“Who’s a good boy? Is it you? Is it you? Aww, it’s you!”
The gentleman smiled, petting his loyal companion Radcliffe’s tummy and delighting in the furious tail wagging that ensued. It was probably his favorite way to unwind after a successful job. Playing with Radcliffe and enjoying a late evening milkshake at Shifty’s Diner.
Shifty’s was a little hole in the wall with silverware that was permanently stained and some of the worst coffee known to man. But their milkshakes were delightful, and their waitresses smiled no matter how miserable their mood, especially Lizzie. The gentleman quite liked Lizzie. Plus, they allowed Radcliffe to sit at the booth with him. That was an important consideration. He took another sip of his milkshake and watched the world pass by outside. It was rush hour, and people were running to and fro, heading home or running errands. The diner was quiet, though. That was part of its charm.
“Anything else for you, hun?” Lizzie asked in her singsong drawl.
“Some bacon would be nice,” the gentleman said with a twinkle in his eye.
Lizzie flashed him her sweetest smile. “Well, sure.”
She disappeared into the kitchen as the gentleman rubbed Radcliffe’s tummy again.
The house was swarming with blue uniforms and crisply pressed suits. It was one of the oldest houses in the area and its occupant, Mrs. Bolger, was a notable name on the local high society scene. She and her husband had helped to found The Boutonniere Society, where the rich and the snobby mingled, berating the not-so-rich over imported champagne. Her fame was about to become more widespread, though she wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.
Mrs. Bolger was sitting in a luxurious leather armchair in her reading parlor, hair tied up in a neat bun, a small heap of society magazines lying by her feet. She was dressed in a simple cream colored night gown, which was wrapped in a maroon robe. At first glance, it might seem that she had fallen asleep while reading. The bullet hole in her forehead told a grimmer story.
“Christ. What’s the situation, Tommy?”
Detective Martin Atherton was irate. He had been looking forward to a quiet night of cheap beer and ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns when he got the call. Officer Tom Bates gave him a quick summary.
“No sign of forced entry, or any kind of struggle. Looks like she was shot point blank with a small caliber bullet. We’ve recovered the casing.” He held up a small plastic bag. “Forensics should have some answers for us by tomorrow. No fingerprints or shoe prints. We’re doing a full inventory of the place. Seems like some jewelry might have been taken.”
“Hmm. Pretty elaborate for a simple robbery.”
“Ah, well, that’s not all sir.” The young uniformed officer rubbed the back of his neck, looking nervous.
Officer Bates pointed to an end table by one large picture window. On the ornate wooden table sat a simple beige card with the initials ‘M.A’ neatly written on it in black ink, almost as if they had been printed.
“Crap.” Detective Atherton was not happy.
“Mysterious Assassin again, sir.”
An unknown killer, dubbed ‘Mysterious Assassin’ by the police because of his calling card, had wreaked havoc in the city a few years ago. Detective Atherton had been the lead investigator on the very first ‘M.A.’ murder, and had become obsessed with the killer. He had requested the lead on every case since. It had been one of the biggest unsolved crimes of his career. After a 5-year murder spree, Mysterious Assassin disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived. No new murder victims turned up bearing his trademark signature.
Rumors about the Assassin’s identity circulated throughout the city. For a brief period, people even believed Martin Atherton was the killer, covering his own tracks. It was a poorly thought out theory that was easily disproved; the man couldn’t be in two places at once, after all. For his part, Detective Atherton seemed glad to be done with the case, solved or not. But his colleagues knew that he was always on the lookout for any mention of Mysterious Assassin.
Detective Atherton examined the scene thoroughly to see if he could find any other clues. The stolen jewelry was a new angle. Mysterious Assassin was a killer, plain and simple. Had his motivations changed, or was this a copy cat? The detective told Officer Bates that he needed to look through his old case files and see what similarities there were to the previous cases.
But he had not intention of looking through case files. There was something far more urgent to be done.
Shifty’s Diner always smelled of waffles. It didn’t matter what else was being made. The smell of waffles persisted. Detective Martin Atherton walked in and greeted Lizzie with a tip of his hat. Seeing her made the gloomiest nights brighter.
“The usual for you, Detective?” she called.
“You know it,” he said with a smile and walked over to a booth where a neatly dressed gentleman was sitting next to a very happy looking foxhound. He slid into the seat across from the gentleman, frowning.
“Hello, Morty,” he said in a tired voice.
“Hello, Marty,” the gentleman responded, beaming.
“You’re at it again.”
“Ah.” Morty was digging out the last of his milkshake with a sundae spoon. “They found her, did they? Sorry about that. A new contract came my way last week and it was too good to pass up.” He shrugged nonchalantly, focused on the milkshake.
“Who would hire you to kill a batty old lady?”
Morty looked up, seeming a bit hurt. “Marty, you know I can’t tell you that. Assassin-client privilege.”
“Right.” Detective Atherton sighed.
“You know what this means,” he said. “I’m gonna have to go through the whole act of chasing you again. Covering up evidence, squashing paper trails. Dammit, Morty, you know how much work that is.”
“I’m sorry, Marty. It’s just been so long since I’ve pulled a job. I couldn’t resist. I stole some jewelry, though. To spice things up.”
“Well, you could have at least killed her in a sloppy or brutal way to make it more convincing.”
Morty scoffed. “I am an artist. I cannot lower the value of my craft just to be conspicuous.”
Detective Atherton sighed again as a cup of coffee was placed in front of him along with a small stack of pancakes. He smiled up at the winsome young waitress.
“No problem, Detective. You doing ok, Morty? Radcliffe need anything?”
“Just fine, Lizzie.”
She smiled and went back to the counter. Detective Atherton took a large sip of coffee. It was awful. But in his own strange way, he was addicted to it.
“By the way,” Morty said. “I did make one small mistake. I forgot to retrieve the spent casing from the bullet.”
“I know.” Detective Atherton tossed a small plastic bag on the table. “I had to be very careful about swiping this. They’ll probably blame poor Tommy. He won’t get fired over it, I’ll make sure of that. But he’s in for an earful.”
Mortimer Atherton smiled. “You’re a good brother, Marty. Always have been.”
Marty grunted and shoved a forkful of pancakes into his mouth.
“How’s Patricia doing?” he asked.
“Oh, much better. The doctors have told her to take it easy, but you know Patty. Never stops moving, that one. That reminds me. She asked me to check if you’re still coming over for dinner on Friday?”
Martin nodded. “Yes, I’ll be there. Seven, sharp.”
“Good. She’ll be happy to hear that.”
Mortimer smiled and motioned to Lizzie for the check. He left a handsome tip, as he always did, said goodbye to his brother, and left, Radcliffe in tow.
Martin asked for a refill on his coffee and ate his pancakes slowly. He was in no rush to go anywhere. He had a case to leave unsolved.