Whittle Down

Cause of Death: Asphyxiation

Carefully sifting through the various reports left on his desk, he looked for clues that would explain most of the questions nagging in his mind. For a while, he decided to leave out the strange side of the case, concentrating on the concrete evidence, relying on his eye for the obvious that sometimes stared them at their faces.

As to possible suspects, there were none to speak of. The dead man was a recluse, paid his rent for the whole year and bought groceries by bulk. Neighbors did not notice any visitors though at some point electronic repairmen came for home service.

The technical side was not his province of expertise: he had to rely on the reports.

According to the investigation, the man was an Internet fanatic. If he was not an outside-type of guy, he was the opposite on the Net. The web history in his computer, recovered including all those deleted, painted a quite an image of a gung ho netizen: he was all over the place, so to speak.

His reading was interrupted by a soft rap on the door. Since his partner took an indefinite leave of absence, as stated in a piece of paper, mixed with the reports, he had to stand up and open it by himself. It was okay since he needed his legs straightened after nearly two hours of sitting still.

“Sir, I am Linda, from the Records section. I was ordered to report to you.”

Det. Moreno was tall but Linda was inches taller than him. He looked up to her and invited her in.

“I needed another pair of eyes. My partner usually fulfills the job but he needed a break. So, I hope you will do his instead.”

“Sir, I am inexperienced in detective work. I am only capable of paperwork.” Surely, she was not enthusiastic working with him, with all the gossip around his latest case roaming the halls. “I could be a dead weight.”

“Speaking of dead weights,” Det. Moreno said, back to his cushioned seat, facing her who preferred to stand, at least for a while, “I want you to look at these,” he handed her the two-page report about the dead man’s web history.

“What should I look for?” she asked, sitting down to peruse the list. “These are web sites.”

“Tell me anything that comes off your mind,” he said, eyeing her closely. “I read it twice but like you said all I see are web sites.”

Linda fell silent, her concentration zeroing on popular names and associating them with function. She borrowed a felt shading pen and began to mark the list.

Det, Moreno whistled a tune to pass the time. He closed his tired eyes and enjoyed the short rest.

“Sir,” her agitated voice rang in his ears. “Sir!”

He had dozed off, grateful for the nothingness that engulfed him. Strangely, it was refreshing.

“Explain it to me as if I am a simple person. No tech mumbo jumbo.”

“I’d say forty percent of the sites are about books: dealers, writer groups, critics, reviewers. There are also blog spots owing to the hosts’ names connected to them.”

“What about the others?”

“There are hundreds of email addresses. I am not sure if he owned them or they’re contacts.”

“Check them one by one. Furnish me with a detailed report.”

“But, sir. There are at least two thousand names on the list.”

“I’ll ask your supervisor for an extended leave. Do it at home. No leaks. Understood?”

Linda had to say goodbye to her planned out-of-town weekend trip. The man in front of him could make or break her provisional position at the station.

“Can you give me access to his hard drive, sir?”

“Give me the report,” he replied, “and I’ll see if you could help me solve this case.”

(to be continued)

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Spare

“Who lives in 23-B?”

His hard-earned reputation was now on the line. A questionable incident was suddenly an indelible blot that marked itself at his nearly unblemished record. Worse of all, his current state of mind, the delusion it claimed, could push him out of the force.

Intrigued, he left the dead man momentarily and worked his way toward the opposite door where his supposed phantom resided. He needed answers to prove he was not hallucinating.

He knocked on the door, identifying himself clearly as a lawman. There was no reply.

Turning the knob slowly, he was surprised it was unlocked. For some reason, he felt apprehensive, leading him to draw out his gun and be ready for any eventualities.

Peering through the small opening as he pushed the door wider, he sensed the complete silence nerving. It was as if Death hovered inside, waiting for another victim to leave a mortal body.

On the floor, the bloodied tang of the kitchen knife was short.

Detective Moreno was stunned! He turned his head back at the opposite door and wondered. His logical thinking was now blurred by the coincidence. Or, was it a coincidence?

There was a body lying in the living room. Another?

His palms sweated, the gun’s handle began to slip from his grip. In his mind, the deadly weapon was of no use if what he imagined was to be believed: he was against something that was out of this world.

Damn it! I have to know, he swore.

He rushed inside, unmindful of what would happen: the body would tell him what to do next.

There was a pulse as he discovered it was still warm. He was still warm.

“Brownie, come in!” he called via the VHF police radio. “Get the ambulance people here! Someone needs emergency assistance.”

“Sir, I know we have been partners for a long time,” Brownie said reluctantly. “Accept it, sir. We were wrong.”

“This is different! I am in 23-B. Send medical personnel right away!”

Det. Moreno wasn’t taking chances: he did not leave the unconscious man. Questions had to be answered after he was revived at the hospital.

He gave explicit instructions to the medics, telling them what to say to hospital authorities. Under no circumstances, the patient should be questioned by anyone: he would take a first crack at him.

Brownie stared at him from the door. His partner has still a trace of fright on his chubby face.

“Look,” Det. Moreno showed him the bloodied knife. He then escorted his partner to the kitchen sink and presented the fish.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” Brownie shuddered.

- 0 -

He was told the patient was almost in a life-threatening condition. They implied that if it was not for his quick thinking, the man could have fallen into coma.

“I am only doing my job,” he said, not ready to relate all the details of his extra-ordinary heroism. “Can I talk to him?”

“Of course,” the lady doctor was warm and hospitable. “Ask the nurse at that station which room he rests.”

Det, Moreno had four hours to prepare his questions, removing reference to any supernatural phenomena, sticking to the simple but elaborate scheme to get information from a subject. He wanted Brownie to be there to stand as witness but his partner excused himself, still feeling the effects of what he called extreme stress due to a traumatic experience. In short, he was terrified.

The man smiled at him after he entered the room. Patients, who successfully recuperated, were often elated to see well-wishers.

“Thank you for saving my life!”

Detective Moreno kept his cool, not angry at the man, but at hospital authorities for spoiling his surprise interrogation. It seemed they revealed his identity against his own instructions not to.

“You were unconscious,” he baited. “How did you know?”

“No,” he said unequivocally. “We talked, remember? You even helped me stand up. I told you about the knife.”

Unarguably astounded, Detective Moreno listened intently to what the man related.

“Thank you for seeing me,” he said when the man finished his own version. “I think I need some fresh air.”

(to be continued)

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Phantom

“Where are they?”

He rushed down the flight of stairs to the ground floor, angered why his orders were not followed. There would be hell to pay for the lapses: an administrative sanction has to be meted out.

Brownie argued with the rest of the team, explaining to them what happened.

“You’re not talking sense,” Randy, one of the medical assistants, said. “I checked the heart beat, the pulse, nothing. That man was stone cold.”

“Man, he woke up!” Brownie argued. “He talked to us!”

“That’s impossible!” Teddy exclaimed. He and Randy were too experienced to make such a simple mistake of declaring a man dead if he wasn’t. “There were already traces of ongoing decomposition.”

“Where is the ambulance?” Detective Moreno asked, approaching the group. “Why aren’t you up there? I told Brownie to tell you to restart.”

“I don’t understand.” Randy said. “We did our job.”

“We went to the wrong apartment. It should be 23-D, not B.”

“Detective, we were at 23-D,” Teddy clarified. “I have the floor plan here, taken from the building owners.”

“Are you telling me I am imagining things?”

The three looked at one another while Brownie began to accept something went wrong up there.

“You don’t believe me? Ask Brownie.”

“Sir, we can go back up if that’s what you want,” Randy suggested. “If you are correct, Teddy and I would do as you say. Deal?”

 Detective Moreno called out to the policeman who found the body: he sat inside his patrol car.

“You turned off the sound, didn’t you?”

“The portable player was in the bathroom.”

“You saw the man moved?”

“Sorry, sir. I did not see it. I was already out the door, remember?”

“Sir?” Randy motioned to him if they should go or wait for the ambulance.

“We’re going back!”

Brownie did not move an inch. He decided to skip the re-entry.

Apartment 23-B and D faced each other with both doors identical. Teddy signaled them to wait while he entered first. Randy and the policeman were close behind.

The detective was lost in thought: he was confused if 23-D was on the left side or right when he walked toward the stairs.

The same music was playing: the lying body was visible from the opened door as was earlier.

Randy did not say a word nor did Teddy.

Detective Moreno was often quick to admit if he was wrong, which did not normally happen. At that instance, he was slow to apologize because he was not sure he committed a mistake.

“Where is the knife?” he asked, recalling the stages of the investigation.

“You said to leave it as it is,” Randy reminded him. “You’d bring it with you when you finished checking your angles.”

He felt his pockets, searching for the evidence if indeed he took custody of it. Nothing.

Again, he ordered the policeman to turn the music off. He hopefully expected that the man would rise up when the sound stopped. That could settle the misunderstanding.

Nope! The man did not move. Lifeless as Randy asserted.

“Look here!” Teddy pointed to the number on the door. “We’re at the right place.”

Once more, the detective walked toward the body and waited.

“Sir, the ambulance is here,” the policeman interrupted Det. Moreno’s thoughts.

“Take it to the morgue. I want all paperwork at my desk ASAP.”

The three excused themselves, leaving him standing alone beside the corpse.

“Did I imagine the whole thing? Brownie saw it, too.”

Ah! The fish! If it was still in the sink, then there’s a possibility he witnessed a part of reality.

It was not there.

(to be continued)

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Foul

Note: This is the beginning of my pre-Halloween series: Taken Over

The bloodied tang of the kitchen knife was short.

It was the first thing the responding policeman saw upon entering the living room, the deadly instrument that could have been used to kill the body lying a few feet away. Following procedures, he radioed it in for the SOCO (scene of the crime operatives) team to come over and investigate.

Det. Moreno studied the body from different angles, trying to imagine the chaos inside the room before the murder. The killer could be a professional since bloodstains that usually splashed on walls and inanimate objects or trickled on the floor were non-existent.

On his left, books and other papers were ripped to shreds, ceramic decors waylaid and broken, On the right, some of the framed pictures were askew, possibly held onto by the victim while defending himself. Overall, at first glance, only the blade held the key to uncovering who the assailant was.

Two of his subordinates have finished dusting for finger prints on everything that could help identify all the occupants of the room during the crime. Once done, they would need the database at headquarters to match one by one against existing specimens of known criminals. It would be a long shot if the murderer was a first timer.

He came closer to his partner, who covered his nose and mouth with a kerchief: the rotting smell was overpowering.

“Can you approximate the time of death?”

“I need to check the labs first,” Brownie said. “But because of this,” he pointed to the right foot of the victim where a gangrene looked infected, “I’d say two to three days earlier.”

“How can that be?” he asked, checking his notes. “The call was made only last night.”

Brownie shrugged.

Det. Moreno heard the strange background music earlier but did not mind it playing while they were busy with the collation of evidence. Until now. It added tension and hostility to those present.

“Will you find the source of that music?” he ordered a plainclothes policeman. “It’s giving me the creeps!”

Another fifteen minutes passed, the team readied themselves to vacate the premises. Only the transfer of the corpse to the ambulance on the way to the morgue needed completion.

“Thank you!” he nodded to the policeman who turned off the sound.

Suddenly, the body twitched, injected with life as soon as the macabre sound stopped. It was surreal.

Det. Moreno stared at Brownie who was literally taken aback: he was the closest to the body. No words between them were exchanged, only startled looks, bordering on genuine fright.

“God! My head hurts!” the supposedly dead man moaned. “I feel dizzy.”

“You’re alive!” Brownie exclaimed. “We thought you were a murder victim.”

“Who? Me? Of course, not.” He tried to rise, heaving his upper body into a sitting position. “Help me.”

“Did you call 911 last night?” Det, Moreno asked, trying not to sound like a fool. Could a murder victim call for help?

“Why should I?” he massaged his nape, easing blood circulation to his head.

“It says here,” Det. Moreno read the information furnished him, “that a dead man was found in 23-D.”

“Wrong place,” the resuscitated man said. “This is 23-B.”

Det. Moreno would like to choke to paralysis the colleague who fumbled the whole thing. He ordered Brownie to recall everyone and repeat everything at the exact crime scene.

“No one is going home until it’s done.”

He helped the man up and steadied him to find his usual bearings. Given their major blunder, turning the chaotic room into a scene of a disaster, he profusely asked for the man’s consideration, promising him for assistance to make things back to where they were before they arrived.

“Can I ask you something?”

“You’re wondering about the knife?”

“A good explanation is in order.”

“I am diabetic. I am sure now that I missed my insulin shot.”

“And?”

“I was cleaning the fish when I heard the knock on the door. I ran quickly to get it but I felt dizzy. The knife fell off my hands before I collapsed. Obviously, I lost consciousness.”

All the detective has to do was check the kitchen sink to verify what the man claimed.

The fish was still there.

(to be continued)

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Bound

“I see the future!”

Time was never a consideration, a measure only of seconds, minutes, hours, days. It was of no consequence to the love they began and would continue to share.

An uncanny pair, Joey and Leyla, surprised everyone on campus. Individuals who were strangers to each other, poles apart in many ways, but destined to walk a similar path to happiness.

She laughed at his assertion, softly slapping his cheeks to wake him up to reality.

“Are you a clairvoyant now?”

“I see where I am heading with you,” he said, holding her hands to stay on his cheeks.

“You know, I was first to see you in my life, not just a man, but someone I am willing to devote my whole life with.”

Joey kept his loving gaze on her face: she did the same on his.

“You’re a bit odd,” he admitted, laughing as he recalled that serenading episode she pulled. “Not a lot of women will display their attraction so openly as you did to me.”

“Blame my mother,” she jested. “I inherited her genes.”

“You took charge,” he continued. “For that I am most thankful. You showed yourself to me.”

“I never saw you with a girl,” she confessed. “I was intrigued like the others. I had my doubts back then.”

His loud laughter caught the attention of passersby, students who talked in whispers, swooning privately, retelling the most interesting love story of the year.

“Erika made a similar allusion which I did not understand at that time. That’s probably why she went to great lengths to ensure I connected with you.”

Leyla kissed him lightly on the lips, her affectionate appreciation for his presence.

“I am lucky I waited for the right girl,” he boasted, raising his voice for all to hear.

“Who might that be?” she pulled him down to stop his stunt.

“Someone who is different from the rest. Someone who will be the mother of my children.”

“Someone who acts like a man?” her question derived from the common observation of her.

“But in private, the most feminine.”

He did not need to be convinced but she explained her reasons anyway.

“I try to protect myself. I know in my heart, I will offer myself only to the man I love. The right man I love.”

“Who might that be?” he repeated her query, setting her response similarly to his.

“Someone who I love to be the father of my children.”

“Someone who you never saw with a girl before?”

“But who needed no proof of his masculinity.”

He embraced her, kissing her hair, letting her feel how he valued her love.

Their special day would have been totally private if not for the voices approaching them, riding the favorable breeze toward them.

“I am sure I know where the ants will lead us!” exclaimed one of them.

“We’re getting nearer!” added the other.

“They’ll take us to their honey!”

“No! Their mound of sugar!”

“Will you two stop messing around?” Liza yelled, keeping step with Eric and Tommy. Erika was not far behind with her constant companion, providing the loud background music coming from its speakers.

Joey turned his head and saw the quartet coming. Leyla has stood up to see what the noises were all about: she welcomed the distraction.

“It’s confirmed! It’s too sweet around here!” Eric announced excitedly, as if he found the mother lode of gold.

“There!” Tommy agreed, pointing to Joey and Leyla. “I’m positive! That’s their king and queen!”

Joey stood up laughing. The two, once foes, sounded like bosom buddies, bonded to their respective love interests. Liza and Erica happily watched their comical display.

“For your information, there is no Ant King!”

The lively quartet shook their heads, forcing Leyla to settle the issue once and for all.

“There is now,” she whispered, hugging him.

T H E    E N D

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Pact

“That spot looks good!”

Erika got out first, quickly surveying the surrounding area for the best view of the city below. The hilly section of the protected forest that surrounded a large dam was open to the public for recreational purposes.

Tommy and Eric lugged the baskets while Liza followed with the table cloth in hand. Leyla stayed with Joey who parked the van at the nearby designated lot.

“It’s not a bad idea,” Leyla said, convincing Joey not to be hard on his sister for her elaborate ruse. “She meant no harm.”

“Has she squealed about me?” he asked, thinking he was the only person outside the plan.

“About what?” Leyla asked, herself asking a similar question in her mind.

“Something I said sometime ago,” he continued.

“I have not talked to her ever since we came to your house.”

Joey looked at her and sensed she told the truth. If she knew about his admission to his sister, she could have prepared herself when he last visited. Her shock was more than his shock seeing her totally different at home.

They were about to join the other four when they overheard what Liza had to say.

“Men cannot live without women.”

“I can vouch for that,” Eric immediately concurred to which Tommy smirked at.

“I think my brother does not agree,” Liza noticed him frowning.

“He does,” Erika corrected her impression, nudging him to defend himself.

“Frankly, I disagree,” he replied, getting Erika’s glare as a result. But he added, “because women cannot live without men, too.”

 “That’s correct,” Leyla joined in as she sat beside her brother. “We cannot live without each other.”

“Amen!” Joey agreed, opening a bottle of wine and pouring each a glass. “A toast to us!”

Such general starting point opened a spontaneous discussion about personal relationships, what it meant to an individual and how it could affect all those related to him/her.

“Erika is correct,” Tommy admitted, recalling what she told of his importance. “Each one of us is a key to another’s happiness. Alone, we can be happy. With someone we love, even happier.”

Joey felt proud for what Tommy said, especially about his sister’s influence to his thoughts. Leyla was right: Erika never meant any harm.

“Well, if it was not for Liza, I could not have met Tommy?” Erika intimated.

“If it was not for Erika, Eric would still be looking from outside my house because Tommy is always on guard.”

“If it was not for Erika, I could not have known how sincere Joey is with my sister.”

Leyla’s surprise was total. Joey, too, could not believe what he just heard.

“I slipped, all right,” Erika confessed, her sad face accepting whatever Leyla or her brother would say.

“You should have told me,” Leyla said seriously.

“You should not have told anyone,” Joey was a bit angry at her but he backtracked and asked Leyla for clarification. “What do you mean she should have told you?”

“If I knew you like me before your visit, I could have played hard to get. I could even convince Liza to make Eric’s life harder. As for Erika, I could ask her to make Tommy sweat for a long time.”

“You’ll do that to me?” Eric asked seriously. “I am grateful Erika did not tell you.”

“I agree with your brother,” Tommy grinned. “I am sorry for my brashness before. It’s a good thing I am not your enemy now.”

“That’s a first,” Liza said. “Tommy agreeing with Eric. I think that’s a good start.”

The two shook hands to seal the new chapter in their relationship.

Erika played a song via speakers to celebrate their warm gathering.

Everyone seemed to be satisfied except for Joey who was still speechless. In effect, he indirectly started the ball rolling, leading to not one but three pairs.

But he summed it all up, embracing his surprised sister.

“If Erika told Leyla the truth, Liza’s remark would make perfect sense: Men cannot live without women.”

(to be concluded)

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Driven

“Can I come along?”

When he heard the request, Joey could not resist asking her why. He planned an intimate moment with Leyla out of the suburbs, she, promising to bring food for a small picnic in a park, then a short drive around before going home.

“Maybe some other time, sis!” he turned her down as politely as he could.

Erika complained which he deflected. Their conversation was interrupted by their father who rushed out in a hurry.

“Be back by six, Joey. Remember, I have to fetch your mother from the airport.”

“Pa, I asked him if I could come along.” Erika would not take a no.

“That’s a good idea,” he replied. “That will make sure your brother does not forget.”

“You’ll spoil my date,” he hissed after their father went back inside the house.

“I will be good. I promise.” She went straight at the backseat and waited.

Joey tried to think of a way to dispatch Erika somewhere. He even thought of bribing her with shopping money and letting her wait in a mall

When they reached Leyla’s place, another stumbling block appeared. Her brother was on the front lawn, watering the plants. Eric looked excited to see his future brother-in-law visiting again.

“Where are you going with my sister?” he asked, direct to the point.

“I already asked permission from your parents,” Joey claimed.

“She still needs a chaperone. I am coming.” It sounded non-negotiable.

“No, you’re not,” Leyla interrupted, coming out from the house with a basket.

Eric took the basket from her and deposited it at the back of the van.

“Let’s pass by Liza’s house,” suggested Erika, showing her face that surprised Leyla.

Joey shrugged as Leyla gave her the look as if saying, “Why bring her along?”

Eric saw the opening and pounced on it. “That’s the best I idea I heard today.”

“We might as well bring my parents along,” Leyla quipped, sitting dejected beside Joey.

While they stayed silent during the short drive, their brother and sister were talking animatedly at the backseat, planning what they would do upon reaching their destination.

In front of Liza’s house, Joey braked to a halt. He glanced at Leyla who shared his puzzled look: Liza and her brother waited by the road with Tommy holding a big basket, most certainly with food inside.

“Where are you going?” Joey inquired, hoping the two waited for someone else.

“With you,” she replied curtly.

Eric got out and ushered Liza to a seat beside him. Tommy followed, siting next to Erika who was inconspicuously quite.

“How? Joey looked behind and saw his sister examining her nails.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Leyla said, hopeless for Joey’s original plan from happening. “Cheer up! As they say, the more the merrier.”

“They know something we do not know,” Joey concluded, restarting the mini van. “I think I know who thought of this.”

Erika pretended not to hear her brother’s allegation. Instead, she offered him a CD to play.

“Here’s something to entertain us on the way.”

“Since I am driving,” Joey said, “I decide. Okay?”

“Your music will make us sleep,” Erika countered, waiting for the others to agree with her. “Help me here.”

“Not true! Listen to this!”

“Not bad,” Tommy shared Joey’s enthusiasm, tapping his hands on his thighs.

(to be continued)

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