“Hello, my name is Detective Vasquez and this is my partner Detective Gibbons. We would like to talk to you about your neighbor Mark Mueller.”
Alex Ledford stood in the doorway of his small brick house. A cold wind swayed the detectives’ jackets. The hairs on Alex’s legs pricked up. Alex became very aware that he wasn’t wearing any pants.
“Could we come inside?” asked the fat, bald, Detective Gibbons.
“God yes,” said Alex and he opened the door to let the detectives inside. The detectives walked into the cluttered house and Alex ran to the bedroom to find his jeans. While he put them on, he wondered if there was anything in his living room they could arrest him for having. He could not remember, so he practiced his excuses. Is that what weed looks like? I thought those mushrooms were for cooking! Is having OxyContin really a crime?
Alex walked back to his living room. Detective Vasquez studied the posters of Alex’s favorite movies, Detective Gibbons held up a clear glass bong the length of a Subway sandwich.
“Oh… that’s not mine,” said Alex. Smooth, real smooth. Detective Gibbons placed the bong back onto the coffee table and Detective Vasquez turned around. She pointed to the posters.
“Some good movies. Chinatown, The Big Sleep, The Third Man,” her finger pointed to the different posters as she read them aloud. “Kind of a theme.”
“I like noir,” said Alex, “So what did y’all want to talk about again?” Detective Gibbons pointed to the green armchair across from the TV. Alex sat down and the Detectives sat on the couch next to the chair.
“Mr. Ledford, last night your neighbor Marcus Mueller was murdered on the side of the West Ajo Highway,” said Vasquez. “We recovered his body this morning. Do you know anyone who would want to harm him?”
Alex sat leaning into the back of the chair. Just a week ago, he had walked out of his house at midnight to find Mark passed out in the dirt in front of his house. Around him was a half empty bottle of Jack, a golf club and six smashed garden gnomes. He was always doing weird shit like that. Now he was dead.
“Nobody hated Mark. He was a drunk and he was super weird, but nobody hated him,” said Alex.
“Where were you last night around 11pm to 4am?” asked Gibbons. In truth, all Alex could remember from the previous night was meeting his friend Jonathan outside of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Alex brought a bottle of Grey Goose and Jonathan brought several tabs of acid. From there, the night was a duck blur of Taco Bell, cigarettes, the underpass, and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.
“Just hung out at a friend’s house,” said Alex.
The Detectives questioned Alex for another 20 minutes. They asked questions about his friend, what Mark was like, and what Alex did for a living. The one Alex dubbed Fatboy Gibbons grinned when Alex told him he was a dishwasher. The fuck is funny about that?
“Alright, I think we have all we need. If you think of anything that might be important don’t hesitate to call and let us know,” said Vasquez.
“Do you have any questions for us?” asked Fatboy Gibbons. Alex thought about his neighbor.
“How did Mark die?” he asked. The Detectives looked at each other, Fatboy Gibbons turned green and shook his head.
“Not well,” said Vasquez. The pair thanked Alex for his time and walked out the front door. Alex watched them drive off, when he could not see them anymore he sat back on the couch. Not well. Jesus, what did that mean? His hands shook, so Alex loaded and cleared his bong. He sat on the couch and looked up at the noir posters on his wall. Jack Nicholson stood with a lit cigarette in his mouth and a bandage on his nose. Men with guns stood behind him. Alex looked down at his grey T-shirt. “Bobby’s Burgers and Fries” was written in red cursive lettering across the chest. His shirt smelled terrible. It smelled of fast food and grey dishwater. Alex stood up, grabbed his keys and walked to his car.
He parked outside of Jonathan’s apartment building. As shitholes went, there wasn’t much worse. Alex leaned on the car horn. People stuck their heads out of their windows and yelled for him to shut the fuck up. He gave them the finger until, finally, a bald head with white stubble on the jaw stuck out of Jonathan’s window.
“Hey Dick-farmer, shut the fuck up!” yelled Jonathan.
“Get in the car Jonathan,” Alex shouted back. When Jonathan saw who the “Dick-farmer” was tone changed.
“Oh, hey Alex. I’ll head down,”
Alex waited until the old burnout walked out of the building. Jonathan wore black boots and a red Santa outfit. Red was a loose term, since the outfit was covered in an assortment of stains and dirt spots. The Garbage-Can Santa stuck his head through the car window and asked,
“Where are we going?”
“I want to check something out,” said Alex. Jonathan sat in the passenger seat and the car filled with the smell of stale cigarettes and barbeque sauce.
“Jesus, you smell horrible,” said Alex.
“I haven’t been able to wash my costume yet,”
“You’ve had all month,” said Alex as he pulled away from la-crème-de-la-shitholes.
“So where are we going?” asked Jonathan again. Alex did not want to spook his barbeque-smelling companion so all he said was,
“There’s something on Ajo Way that I want to check out. Won’t take long.” Jonathan nodded and sat back in his chair. Alex drove onto the highway, prickly-pears and leafless bushes passed in and out of sight. Towards the horizon, Alex saw flashes of red and blue light. He slowed his car down to a crawl. A small fleet of patrol cars were parked on the side of the road. A lone ambulance sat amongst the cop cars, doors wide open.
“What the hell happened here?” asked Jonathan. A large black bag sat near the ambulance. Forensic scientists with blue gloves stood around a red mass in the dirt. One of them held bolt cutters with yellow handles. The red mass—was what was left of Mark—sat in the dirt. His body had been separated at the joints. Hand, space, forearm, space, shoulder, space… Mark was lying face down in the dirt. Barbed wire wrapped around every extremity, connecting them in a vaguely human form. The officer with the bolt cutters clipped sections of barbed wire around what used to be Mark’s arm. When it was free another officer picked up the arm and placed it into the black bag.
“Holy fuck Alex, keep driving,” said Jonathan.
“It’s Mark,” said Alex as he drove away from the scene.
“What?” asked Jonathan. Alex drove and recounted his meeting with the police earlier that morning. When he could no longer see the flash of blue and red lights he pulled over to the side of the road. Alex turned to face Jonathan. Jonathan’s eyes were wide and his pale skin had turned paler.
“Fuck…” said Jonathan.
“Yeah…” said Alex.
“Well, what does this have to do with me? No disrespect, I know you knew the guy but-” Alex didn’t let Santa finish his sentence.
“Have you ever solved a murder?” he asked.
This is the second part of a serialized piece of fiction that will be continued in forthcoming issues of the Mark. Stay tuned…