December, 1960

Detective Michael Anastasia knew that the common belief that more people committed suicide during the Christmas season than other times of the year was based largely on myth, but being a myth didn’t mean it never happened. Like with this guy jumping off the roof of a six-story hospital tonight.

The guy’s name was Russell Baker. A colored fellow who worked in the hospital kitchen. Well, he used to work in the kitchen. He’d just resigned from his job the hard way.

The incident seemed to be a cut and dried suicide, but over the course of his sixteen years on the force, Detective Anastasia had learned that often, when you assumed a case was cut and dried, it turned out not to be. So before he went back to the station to fill out his report he figured he’d talk to some people and look at some things. Just in case.

Detective Anastasia had the hospital kitchen and cafeteria workers currently on duty under orders not to leave until he’d interviewed them. But first he wanted to take a look at the scene of the crime, such as it was. He’d already seen the blood-spattered snow in the hospital’s loading dock service lane, where Baker had kissed the concrete face first. He’d taken a quick look at Baker’s body before the emergency crew bagged him and ambulanced him around to the hospital’s morgue entrance. But that wasn’t the scene Anastasia wanted to see now.

The hospital’s plant manager, a prick named Wilson Moore who was supposed to be the only one who had access to the hospital’s roof, had been irritated that Anastasia wanted him to show him up there. Moore complained that because of the suicide he was already late going home. Anastasia didn’t give a damn. Overlook one thing because it didn’t seem worth the trouble, and as sure as Roy Rogers’ horse was named Trigger, that’s the one thing that would sneak up and kick you in the butt. Because every now and then, what looked like it ought to be cut and dried wasn’t cut or dry.

They rode the service elevator in silence up to the sixth floor, and the disgruntled plant manager led Anastasia to an upper level maintenance room. The detective followed the plant manager through a maze of humming and clanking machinery and standpipes, to the far end of the room, where stood a set of three concrete steps. A metal door stood at the top of the steps.

“Roof’s through there,” the plant manager grumbled.

The door had been secured on the inside by a small padlock that looked like one a kid from a nice neighborhood would use to chain up his Schwinn when his mother sent him to the corner grocery. The padlock lay on the top step, with its shank snapped in two. A heavy duty screwdriver lying at the foot of the steps looked like the tool likely used to pop the lock.

“You might want to replace that lock with one made for grownups,” Anastasia said to the plant manager.

The plant manager sniffed, “Yeah well, I didn’t expect somebody would want to get out there and take a leap.”

“If you’d had a better lock you might still be batting a thousand on that opinion. Stay here, and don’t let anybody else out there without my say-so.”

Anastasia climbed the three steps and pushed the heavy door open. A heavy winter wind slapped him about the head and shoulders and reminded him that this was a cut and dried suicide, and that he didn’t need to go out onto the roof and let his stones get frostbitten just to prove the obvious.

Yeah well, sometimes the apparent obvious could be just as shaky as the cut and dried.

Standing on the top step and making himself ignore the wind slipping its arms up under the cuffs of his slacks and caressing his legs with icy hands, Anastasia examined the surface just outside the door.

There were footprints in the thin layer of snow blanketing the rooftop, leading away from the door. The prints were made by a single pair of shoes with lugged soles, maybe a work shoe or boot. The detective looked back at the plant manager, who was standing a few feet away from the steps, now looking more irritated as he shoved his hands into his pockets against the winter air pushing in through the open door. He wore the gray shirt and slacks of a utility worker, but with a necktie, probably to signify his status as king of all hospital maintenance personnel. His shoes were brown loafers. Those shoes didn’t match the prints out on the roof.

“You got a flashlight up here?” Anastasia asked.

The plant manager said, “Yeah,” but didn’t move.

“Go get it for me.”

The plant manager’s eyes gleamed a challenge. Anastasia met his stare, and imagined himself unholstering his .38 and seeing if he could hit that necktie dead center.

Maybe the plant manager picked up on his wavelength, because the gleam in his eyes dimmed, and he stormed off to go fetch like a good boy.

The detective placed one foot outside the door, next to the footprint, then retracted his foot. His footprint was slightly smaller than the one in the snow. The wearer of the work shoe was maybe a size eleven. Anastasia extracted a notepad and pencil from the inside pocket of his overcoat. He jotted down the possible shoe size, and made a quick sketch of its sole pattern. Probably Russell Baker’s shoeprint. Didn’t hurt to double-check, though. Better to check and not get kicked in the butt.

When the plant manager returned with the flashlight the detective said, “Now you can go somewhere else. Just don’t leave the hospital, in case I have questions. The best place for you to be is down in the cafeteria with the rest of my interviewees.”

Anastasia didn’t wait for the prick to protest. He stepped out onto the roof, and the wind coming off the ocean attacked, flinging angry icy razors of frigid air at him. He yanked his coat collar up and cursed himself for never wanting to get kicked in the butt by things overlooked.

The flashlight beam revealed a single set of footprints in the otherwise pristine snow, leading away from the maintenance room door, toward the east.

Anastasia leaned into the wind coming off the ocean and followed the footprints to the eastern edge of the roof. There, the footprints veered south along the roof’s edge. After a few steps that way, the flashlight beam fell upon an almost empty whiskey bottle.

Today’s snow had come and gone quickly, had fallen just long enough this afternoon to leave a half-inch coating before calling it quits. There was no snow on the whiskey bottle. So it was placed or dropped there after the snowfall ended.

Hunched against the chilling wind as he followed the footprints along the southern edge of the hospital’s roof, Detective Anastasia considered the possible scenario: Despondent for whatever reason, Baker had gotten himself liquored up to build up his nerve. He’d walked around a bit, either to finish the bottle of whiskey, to find what he considered the best place to jump, or maybe just to think about his miserable life and how much better off he’d be not living it. A coward’s way out, for sure.

But that’s not my concern, Anastasia thought as he reached the roof’s western edge. Just make sure everything is cut and dried, then let the workers downstairs go home and get yourself back to the station to wrap this up.

The footprints in the snow led Anastasia to the roof’s northern edge. He turned there, and headed back toward the hospital’s eastern edge, moving almost without thought to the spot from which Russell Baker had jumped. This thing was looking pretty cut and dried after all, and—

Hold your horses, ladies and gentlemen. What the hell is this?

Just past halfway along the northern edge of the hospital’s roof the flashlight beam washed over another set of footprints.

Unlike the lugged print of the shoes the detective had figured belonged to Russell Baker, this shoeprint was smooth, with a distinctly separate sole and heel pattern. The shoe had a pointed toe. The heel was narrow. And, these prints were smaller.

The snow blanketing the hospital roof had fallen today, this afternoon. That meant one of three possibilities: One, whoever made these footprints was on the roof after the snow fell but before Russell Baker got here, or two, they had come onto the roof after Baker jumped and left very quickly after, or three, the person was on the roof when Baker jumped.

The only things Detective Anastasia was sure about was that someone else had been on the hospital roof before, when or after Russell Baker jumped to his death.

And, that person was a woman.


Nightwalkers 3 Cover-500

Posted on January 13, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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