Are you guys ready for a new Armadillo Mystery? Because it’s only days away, according to my publisher, Pro Se Press. Which means – choo choo! – the hype train is leaving the station! All aboard!
But in the meantime, I have a present for everyone. With permission from head honcho himself, Tommy Hancock, I am posting the first chapter of THE DAME WAS A TAD POLISH. What kind of trouble has Dilbert Pinkerton gotten himself into this time? Let’s let Dill describe his new adventure.
The name’s Dilbert Pinkerton: mutant armadillo, private detective. I dig for the truth.
The truth is, this is my first murder mystery since moving to Nevermore Bay and it’s a doozy. This guy was found impaled on a flag pole nearly thirty stories high. Innards spilling all out in the open like they decided to take a vacation from his body. Captain Greyer called me in to consult, but after my first case in Nevermore, the police ain’t fond of having me around. Neither is the star witness to this case.
Lily Pad – TV actress and mutant frog – is staying right across the street from where the body was found. In fact, her apartment window lined up in perfect view of the dead guy. Almost like the murderer wanted to make sure Lily saw it when she’d open the curtains in the morning, drinking her morning java.
Thing is, though, I can tell Lily’s hiding something. She’s connected closer to this case than she’s letting on. Worse, anti-homoanthro sentiments are already pretty strong with me in town as it is. Maybe if I can figure a way to get close to her, keep her safe until all this comes to a head.
Before she loses hers.
THE DAME WAS A TAD POLISH
CHAPTER 1: MURDER MOST DILLIGHTFUL
The body’s intestines were wrapped around the flagpole like a string of grotesque, glistening Christmas lights. Whoever killed him took the extra care to yank them out and impale the poor fella on a flagpole nearly thirty stories high. That baked my noodle. I had plenty of questions, but it might be rude to ask them all in front of my large, apparently mandatory police escort.
I turned away from the roof’s edge to face Captain Hope Greyer.
“Huh. That…” I paused. To be totally blunt, I didn’t know how to react. “That’s a jaw dropper, ain’t it?”
“How’s he even staying up there?”
“Our best guess? The under-crest of his ribcage is holding him.”
“Is that physically possible?”
“I didn’t say it was a good guess.”
From what I could tell (and my eyesight is lousy), the victim was short and lean, with muscle so well-toned that it’d make the David statue look chubby. He probably weighed less than a hundred pounds soaking wet. So I guess it’s possible he could still hang there, by his ribcage. The clothing – track pants and muscle top – made me think he was a gym rat. Even from this far away, I could smell the faint hints of protein powder, talcum powder, and chalk. Just the sort of reek you’d expect of maybe a lifter or a fighter.
But the gazillion dollar question?
“How the hell did he get there?” I asked, but then cut her off. “Wait, don’t tell me. You’re still working on that. When was he found?”
“Earlier this morning,” she said. “We requisitioned a blowtorch, but just received the subpoena for the scaffolding. Now the coroner can actually access the vic.”
“Couldn’t yo-yo him down?”
“That wasn’t our first idea, no.”
They couldn’t just yank the body off the pole, either. That’d muck up the investigation because the dude might not’ve croaked from impalement. They couldn’t cut a hundred-pound pole and let it drop, either. A long, sturdy hunk of metal’s a safety issue.
“You guys snag a crane yet?”
“It’s on the way,” she said. “We’ll have to haul the whole thing up.”
“I ain’t helping it down the stairs.”
“No one asked you, rodent!” one of the officers finally piped up.
The Captain raised a hand to silence them.
“So,” I said, still huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf after a 10K run. Bastards made me climb the last six flights to the roof. “You drag me out of bed right when the sun’s gophering, for this?”
Some of Nevermore Bay’s best – and I use that term loosely after my first encounter with them six months ago – surrounded me. Nearly all of them, from the boys in blue to the trench coat brigade, eyed me with more disdain than a dad eyeing his daughter’s prom date. None of them trusted me to throw me. Hrm, maybe I shouldn’t’ve thought ‘throw’ when we’re this high up. The city in general didn’t like me much either. So an accident involving Nevermore’s least-liked private detective would probably mean a five-ticket parade and marching band.
On the other hand, Captain Hope Greyer seemed mostly ambivalent. She was new: new to the Nevermore Bay Police Department, new to the city. Not that she’d let you know. She had a hell of a poker face. My schnoz told me all I needed about her: pungent, natural hair oils, an oilskin trench coat, and green tea (with honey) on her breath. On the surface, I pegged her in her 30s, but her eyes added another ten, maybe fifteen years. In other words, she looked like she took good care of herself. Probably did yoga or Pilates or some other Namaste spiritual crap. Her blonde-highlighted hair went well with the pixie cut.
“You’ve had your fair share of weird cases, haven’t you?” she asked.
“Plenty,” I said, then thumbed a claw towards the body. “But this is new. But your blue peons didn’t drag me out of bed so I could regurgitate my case history. Do you really need this much back-up for a schlub like me?”
“It’s a precaution,” she said. “Your history of violence doesn’t fill us with trust.”
“Look, Captain Yoga Pants,” I said. “I screwed the pooch plenty of times in the past. I just wanna help. Lose the army and we’ll chat.”
Captain Greyer looked left and right to her men and women. Well, mostly men because Nevermore’s that kind of city. Things looked to be changing though. Most of the officers had looks that said “Don’t” or “No way” or “This rodent can’t be serious!” That last one’s my favorite. I get that a lot.
She nodded, much to the chagrin of most of her troops. Silently, she gave the signal for all but two blue boys to clear out. Guess she didn’t trust me enough for us to be alone. I guess her orders for the rest weren’t to make the mutant armadillo go splat, but to canvas the area for witnesses. Now there’s a job I didn’t envy.
“Thanks,” I said to Greyer once we were alone, save for the two blues by the exit. I lit up a lung killer. Had to cup a claw over it so the breeze wouldn’t blow my lighter out.
“Don’t mention it,” she said. “Really, don’t. It’s bad enough the mayor suggested we bring you in to consult.”
“Surprised he was able to pull his head up from a line of coke to see that.”
“Oh, that’s a horrible thing to say about our esteemed mayor!” she said, dramatically placing a hand over her heart. “Everybody knows heroin’s his first choice nowadays.”
Heh, okay, I liked her. She was a ray of sunshine compared to the last higher authority for the pigs. Not a big feat, mind you, since me and Commissioner O’Neil didn’t exactly get along. Long story; one I don’t like rattling at the front of my noggin. We’ll just say police ranks were shaken, quite a few nuts fell from the tree, and the city’s power vacuum left the people feeling antsy.
“So,” I said, walking back to the roof’s edge, looking down at Mr. Pokey. “You I.D.’d the vic?”
“Yyyyes,” she drawled, pulling out her phone. “Carey Diebold: Hollywood stuntman for a number of martial arts films.”
“That explains the small frame,” I said.
“It doesn’t bring us any closer to how he got there or who put him there.”
“Mm,” I grunted, smoking.
The sun was totally up now. The light blinded me. I’m a night creature by nature and by habit. The roof we stood on was made of worn, brick stone, one of Nevermore’s older buildings. Each corner of the building had a gargoyle on it; a common sight in this city. Across the way was a much more modern apartment building with some posh condos at the top.
Well, that and our human pin cushion.
“You folks got a pair of peepers on you?” I asked.
“I’m sorry?” she asked.
“Peepers. Y’know, Jimmy Stewarts? Long-goggles?”
I might as well’ve had two heads the way she looked at me.
“Binoculars,” I sighed.
Captain Greyer snapped her fingers. One of her subordinates rushed over and forked over a pair of peepers. I snatched them up before the exchange could finish. Finally, I had a better look at Mr. Pokey. Zooming right in on his neck, I spotted the answer to one question.
“Cap?” I said, motioning her over.
Greyer joined at my side and looked down. She kept a safe distance from my second hand smoke and bad mood. Her eyes followed the tip of my pointing claw.
Fastened tightly around the neck of the body was a piece of metal shaped like a table, but small enough to make for a demented neck warmer. It wasn’t bolted into the brick stone, but looked more like someone drove it into the wall as is.
“Ain’t that a noggin scratcher, huh, Cap?” I asked her.
“I think we can rule out an accident,” she said.
“Y’think? This’s got foul play written all over it like a chicken coop soccer game.”
We looked down at the body again. The entire pole was greased with blood like I’d said, but there wasn’t as much coming from him as there should’ve been. The vic himself was pale, almost white. His clothes were soaked with blood from the way they squished up liquid whenever a gust of wind blew just a certain way. But whatever blood was in him, gravity did its thing, not a beating heart.
“He didn’t die from the impaling,” I said.
“Not enough blood. You ain’t had any complaints of people getting a crimson rain on them, right? Whoever put him there, put him there post-mortem.”
I looked again through the binoculars. No bruises or cuts or anything on his face. From where I stood, the vic looked spotless. He even still wore running sneakers, which looked more expensive than anything I could even afford to look at. Basically, we had two mysteries: who killed him in the first place and how? And more important, how’d they stick him like a cannibal rotisserie?
“Witnesses?” I asked.
Greyer shook her head.
Leaning my elbows on the edge, I smoked and stared at the body. The coroner and the window-washer pulley thing would be here soon, but most of the work would still be done in the lab whenever – or however – they’d get it down.
Still, the big question that kept coming back to me wasn’t how or who, but why. Why would the body be set up, like some twisted museum exhibit? An exhibit’s meant to be seen, but if the killer wanted this to be seen, why not hang the bloke from a lower flagpole? You wouldn’t get many people seeing the body from this high up. What audience is a body 25 floors high…meant…for? Yeah, I trailed off my own inner monologue. Bite me.
I looked at the condo that was almost directly across from us. All the curtains were drawn and I couldn’t see any silhouettes moving about. I got the feeling they were about as much morning people as I was. And, like me, would probably desperately need a cup of java juice pretty soon.
“Hey, Captain Namaste,” I said. “If someone woke up this morning, you think they’d wanna see some stiff’s innards poking out saying hello?”
“Your point?” she asked, with a funny mix of amusement and spite at the nickname.
“Well, you gotta ask yourself why someone’s made this building a new figurehead so high up. Displaying a body like this, they want someone to see it, capiche? Have your bulls chatted it up with anyone in this building yet?”
She had a brief discussion with one of the uniformed blokes. They radioed the troops. Greyer returned and said they were still canvasing this building, but that was their next destination.
“You mind playing out a hunch I got?” I asked the captain.
“Chit-chat with whoever lives right across the way,” I said. “Someone wouldn’t go to all that trouble for such a small audience unless they worked way off Broadway.”
“You think they did it?”
“Nah,” I said. “Not unless they wanted the spotlight right on them.”
“All right,” she said, arching an eyebrow. “I’ll do the talking though. This is still our business, not yours.”
I raised my claws defensively. “Ain’t wanting to step on any toes.”