A Given Day By by TJ Staneart Mystery Tribune Issue 12

A Given Day By by TJ Staneart

Frank’s least favorite part, by far, of buying a home. This strange, pervasive social contract insisting the space in his house would be used the same way as in the neighbor’s house, and the house next to that. On and On. If he let himself think about it long enough, he got depressed. He also hated the words “open concept”. Maybe that was his least favorite part.

But these things didn’t bug his wife. Not one bit.

Behind him, through the once and future dining room, in the kitchen, she placed her palms on the cool, smooth surface of a granite countertop. She took a deep, satisfied breath. Like she was touching a religious relic.

“I love,” she began, “this kitchen.”

“I know, right,” said the real estate agent. His name was Greg. Frank and Maggie had met him twice before. He went over the paperwork stage, the disclaimers, the dos and don’ts. He phlegmatically explained how he was paid, the details of which Frank couldn’t recall.

The agent continued, “Do you folks cook a lot?”

“I’m a chef,” Maggie said. “At Costa’s in the North Loop.”

“Oh my, fancy,” said the agent. “I have wanted to get in there forever. Anyway, this place is perfect for you guys. It has it all. Gas range. Stainless steel appliances. And those counter tops…it’s magic. And the living space has that great open-concept style.”

“Love an open concept,” said Maggie.

Frank rolled his eyes.

“Sure. Great,” Frank said. “Say. I have a question. What happened here?”

At Frank’s feet was a hole. Maybe ten by eight wide, he guessed it made up 75% of the living room floor. He might have been low. The original hardwood planks tipped inward around the edges.

“Okay,” said the agent. “Hear me out.”

“I cannot wait.”

“Francis, don’t be a butt,” his wife said, joining them at the wooden maw. “Holy shit. Perhaps this concept is a little too open, Greg.”

Frank laughed and said, “Unless, is this also magic? Like, if I say something in Latin will brooms and hammers come to life and fix this before my very eyes?”

“This looks a lot worse than it is,” said the agent.

“Tempus Fugit,” Maggie said into the basement.

Frank said, “No dice. Try something else.”

“That’s all I know,” said Maggie. “What do you got?”

“Fantasia,” Frank said. His voice echoed around the empty cape cod.

“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” said the agent. “Now let me tell you what’s going on here.”

Frank’s phone dinged. He pulled it out and shook his head.

“You have to go,” said Maggie. She didn’t want to get into it, but there had been more homes to see. This was how it was now.

Frank just said, “Work.”

Desperate to change the subject, the agent said, “Oh. What do you do?”

*****

Frank displayed his badge to the officer standing at the yellow tape lining the intersection of Buchannan and 28th. The officer was too cold to lift the tape or say a word. He could only stand there, ankle deep in fresh snow, with his hand shoved in his pockets and his shoulders in his ears.

Beyond the tape was an early 2000s four-door sedan. The kind you could get in any color you wanted as long as it was green, navy or that gold that always looked dirty. This one was navy and hard-used. The tires could’ve stood some air. Frank counted four bullet holes in the trunk and the rear window had shattered all over the back seat.

Detective Shultz pulled his head out of the open driver side door. He was tall and still lean for a man nearly sixty.

“Afternoon,” said Shultz.

“What do we have here?” Frank bent down and looked inside the car.

A middle-aged man with a full beard, shaggy brown hair and big broad shoulders sat hunched over the steering wheel. His dead weight tested its resolve. The shot that got him passed through his headrest, into his skull, out his right eye and through the windshield, on to God knows where. Icicles of blood hung off everything. A couple almost reached the floor.

“Hell, Shultz,” Frank said. “This is a heart attack, plain and simple.”

Shultz was writing down the car’s license and VIN. He laughed a kind of snort.

“I mean it. White guy. 40 something.” Frank took stock of the dead man once more. “Not a runner. The stats are clear. Heart disease, brother. Cholesterol sandwiches on tallow bread.”

“And the GSW?”

Frank leaned back to see it again. The point of entry reminded him of that living room floor.

“A misguided attempt to revive a dying man?”

Shultz was writing a physical description of the dead man now.

“Fuck,” Frank said. “Fine.” He walked around the car. The passenger door was open. Miniature snowdrifts had gathered along the floor mat, seat and dash. Frank could see now from this angle that snow had even accumulated on the right side of the body. “Maggie’s gonna kill me. We only got to see one house.”

“And?”

Frank shrugged. “Kitchen was nice.”

He stepped back from the car. His toes and fingers were turning on him, and he could feel the hairs in his nose freeze when he inhaled.

“Did you open this door?”

“Nope. That’s how officers Dip and Shit found it.”

“Who called it in?”

Shultz pointed to one of the houses on the corner. Frank nodded.

“Pop the trunk for me.”

Shultz took a second, checking the usual button spots. “Where’s that damn—oop. Got it.” He poked it with his pen.

Inside: a spare tire, jack and wrench. A soccer ball. A dry cleaning bag with four dresses and one suit. An empty shoebox for dress shoes, size nine. Three Whole Foods reusable bags.

“We got a gun,” said Shultz.

Frank went over. It was a silver revolver, disposable as a razor, frozen to the floor mat.

“I found his wallet, too.”

Frank pulled it free. The Oklahoma license identified him as Gator St. James, five-four, 160 lbs, blond, blue eyes, not an organ donor.

Frank rolled his eyes. “Seems legit.”

Shultz had his kit open at his feet. Frank scooped an evidence bag out of it and logged the wallet.

“So what do you think?” Frank said.

He thought Shultz looked liked he should be cold but wasn’t. He wore the same old wool coat he’d worn for going on a decade. Scarf. Black leather gloves. No hat ever. The delicate ecosystem of his comb-over was not to be mentioned or trifled with.

Shultz inhaled deeply, like it was 72 and sunny. He let out a sigh. “I don’t know. Could be a random thing.”

“Drive-by?” Frank said. His toes totally numb now, his teeth beginning to chatter. “Yeah. Could be. The tire tracks look like this guy was coming south, so what? Up on Johnson? He cuts someone off. It’s been a long day. Snow traffic on these old Northeast streets is bullshit. The shooter has all they can take and runs this dude down.”

Shultz nods, but his face gives him up as unconvinced. “Could be.”

“But.”

“But,” Shultz agreed.

“The passenger door is open.”

“Right.”

“So they got out, the shooter. To finish the job.

“Yeah, but why not open the driver side?” Frank said. “And that is way too intense for road rage, isn’t it?”

Shultz had seen some things in his day. He was never much of a war story guy, but every so often Frank could tell a case was not a first for his partner. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe.”

“I think the shooting started on 28th. And I think the dead guy was trying to lose them and he didn’t know Buchanan dead-ends at the park. Before he can swing the car around: bang. They got him.”

“Okay,” Shultz agreed.

“Maybe someone else was in the car? That’s why the door is open.”

Shultz nodded. “If there was, they weren’t hit. No blood on that side.”

“If there was, they got out and ran for their life.”

“It snowed hard last night. 10 inches, minimum. It would have been a tough go.”

“What choice would they have had?”

“Yeah.”

Frank looked around at the homes—old stucco cottages, except for one craftsman at the end of the road, right by the park entrance. This was the kind of neighborhood Frank wanted to live in. In the months that didn’t try to kill you, Northeast Minneapolis was beautiful. Even now, he loved the tree-lined streets caked with heavy snow, the distant sound of kids sledding in the park. The buildings were old. The people were young. Good food. Great beer. And not long from now, people would be in gym shorts jogging or walking dogs. They’d do it right where Frank and Shultz were standing, as though they’d never stood there at all.

Frank volunteered to check the park. He took a few steps, but stopped. A uniformed cop was freezing to death at the end of the road, a few feet from the entrance. He had his back to them, and he was too close to the fence.

“What’s this?”

“Hm?” Shultz had forgotten about the young man. “Oh. Him. He’s guarding the bullet that killed the driver. It’s important evidence that we cannot allow to be tampered with.”

“Wait. You found the bullet?”

Shultz gave an annoyed look. “Of course not. When I got here these yahoos where sitting in their cruiser. People were literally walking in my crime scene. Assholes. So I put them to work.”

Frank just went to the park. Back in his patrol days, he was made to guard fire hydrants or dig through garbage trucks. Once, he even staked out a McDonalds the afternoon the McRib came back. It was part of the job somehow, and it felt like a lifetime ago. It had only been 8 months.

As he passed, the young cop asked how long until CSU techs arrived to relieve him. Frank assured him it was any minute now.

Audubon Park was small with a soccer field, basketball court, and a sandlot kind of baseball diamond, all smaller than regulation. There was a colorful and elaborate playground and the rest was hills. In spring, women and their boyfriends laid on blankets. Dogs chased balls. For some reason no one can totally place, wild turkeys posted up there, too, wandering from shade to shade. Today it was packed with kids in snow suits riding plastic sleds.

Five yards inside Frank found blood. Not much at first, but it picked up fast, leaving a trail right to a bench overlooking the sandlot. It made Frank think of Field of Dreams, the way the dead man was set there. A little hunched. A little strewn.

Frank’s phone rang.

“Hey, babe,” he said. “How was the house on Thomas?”

Frank brushed the snow off the bench next to the body and sat. It felt good to get off his feet.

“I know you liked the space,” his wife said, “But I don’t know. It reminded me of that restaurant we went to on New Year’s, with the seafood deal. You had that coupon.” The last word was very judgmental.

That damn coupon. He was never going to hear the end of it. “So it’s shit, but you can have all you like.”

“I was going to say it smelled like microwaved shrimp, but sure. That, too.”

Frank felt sort of guilty smiling next to this new dead man.

He was skinnier than the other. The Laurel to his Hardy. He had been out in the snow so long, it accumulated on his head like a cheap party hat. He wore jeans, an Arizona Diamondbacks t-shirt and a dark green hoodie, all of which totally ruined with his blood. He had been shot in the shoulder and gut, both from behind. The exit wounds were from something with a large caliber. Larger than what got the driver. Frank guessed adrenaline carried him to the bench, and the shooter took his time following.

“Well let’s see if it goes down in price,” Frank said. “Where to next?”

“Shingle Creek,” she said. She went quiet, then: “Can you meet us?”

“I don’t think so.”

What bugged Frank about this guy—aside from the personal inconvenience his death caused—were his shoes. Mesh and small, they were like a sprinter’s. He wore no hat, no gloves. If he ever had a winter coat, it was gone now.

“So it wasn’t like a heart attack or suicide or something?”

Back when Frank wore a uniform, riding around on patrol, he told Maggie every insane thing that happened. He always left out the parts she’d rather not hear, giving his job a wacky kind of tint. They’d talk at length about a suspect who, when chased into a pet store, threw a very large snake at him. They were quiet on the gruesome reason for the chase. He didn’t do much chasing these days.

“Anything’s possible, I guess.”

The dead man was slightly tipped over in such a way that Frank could easily slip the wallet out of the frozen-blood soaked jeans. Haley Palmetto. His picture, but the physical description, Frank gathered, of a swarthy, heavy-set woman from Iowa.

Maggie sighed. “But you doubt it.”

“I doubt it.”

She went quiet again. “Dinner?”

“I will do my best. Maybe late.”

“Sure,” she said. “I’ll bring something from the restaurant.”

“Awesome. We’ll drink some wine and Google floor repair prices.”

She laughed a little, but Frank could tell, his wife knew she was eating alone.

She said she loved him and hung up.

“Fuck,” Frank said. He looked at the dead man’s face, blue-grey, frozen in bewilderment. “Fuck you, too.”

As he stood up to go rejoin Shultz, he noticed something shiny hanging off the body’s right wrist. Handcuffs, of all things. Brand-new handcuffs. One loop fastened to him, one fastened to nothing, but closed like it was. Frank found a piece of plastic in the snow. It took him a second to see it for what it was: a handle. It had been pried off. With a screwdriver, Frank thought. But then no. People don’t just carry those. It was a knife, Frank would’ve bet anything.

“Who are you people?”

Back at the car Shultz was running down the situation, as they knew it, with the CSU guys. Before Frank joined him, he ordered the young cop on timeout to go watch the body in the park, make sure none of the children sledding got too close.

“What about the bullet,” he said.

“It’s okay.”

“There was no bullet, was there?”

Frank was already walking away.

Shultz went through everything with the driver, and Frank added what he knew about the sprinter. They informed them they only touched the wallets, and, Frank believed there was a gun in the park somewhere, buried in snow. With that, the techs went about their business.

Frank and Shultz stood together and watched them work for half an hour without saying anything. Finally, Frank admitted to being cold.

“That’s the problem with your generation,” Shultz said.

Frank walked away.

“No follow through,” Shultz continued. “No resolve.”

“I resolve to sit in my car,” Frank said. “Heat on. You want to stand on the bluffs waiting to see evidence on the horizon, be my guest.”

In the car, after he could feel the floor vent start to do something useful, Frank said, “Do you remember buying your first house?”
“Sure,” Shultz said. He was scrolling football scores on his phone.

“Why did you do it?”

Shultz stopped scrolling. He never thought to think about it. “Gloria wanted a garden.” Satisfied by his answer, he went back to his phone. “The dang Gophers are killing me. Four points, they scored. Four! How do you put together a defense good enough to force two safeties, while being bad enough to give up 35 points?”

“Who knows?” Frank said. He wasn’t much of a sports guy. “Was it worth it?”

“Son, the Gophers are never worth it.”

“I mean buying a house.”

“I know what you meant,” Shultz said. He saw Frank was going to keep asking questions. When his partner got that look, that furrowed, semi-sour look he had now, Shultz knew the only way out was through. “Okay. I tell ya, owning is great.”

“Sure.”

“Until it’s not.”

“Right.”

“I remember in that first house—a nice place over in Ham Lake—three bedrooms and one and a half bath. There was what’s called a bonus room in the attic, which is just an attic with plaster walls and chilly crawl spaces. Bonus room,” Shultz said again in an over exaggerated way. “Like they were just throwing it in to sweeten the pot. Whatever. The place was good. Like I said Gloria loved the yard. We had tomatoes every year. And peppers you wouldn’t believe.”

Frank became restless.

Shultz said, “Right. Look, my wife’s happy; I’m happy. We buy the thing. Thirteen months, two week, five days into this house my basement fills with shit. Actual shit. I don’t know what to do. Where it came from. Nothing. All I can be sure of is it’s everywhere. I call a plumber and he tells me—and not for free, mind you—that the sewer line is broken. Tree roots. That was the day I learned sewer lines were made of clay tile. Now this was more than 30 years ago. What do you suppose that cost me?”

“Five hundred.”

“Twelve hundred and seventy-one damn dollars,” he said. “And fifteen damn cents. 30 years ago. I tell ya: I’m not over it.”

“So you’re saying there’s gonna be shit.”

“Dumb shit, too. And everywhere. But Gloria, and them damn peppers. I don’t know. I bet I’d do it again.”

Frank slouched down in the seat.

“You think we’ll find who did this?” Frank said.

“Oh sure,” Shultz said. “Why not? I mean we got two guys, probably out-of-towners.”

“Right.”

“Carrying some of the worst fake IDs I’ve ever seen.”

“In a probably stolen car,” Frank added.

“Who seem to have been gunned down in a quiet neighborhood for the contents of a case we know nothing about.

“And all the while, nobody saw nothing.”

“Easy peesy. Nothing to it. We’ll have this thing licked by lunch.”

“Unless we don’t,” Frank said.

“Unless we don’t.”

*****

               Maggie snored. She swore she didn’t. A lady never does, she’d insist whenever Frank brought it up. Then she’d give him the finger.

When Frank joined her on the couch, she woke slowly. It was nearly midnight. The TV was still on the Home and Garden Channel.

“Food’s in the fridge.”

“I’m okay.”

“I got those chicken balls. With the fried rice.”

“I love the chicken balls.”

“I know,” she said. “So it was rough today, huh?”

Maggie rested her head on his shoulder. No makeup. No bra. Messy bun. Sweatpants tucked into her socks for some reason. Frank loved this look.

“Yeah.”

“Tell me.”

Frank didn’t say anything for a while. On the screen, the contractor harangued the episode husband over renovation budgets.

“Twelve hundred for that?” Frank said.

Maggie huffed and got up. She leaned down and pecked him on the forehead. “Goodnight, Frank.”

“Do you like peppers?”

The question seemed to make her dizzy. “What?”

“Um.” Frank checked himself, looking for the words. “Like peppers. You know, peppers?”

“Sure. Who doesn’t? Why?”

Frank felt he was doing this wrong. “I don’t know. Do you want a garden?”

“Not really. It’s a lot of work.”

“I suppose. It’s basically farming, isn’t it?”

“Basically. I make one of the guys tend the herb garden at the restaurant.” She dragged her palms over her eyes and blinked at her husband for a second. “Do you want anything?”

“I want what you want,” he said. He wondered if that was true; he sure thought it was.

“I want,” she said. Her arms crossed and she chewed her lip. “Sleep. I said I’d cover brunch.”

“Oh. I thought there’d be more houses tomorrow. I was hoping to see one with floors.”

Maggie smiled against her will. “Eat something,” she said, walking away. “Get some sleep.”

But Frank couldn’t bring himself to do either. His mind flicked between impossible holes, lost bullets and the merits of brunch. He thought about Maggie. And he thought about the young man without a coat in a blizzard and how warm his blood must have felt.

Frank is going insane. He’s going insane because he has given up sleep. He’s given up sleep because he’s having the dreams. The dreams—where everything is alive and watching. The dreams—where the people are without faces. Shultz guesses this is the case. Can’t help him, not his line. Tells him, it aint normal, but it is common. Frank will deal or he’ll break. They’ll solve the case of the dead assholes and the missing whatever or they wont.

*****

TJ Staneart is a writer in Minneapolis, with an MFA from Emerson College.

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