Thursday, June 28, 2007

Powder Burn # 35 - Barry Baldwin


She fitted that corny old headline Blonde Found Dead in Luxury Apartment.

Her husband turned into the equally intense face of their all-purpose Asian maid.

The tall guy with her, presumably the latest stud, barked his name and rank of city detective and took over. A phone call, people arriving, some in uniform others not, husband's transfer to the main precinct downtown where it was established that he taught Victorian poetry at the local college.

He'd been woken in his own room by some noise which bothered him enough to break the house rule and enter hers without invitation and found her as they had found her when they found him.

He'd seen, heard no one. Didn't know how long he'd been standing there when maid and detective arrived. Told he'd be in the hoosegow overnight pending further investigation, he raised no fuss about rights or lawyers, demanding only he be let go to deliver an important long-arranged lecture the next evening.

The detective and his chief knew he'd done it. But how and why?

Strangulation, the medic had pronounced. Not manual; the hyoid bone wasn't fractured. The ligature mark was strangely faint; he'd no idea what had been used. The detective swore he was there before any weapon could have been got rid of. Body was warm, no rigor. Husband's hands were empty. Was wearing only pyjamas, the trousers self-supporting, no incriminating cord or belt or tie or laces. No solution-providing items anywhere in the bedroom.

"You're screwing the maid. What you got from her?"

"We can rule out money. It's all his, she hadn't a dime. Sex looks a non-starter as well. She doesn't think either of them fooled around, though you'd figure she must have had offers with that figure and blonde mane. But maids have a pretty good instinct about that. Marriage seemed dandy. Except..."

Straw-clutching, "Except...?"

"She heard them quarrelling. Only this morning. First time ever, far as she knew. Couldn't make out much, she was down in the kitchen, and her English isn't too hot. She's certain it was something about poetry,they were both into that, not that she is, Tagalog pop songs apart. Swears the wife shouted 'How would you know, you haven't got any,' then he slammed out."

"Hasn't got any what? Come to that, we've got no damn thing either."

"Nothing and everything. We both know he did it. He's a flake. Like that French writer a few years back, Louis Althusser or some fucking name, strangled his wife just for the experience. I mean, what kind of guy has his own wife murdered and his only thought is, will I get to give my lecture?"

"You can never figure these arty types, son. You should know that. Time was you wouldn't let us forget you were a college major."

"Yeah, in criminology. Don't know a damn thing about Victorian fucking poetry." He didn't add, but I know someone who does. " It's the vibes he gave off. Everything he said and didn't say came out as Ha-Ha-Catch-Me-If-You-Can. He'd have known what time the maid was due back, he waited for her to find him there. I was someone who just happened along. He wants us to charge him, figures no way we'll get a conviction without weapon or motive, juries aren't big on circumstantial evidence, it's a defense attorney's dream, and he's off the hook for good."

"Well, at least we can let him stew in the can overnight. Come A.M., he's out, can go lecture to his heart's content. We put it in the unsolved file, keep him on the books. Crack this one, son, it's a fast track to promotion."

Next evening, the detective was in the surprisingly large lecture audience. Either the guy had a great reputation or time hung heavily on many people's hands. Gliding to the centre-stage lectern, he proposed a single text, no preliminary read-through, not even the title, taking it line-by-line as the original audience was intended to.

The detective realised here was a man in obsessional love with his subject, more concerned to draw his audience in than distance them with his own brilliance. No one stirred, until he reached a particular caesura. The detective rose, declaimed the next five lines, ran down the aisle up on to the stage where he informed the professor through the lectern microphone that he was under arrest.

To further consternation, the latter reached up, removed what was now betrayed as a dark toupee that had sheltered a totally bald head, and flung it into the audience, one of two of whom by conditioned reflex as though at a baseball game vied for its possession.

During the formal booking and cautioning, professor and chief separately observed that this must be the first time poetry had played a role in police work. Neither meant this as an unvarnished compliment, but a variety of emotions, some more identifiable than others, made the detective' s heart swell.

"Your promotion's in the bag, son. Let me hear that stuff again..."

"Robert Browning, 'Porphyria's Lover', verses 37-41:...I found

A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her."

"Some poem! You know, I'm a shade surprised that would work, but..."

No buts about it. The detective had got this literary nugget from the English teacher on his substitutes bench that he was screwing. Before going public , he'd tested it with the thick blonde pigtail around her own neck. He'd been after that promotion for too long, and wasn't going to foul it up by looking a fool.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just what I need, another addiction. Once you've had Barry Baldwin, you've got to have more.

P. J. Hale