He paid the taxi cab and stepped onto the street. The ground was still slick and sheeny from the afternoon rain and he took care where he treaded, moving in a tip toe to prevent all 6’7” of him from skidding on the pavement, a heap of gangly limbs and red hair. Although if he did fall, he knew his quick reflexes wouldn’t allow even a scratch.
“Mum, look at that monster!” A young girl shouted, walking with pig-tailed confidence next to her mother. She stuck out her tongue as she passed.
“I’m sorry, she doesn’t mean it.” The blushing mother said and tapped her daughter on the shoulder. “Felicia that isn’t nice to say about someone you don’t even …”
“Not a problem.” Jeremy Bunker winked. He tipped his ever-present baseball hat—no team name just fitted, black cotton—as the mother and child slid around a corner and into the shadows of early evening.
Why get mad about facts? He loved facts, guzzled them up like his favorite ale on a hot day, and in fact, he was a monster.
It also helped that Jeremy had been called names ever since he was thirteen when he was already 6’3” and had hair growing in places most boys didn’t even know hair could sprout. Maybe it bothered him long ago when he was a lot younger and a lot less self-assured but now he used size to his advantage. Catching criminals was far easier when you could tower over them or take one stride for their every three. Yes, he was good—really, really good—and that figured into it, too. Five years studying advanced martial arts with Chinese monks in Dengfeng and two years devouring The Art of War at an ancient Mongolian military school helped, of course. But his size was the true golden ticket. Once Jeremy set his mind to finding someone, you could be sure that person was as good as found. Nothing escaped from Jeremy’s over-sized grasp. Except the truth. Unlike the thieves he hunted, he always set the truth free.
A hangnail moon held luminously to a London sky at dusk, obscured in places by tree limbs that twisted and turned high above the street like veins devoid of blood, seeking. Without the girl and her mother, the block was empty—and what were those two doing walking around a place as shoddy as this on a Friday night?—but here was Heckle Street Building Number Two, so Jeremy navigated a few small puddles and rang to be let in.
His first thought when he entered and saw the Doric columns framing the entryway walls and soaring ceilings painted gold: “This seems far too nice a spot for murder.”
Hank Fishwell’s apartment was on the third floor, which meant three rounds up a swirling staircase until it let out onto a wide hallway with arched apartment doors painted every shade of pastel—purple, pink, blue, orange. Bandwell’s door was a faint green. Odd but somehow charming, even the knobs were colored to match the wooden doors.
Jeremy knocked twice, hard.
“Coming, coming,” came a muffled voice. The door unhinged.
“Mr. Hank Fishwell?” Jeremy always double checked the identity of the greeter before walking inside. Addresses had been falsely given way too many times for him to understand that precaution was the best kind of caution.
“That’s right, hello, I’m Hank. And you must be the Private Investigator here to talk about poor Tricia.”
It was always telling to see how clients first addressed Jeremy. Shying away from his title or circumstance was a warning sign they had something to hide. The innocent were never afraid to call it like it is.
“Yes, I’m Private Investigator Jeremy Bunker. Do you have somewhere we can sit?”
“This way to the living room. Glad you got here right on time, with those crazy side streets you have to go through and the like, although I suspect you would find your way as a P.I. You could probably find a needle in the biggest haystack in the world,” said Hank.
“Something like that. I’d heard of this place from an artist friend who lived here years ago, so I had an idea about where it was.”
“Makes sense. This building is full of artists and musicians and such because they give us half off for rent. The Heckle Street apartments aren’t a bad place to set up shop as a painter, really good light and bright colors. Not that I’m a huge fan of what they just did to our doors. Wednesday morning they leave some silly announcement about painting them right down to the knobs, something about the plain wood not looking right, and that afternoon they were at it. No one saw the tiny bulletin posted out front so everyone’s knobs got botched when they went to open their doors! At least if we couldn’t pick the colors, I’m lucky to have gotten a green door, which suits me fine because it’s my favorite color of the lot. I’ve got a real thing for drawing trees.”
He laughed a tinny, mouse-like sound and Jeremy could tell why the police would suspect Hank Fishwell of fishy business. The man was a fast talker and shifty-looking, exactly how you’d expect someone to appear who broke into his neighbor’s apartment and bludgeoned her to death with a fire poker right in the middle of the afternoon. Sure, there was no evidence of him being inside Tricia Sanger’s apartment and Jeremy would prove his innocence but Hank’s mousy features didn’t help garner sympathy—pinched lips and beady brown eyes that couldn’t focus on anything for too long.
“I re-read my notes from our initial phone conversation,” Jeremy said. “But would you mind telling me one more time exactly where you were two afternoons ago when Tricia was killed?”
“Sure. I was meditating in my living room, just here in that empty corner by the window,”
“Right, meditating. Anything else you want to tell me?”
“Nope. That’s all there is to it. It’s a very powerful practice. Helps me calm down to paint.”
“Nothing more to add?”
“Nothing. I was meditating by myself from 3 o’clock until about 6 o’clock. I didn’t hear anything or see anything from Tricia’s apartment because I was in a deep meditative state. I read up on you and it says online you studied with monks in China, so you should know how that goes …”
“I do and I believe you. But you see our difficulty with your answer, right? Your building has no cameras and there’s no way for me to verify you were meditating because you were the only one here.”
“The oneness achieved through meditation is a kind of self-verification. I do it every afternoon. Got a late start today so I was about to begin meditating when you arrived. I figured you wouldn’t be on time but ha! Right on the mark. I’ll just get back into it as soon as you go …”
“Well, don’t let me stop you. I think I’ve got all I can use for now.”
“Good. Hopefully you can figure this mess out. The police call me almost every hour or poke around here only to ask strange questions. I swear I’m as innocent as a pear tree.”
They were already at the green door when Jeremy had a quick thought but like a well-aimed bullet, he was already sure he had hit his target. Yes, he was good.
Wrapping his hand around the smooth, green-painted knob, Jeremy let out a cool breath and spoke. “When did you say these doors were painted?”
“Two days ago?”
“Right. Two days before this. Anyway, I’ve got to get back to meditating. Just talking about it made me antsy to relax. Good night, sir.”
Hank Fishwell shut the door before Jeremy could say anything else. A smooth knob, painted the exact shade of green as the door, painted the exact same afternoon Tricia was killed and yet it had no fingerprints or smudges. Ready, aim, fire: There was no way Hank Fishwell left his apartment and returned again, because that would mean he had opened the door before the paint could dry. And in less than a minute, an innocent man was saved. But Jeremy would call and tell him later tonight. By now Hank Fishwell was probably swimming inside his own quiet world of meditation and wasn’t that freedom enough for now?
[This tiny tale was inspired by the art of Mr. Odd Nerd. Check out more of his incredible creations here.]