The flashbulb went off, illuminating the scene with a grizzly, stark light. Blood splattered the walls like a sick Jackson Pollock. And that was the nicest thing about it. The less said about the entrails, the better. Police officers and detectives gingerly stepped around the room, collecting what might be evidence.
Maxwell Brogue, however, was getting sick.
He stood at the door, covering his nose and mouth with a handkerchief. The smell. Oh God, the smell. It permeated the room like a vile perfume. I don’t know if I could describe to you the kinds of smells present at a murder scene. Let’s just say, it makes a bus station bathroom more desirable.
Maxwell swallowed hard. He was fighting to push back the bile and late dinner rising in his throat. He knew he shouldn’t have sprung for a steak and fries at 10:30 at night. Also, the chocolate shake and apple pie. But how was he to know he would have gotten a call so soon after he paid the check? How did the police find him at that greasy spoon diner so quickly?
I guess he was getting too predictable. That’s not good, for a detective.
A man and woman crossed the bloody room to greet Maxwell at the front door. They were both dressed in drab police detective trench coats. The woman had her hair pulled back in a bun. The man had no hair, except for a bushy beard better fit for a lumberjack. Both had cigarettes tucked behind an ear. Hey, it comes with the job.
“Glad you’re here, Maxwell.” The woman extended a hand. Maxwell reluctantly shook it.
“Hello, Detective Grimes,” he said. He shook the man’s hand, calling him Detective Hatts. “What do you have for me?”
“Homicide,” Grimes said. “That much is sure. We’re guessing two victims at least.”
“Guessing?” Maxwell said. “Why are you guessing?”
“Look at the place,” Hatts said, sweeping his arm across the living room. “Blood dripping from everything, even the ceiling. Intestines tangled around lamps. One body, in the corner, is a pulp.”
“And no heads to speak of,” Grimes added.
“You haven’t found the heads?” Maxwell said.
“Not on this floor of the house,” Grimes said. “Our boys are combing the second floor, attic, and basement. But our guess is the killer took the heads as a trophy.”
“Oh, God.” Maxwell gripped the door frame to steady himself.
Hatts snorted. “I’d say bare hands.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Hatts,” Grimes said.
“Look at this place, it’s a massacre,” Hatts said. “Whoever did this was big and strong. And furious.”
“It could have been easily done by a hammer,” Grimes said. “Or a blunt object. Maybe a knife, here or there.”
“Maybe an ax,” Hatts said. “To take the heads.”
Grimes nodded. “Good point.”
“So you have no clue?” Maxwell said.
“Isn’t that why you’re here?” Hatts said to Maxwell. “Maxwell Brogue, expert detective. Says it on all your business cards. I’m sure you can spot what we miss.”
“We’ll definitely need all the help we can get,” Grimes said.
“But whatever the weapon was, the killer has to be huge,” Hatts said. “I mean bigger than me. Maybe a pro boxer.”
The police walked further into the room to let Maxwell inside. His head was spinning.
“The city doesn’t have a very large boxing community,” Maxwell said.
Hatts looked at him and snorted. “You never heard of the underground boxing scene? Maxwell, come on. Get with the times.”
Maxwell tried to find a section of the room not covered in gore to look at. He was failing. There was a small couch in the corner, across from the main scene of the murder. Maxwell stumbled over to it, hoping to at least sit down. But as he got close, he discovered a dismembered hand, sticking out from between the seat cushions.
“Um… medical examiner!”
A man in white turned around. He spotted the protruding appendage and raced over. Pulling out a plastic bag, he retrieved the hand.
“Thanks, Maxwell,” he said. “You’ve got quite the eye.”
“We can always count on Maxwell to give us a helping hand.” Hatts burst out laughing at his own joke.
“Ah, Hatts,” Grimes said. “That was awful.”
“You need to keep your sense of humor about these things,” Hatts said defensively. “Otherwise you’ll get slap-happy!” He burst out again.
Maxwell tried to shut out Hatts’ booming voice as he moved further away from the living room. There was a narrow hall that led to a set of stairs and kitchen. The pounding of police boots on the floors above was already giving him a headache. He rifled in his coat, remember the spare Dramamine he kept in his wallet.
This wasn’t the open sea, but hey close enough.
He found the paper packet, wedged between a five dollar bill and two quarters. Tucking his wallet away, he struggled to rip open the container.
“Why do they make these things so hard to open?” he said to himself. “Just rip. Rip!”
The packet split open suddenly. It’s contents, a small white pill, flew out. For a brief moment, Maxwell saw it silhouetted against the dark oak hallway. Then it was gone. He heard a soft rattle as the pill hit the hardwood floors, roll for a bit, and stop.
Maxwell crouched down. It couldn’t have gone far. Already his head was swimming from bending over, but he had to get the pill. On his hands and knees, he crawled forward, looking for signs of the medicine. Detective Grimes leaned out from the living to spot Maxwell on the floor. She leaned back, shaking her head.
“Damn, that man’s dedicated.”
A few inches forward, Maxwell found the pill. It was sticking out of a groove between floorboards. Carefully, he reached forward with his thumb and forefinger. He gripped the edge of the pill and pulled upward. The Dramamine slipped from his fingers and fell deeper into the crack.
Maxwell cursed. He stuck his fingers into the groove and started pulling. His muttering grew louder and louder as he accused the old floorboards from keeping him out. Footsteps came up behind him. It was Grimes and Hatts.
“What do you got there, Maxwell?” Hatts asked.
“He’s onto something,” Grimes said. “Look that floorboard is loose. Hey, Skip! Get the crowbar.”
Maxwell was lifted up and moved out of the way as several police went to work on the floorboard. The group was growing excited, too excited for Maxwell explain he just lost a pill. With a crack, the floorboard popped open. Everyone grew silent. Maxwell cringed.
“Would you look at that!” Hatts said.
“Incredible,” Grimes said.
Maxwell looked over the shoulders of the huddled group to see inside the open floor. Shoved under the floorboards was a bloodsoaked hammer, wrapped in a plastic bag.
“The killer stashed the hammer under the floorboards,” Hatts said. “He didn’t expect us to search here.”
Someone slapped Maxwell on the back. “You did it again, Brogue.”
Maxwell burped, swallowed, then ran out into the street to throw up.
To be continued…