by Michael Penncavage

Wade sighed as he wiped the sweat that had collected onto his brow. The sun had set at hour ago reaching a high of 97 degrees. With the humidity, it was well over 100, transferring the city into how he felt at the moment –– dirty and smelly. Like himself, the city needed a good shower to wash away the filth.

He adjusted one of the car’s vents so the cold air blew directly onto his face. “How long has it been since they promised to fix the AC in this hunk of shit?”

“About a month,” replied Simon as he pried corn beef from his teeth with a toothpick.

“When the hell is this heat going to lift?”

“At this rate –– Christmas.”

The CB chirped, and a female dispatcher’s voice crackled through. “Headquarters to Car 1-3-6. Come in –– over.”

Simon grabbed the microphone. “This is 1-3-6.”

“We have a report of shots fired at the Filmont. Over.”

“I copy that. On route.” Simon flipped on the siren. “Damn. So much for a slow night.”

Wade whistled as they pulled up in front of the lavish apartment building. “I wonder what the rent goes for here?”

“Probably more than we make in a year.” Simon killed the engine. “It’s all of those dot.com millionaires.”

“Not anymore.”

Two figures rushed out to meet them. One of them had a gold nameplate tacked on his breast pocket that read Sammy: Manager. The second, dressed like a bellhop, looked like he was still in high school.

“You called in a 911 –– saying shots were fired?” asked Simon.

“Not exactly. Ms. Butler in 7B phoned down to me stating that she heard a noise sounding like a gunshot from the apartment above.” Sammy leaned forward. “Ms. Butler is, how should I say … somewhat eccentric. Nevertheless, I phoned Mr. Devocentis –– he is the tenant in 8B and received no answer. I immediately called 911. Since then I have been watching the elevator while Thomas has been keeping an eye on the stairs. No one has come down.”

Simon and Wade glanced at each other, the same thought running through their heads –– false alarm.

Wade cleared his throat. “If you keep an eye on the stairs, we’ll go check on Mr. Devo.”

The elevator closest to them suddenly pinged.

The four men turned.

The doors separated.

A man who looked between 90 and 110 year old stepped out.

“Not a tenant,” mumbled Simon.

Slowly, very slowly the man hobbled towards them. He was dressed in a white tank-top that was three sizes too small, lime shorts that were hiked too high, and wide brown loafers that might have been fashionable during the 1960s. He gripped a large golf umbrella more as a walker than as an instrument to avoid the rain.

“Sir,” Sammy called to him. “From what apartment have you just come from?”

Though it wasn’t particularly bright in the lobby, the old man squinted at him. “Eh?”

“Where did you come from?” Boomed Wade irritably.

The old man stared at them as if he’d been asked a riddle. “Hirshman.”

“Apartment 13C.” Sammy looked at the old man curiously. “Saul is on vacation until next Sunday.”

The old man let out a bucolic cough as he reached into his shorts pocket. He pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes. “Yeah. I had to come over and clean out his cat’s crapper. Damn thing eats and shits more than I do.”

Sammy looked at the old man curiously. “I don’t.”

Suddenly, the other two elevators pinged opened simultaneously. From the first, a woman in her earlier 50s stepped out with a small dog. A man in his early 30s came out of the second. So intent on wiping the spots off his white shirt he didn’t even notice Wade and Simon until he had walked several feet. Turning on his heels, he hurried back to the elevator. Simon grabbed the elevator door just as it was about to close. Grabbing Shirt Stains by his sleeve, he yanked him out and back into the lobby. Immediately spotting the recognizable bulge on his lower back, Simon brought the man to the ground –– disarming him as he did so.

“Hands behind your head!” he barked.

The little dog began to bark.

“Lemme go!”

“Hands behind your head!” Simon repeated as he grabbed the man’s wrist.

The poodle continued to yap.

“I haven’t done anything!” hollered the man.

“We’ll see about that.”

Smoke from Wade’s cigarette slowly drifted up to the ceiling. It collected into a hazy cloud around the faded No Smoking sign.

“And the reason why your gun smelled like it had been fired?”

“How many times are we going to go over this?”

“Humor me, Mr. Fredricks.” replied Wade. “I’m finding this all very confusing.”

“Like I told you already. I had oiled it earlier today.”

“And the reason you were in the apartment building?”

Fredricks rubbed his brow in an effort to ward off the impending headache. “I was answering an ad for a used television. Both myself and the seller do shift work and this was the first chance we could meet. I must have written the wrong address down because the apartment I went up to was not his.”

“Put yourself in our shoes, Mr. Fredricks.” Wade extinguished his cigarette. “You come out of the elevator –– your shirt covered in blood and carrying a gun. Soon after later we find Paul Devocentis of 8B dead on his kitchen floor in a pool of his own blood, killed by a wound to his chest. Doesn’t that seem awfully coincidental, Mr. Fredricks?”

Fredricks looked at him desperately. “I keeping telling you … I’m being set-up! He banged his hand onto the table in front of him. “I’m being used as the patsy!”

The interrogation room door opened and Lt. Drake –– a tall, thin black woman appeared.

Wade rose up and walked out of the room.

Drake closed the door. She was holding a thin, manila folder. “We just got back the lab and M.E.’s report. He’s not our man.”

Wade stared at her as if she had sprouted a third eye.

“The blood on his shirt doesn’t match the victim’s.”

“Don’t tell me.”

“The blood on Frederick’s shirt was O-. Devocentis blood is B+.”

“He was telling the us the truth about cutting himself shaving?”

“I doubt that as well –– but the blood doesn’t belong to the victim.”

Drake looked back into the folder. “The lab also examined the gun. They couldn’t find any evidence of it being fired.”

Wade looked at her incredulously.

Drake held up a second manila folder. “It gets worse. I just read the medical examiner’s report on the body. Devocentis wasn’t even shot.”

“What!”

“He was stabbed. Some sort of thin knife. It slid in between his ribs, rupturing his lung and caused it to fill up with blood.”

She looked through the one-way mirror. “Did his story hold up about even being in the apartment in the first place?”

“Not really.”

Drake sighed heavily. “Well, we can’t arrest him for thinking he has lied to us.”

“Are you saying that we should just let him go?”

The lieutenant looked at him squarely in the eye. “Unless you can wave your magic wand and find some evidence to directly link him to the crime.”

Later that week Wade sat at his desk watching the various people filing in and out of the squad-room. Detectives were leaving to investigate crimes. Beat cops were arriving dragging various lowlifes in cuffs.

A non-stop revolving door. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week.

Wade’s eyes fell upon the coat racks by the front door. During the winter they were stuffed full of various parkas and scarves. Their only practical use during the summer months were as door jams to keep the air conditioning circulating. One of the racks had several umbrellas dangling from it. They had been hanging there for months –– most likely forgotten.

One of them suddenly caught his attention. It was long and black, tied tight by the cloth band that was wrapped around it. Wade looked at the tip of the umbrella. It was skinny and metallic and looked sharp enough to …

“Son of a bitch.”

Leaping from his chair, Wade sprinted through the squad room to Lt. Drake’s office.

They had been duped.

Set up.

Just as Fredricks had said.

* * *

A man was slowly sipping from a gin and orange at a Vegas nightclub. One was old –– though not nearly as old as the makeup made him out to be. The other man was much younger, his hair now dyed blonde and cut short.

“How have you been Phil?” asked the younger man.

“Been better, Steve,” Phil answered. “This weather. It’s doing havoc on my sinuses.”

“At least it’s better than New York.”

Phil took another sip of his drink. “I’ll give you that.”

Steve handed Phil an overstuffed envelope, tied tight with a rubber band. “This should make the weather more tolerable.”

Not bothering to open it, Phil stuck the envelope inside his jacket. “Yes. I suppose it will.” He took a sip from his drink. “Do you think they caught on?”

“By now, most likely. Not that it really matters.” He paused to admire a waitress as she walked by wearing a skirt that was short enough to be criminal. “I knew we were in trouble when Devocentis’ beer bottle struck the kitchen floor. Damn thing went off just like a gunshot. Just our luck one of those nosey neighbors decided to phone it in.”

Phil smiled. “But just like you said, not that it really matters. Not as long as we had the patsy.”

Steve grabbed a hand full of peanuts from the nearby bowl.

They finished their drinks, shook hands, and left.

Michael Penncavage is employed at a national retailer which has locations in the Princeton area. His story, “The Cost of Doing Business” won a 2008 Derringer Award for best mystery.

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