIS TRANSISTOR IN THE BACKYARD.”
With this, the blond man, turned around with vigor and eyed the young man. “A hoe you say? How could that be? Hoes have a small edge, cuz they're at right angles to the handle. They would make a sharp, narrow gash.”
Kelso immediately noticed the speaker's furtive, darting eyes.
The young man winked at Kelso again and said, “But not a Dutch hoe. It has a blade that connects to the hilt with a moderate 's' and is almost parallel to handle. Not good for digging, but it can be pulled to chop weeds.”
At this, the blond man snorted and returned to watching dieners load the former Peter Treadwell into the ME's bus.
The young man gently pulled Kelso away, out of earshot of the gaggle.
“Big deal,” Kelso said.
“Now, cast your view on the man who responded to me. Note the shoes.”
“Is that that croaks or whatever?”
“Correct. Now, where was the decedent's wound? I'm guessing the right side of his head.”
“Howdja know that?”
“Look at the Croc man. He wears his watch on his right wrist, the non-dominant one. He also parts his unfortunate coiffure on the right, whereas most men—even you, detective—part theirs on the left, since they utilize the comb with the right. The little man is definitely left-handed, hence the mortal wound on the corpse's right. There's your perp.”
Kelso, barely thinking squarely, walked away from the young man and summoned Slattery. The young man watched as Kelso pointed out the blonde man to his partner. Soon Slattery, with his arm on the stranger's biceps, walked down the street a few feet and into the driveway of a house three doors down.
The young man said, “Watch.”
In about five minutes' time two things happened: A brace of NHPD squad cars sirened up the street and stopped in front of the driveway where Slattery had taken the blond man. The second thing was a beaming Slattery strolling jauntily back down the driveway with his charge.
Kelso hurried over; the young man trailed at a safe distance.
Slattery said, “Name's Vandewoort, Kelso. He's our perp. Spilled it all. Seems he was queer for Treadwell. I dunno how you did it, Kels, but this might be a speed record for solving a homicide.”
As the uniforms loaded the suspect into a cruiser for the ride downtown, Kelso turned to the young man and motioned him to follow. They walked up the same driveway. At its end was a small shed, its door open, abutting a garage. Just inside the door, an implement leaned against the wall. It had a long handle, like a rake, but its business end was not toothed.
Kelso donned a pair of disposable plastic gloves and picked up the tool. He held up the blade for both to see.
The blade was covered in blood. Small tufts of hair clung to the drying fluid.
Kelso said, “A Dutch hoe, eh?”
The young man said, “A Dutch hoe.”
The detective ruffled his hair and ran a knotted, burly hand over his face. He said, “Who the hell are you, anyway?”
The young man canted his head, almost in a bowing motion. Then he snapped to full height and proffered a business card to the detective. Before Kelso could speak, the young man pulled a nigh-perfect about-face and strode away.
Kelso examined the card. Quickly, since it bore only two lines of printing.