Nobody’s Business: A New Kind of Murder

The following is the first chapter from Nobody’s Business, a novel by Trick Dempsey. Enjoy.

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A New Kind of Murder

“Detecting is detestable work,” Bogart muttered as he sniffed the crowded air of the too quiet house.

When he took his popular name, Bogart loved the romance of justice. How could Sam Spade look so bedraggled and haunted? Sam Spade caught crooks. Bogart did not understand crook catching until he caught his own. He looked into the man’s eyes and saw the sad face of a criminal: one that he had seen before in the pictures. The man was an extra. The man was so sad and ugly he could only be seen as part of a crowd. Again and again, Bogart found that there were no master criminals; there were only the forgettable faces of countless second-rate killers.

Not since his first case had Bogart’s heart pounded as it did now. He felt young and naïve when faced with such creativity. He was faced with a crime he had never seen: a new kind of murder.

“Are you ready to get to work, detective?” Sheriff Truman asked languidly.

Truman’s face had outgrown his name quickly. Minor characters rarely show the depth of real human suffering, and now Sheriff Harry Truman looked all too real to bear the weight of curiosity and jubilance. Truman just wanted to return home to his kids and pray they grow up to resemble stars with happier lifestyles.

“I am working.” Bogart growled as he tip-toed around the tight kitchen trying to get some sense of how the crime started. Scattered cookware proclaimed a struggle; the blood smears suggested the body had been positioned post-mortem. A thumb lay placid atop the tile near the victim’s trimmed hands. Bogart reached for it, but stopped with a hiss.

“Don’t touch anything, Bogey.” Truman squawked past his cigarette, “Media will get mighty peeved if the scene is disturbed.”

Bogart stood up slowly, glaring as his eyes passed the counter. “Is that the victim’s thumb?”

“It ain’t mine.” Truman clucked.

Flashing lights foretold the approach of the newswagons. Bogart flicked on the newsfeed. The steaming corpse looked cheap and fake bathed in the processed light cast by the glowing screen. The news van chased an ambulance down a well-lit street. Sharp, black police cruisers dodged past a dingy junker parked in front of a pristine house.

“You still drivin’ that?” Truman stepped out the back door, “Turn that off and get out of the way.”

Bogart snapped off the screen and something caught his eye; he grabbed the ticket and stepped out back. Inhaling sharply, the light from his cigar illuminated the little ticket. He did not like what he saw. He did not like it one little bit.

Truman and Bogart squatted beneath the windowsill behind the house. Silently, they waited for the news crew to finish their work. Bogart winced as he heard the squeak of a slipping foot. He knew the whole scene was on tape now, but instincts honed from watching countless crime flicks told him to preserve it.

“Hold it, Ted.” A lady’s voice pierced through the din of disruption inside. “I don’t want you to have to bend down to get the body in the shot. Pinkerton, would you move it onto that table over there?”

“Sure thing, ma’am.”

A slip, a splash, a squirt, and later a thud rang out.

“Damn it, Pinkerton! You got blood on the wall.” She sighed. “We’ll have to re-shoot our entrance.”

“Look, lady,” Pinkerton bumbled, “this body ain’t light.”

“Slippery, too.”

Great, Bogart thought, they brought Ted Koppel. He’s been dead a hundred years, but his bloodline is still the most respected in the news. This story is going too big. So that woman must be Emily Post.

“God dammit!” the presumed Ms. Post barked, “Get that worthless detective in here!”

“Hello, Emily,” Bogart called over his shoulder, “you’re sounding better. Did you get a new voice?”

“Shut up and give me a hand in here.” She added with a lilt: “I’ll make you famous.”

Bogart slipped into the bleaching camera light: “I am famous.”

The scene was ruined: more macabre even than before. The gore dripped all the worse beside the clean, dry suits of Ted Koppel and Emily Post. The corpse stood propped against the sink, Pinkerton still slipping to lift it up.

“Truman, help him out.” Bogart stepped aside as he surveyed the scene. Pictures lined the kitchen, as in any kitchen in a celebrity neighborhood. The pictures showed a young man, handsome with a great profile, looking eye to eye with a parade of beautiful conquests. The corpse rising in the corner slumped taller than Truman at his full height.

“Hey, smalls.” Bogart murmured.

“I told you not to call me that.” Emily glared, “It’s not polite.”

“Who’s the dead man in the corner?”

“Well, detective,” Emily clicked out the words, “if you can’t do your job, you’ll just have to watch us do it on live TV.”

Bogart had seen all he needed, and the corpse was ready for its close-up. If it had still had a face, it should have been smiling: few things are as famous as a well-maimed cadaver. Bogart pushed the cameraman aside as he stumbled out to his car in the darkness; the news crew had dimmed the streetlights after taking some establishing shots of the neighborhood. The whole place would look dark and foreboding from within: a perfect place to perform a murder.

Back in his car, Bogart turned on the news screens in time to catch the report. Ted Koppel’s voice rolled, sincere and concise, throughout the cabin:

“We’re reporting, live, from the scene of a grisly murder. Earlier this evening, John Barrymore Hamlet was viciously stabbed seventeen times by an unknown assailant. He was then mutilated in the vilest of fashions: all signs of identity removed. Only Eternity Media has the full video…”

Bogart switched off the dog-and-pony show and longed for a time when justice was good for more than ratings.

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