There was a certain inevitability about going into the cells this time. He was practically getting on a first-name basis with the guys on the intake desk. He was quite the old hand now.
They seized all of his clothes, his wallet and ID, and made him take a shower. Putting on the prison garb was the usual thing. Having been worn by a thousand men before, the fabric felt surprising soft and clean. It might have been washed a thousand times as well. He wondered what fabric softener they were using.
Not being allowed socks and underwear, dressing didn’t take very long. He’d always hated rubber flip-flops, which was probably why the prison system administrators had chosen them.
There was nothing quite like being chained to a dozen other felons and hustled down a long, dark corridor, echoing with voices in spite of not being allowed to talk that much. People were being shoved on some arbitrary whim into this cell or that. There was something inevitable about being arrested long after breakfast, arriving shortly after mealtime and spending half a day in a holding cell during the processing.
As soon as he got into a cell, the air rife with vomit, sweat and alcohol. O’Hara was there looking for him.
“Hi, Mark, how are you doing?”
“Very well, and thank you for asking, sir. And how are you this fine day?”
“Okay, maybe we deserve that. But you have to admit that you seem to discover an awful lot of dead bodies...”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
The guys in the cell behind him laughed at that one. The guard unlatched the door and brought him out. They took him off a short distance, where the guard departed for his post and O’Hara whipped out his ID and some other papers. They stood a few yards from the guardroom, the front doors, and freedom.
“Mark. There is some obvious connection between all of these victims. The dead hooker—Mister Olivetti, and now our latest victim, Sylvio Rossi. It just seems like an awful lot of coincidences.”
“Oh, is that who that was?”
There was something about the tone and O’Hara grimaced. He supposed it was understandable, and he had heard worse—plenty worse.
“So what did you know about him?”
“I’ve never actually met him, only heard him outside my door.”
O’Hara signed for Mark in their bloody book.
“Did you arrest the fat lady?”
O’Hara took him out of the holding area.
“Because honestly, I found something just a little bit shifty about that one...”
O’Hara had dragged him, a tight grip on his upper arm but no cuffs, up to his office on the third floor.
“In my opinion, she done it for sure.”
O’Hara smiled a tight little smile, patting his jacket pocket. They sat down like gentlemen.
“Aw, shit.” O’Hara pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes and snapped a lighter for him. “Sorry about that. Next time I’ll try and have a cold beer waiting for you. Right, Mark?”
“I will be looking forward to that.”
O’Hara gave a hard little chuckle, not taking his eyes off him. Medical examiners had been mistaken before, and killers came in all shapes and sizes.
Mark sucked the harsh smoke in, wondering if he was going to cough. He might want to get used to it. If things kept up like this, he might as well start anyways. It sure as hell couldn’t do any harm.
Traffic rumbled past down in the street below. Pigeons clucked and cooed on the window ledge behind Mark’s head. If O’Hara didn’t mind, it was no concern of his.
“You’re welcome. I can’t say I know what it’s like, Mark, because I don’t. I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never been in a jail. I’ve often thought it might be good to have, ah, something like that as part of a police officer’s training. Have ‘em spend one night in the drunk tank, and you’ll probably never look at your job quite the same way again.”
“Ah, yes, sir.”
“No doubt you’re wondering where this is going.”
Mark shrugged carelessly. As long as he’s sweating, let him keep going. It would be nice to see O’Hara squirm.
“Want to know something funny? I’ve never shot anyone. I have never killed anyone, Mark.”
“Argh.” Mark ground his teeth.
“I’ll get to the point, Mark.”
O’Hara sighed, sat back, sucked at his own cigarette, and regarded Mark calmly for a minute.
“So what are you trying to tell me.”
Mark’s stomach was gnawing away at his backbone and it seemed as if O’Hara had carefully calculated as to how best Mark Jones might somehow be absent at meal-time...every God-damned time.
What was carefully implied but clearly unstated in his tone was simple.
You miserable son of a fucking bitch...
I’m going to get you if it’s the last thing I ever do.
As if reading his mind, O’Hara grinned. Tentatively, but an upwards lip-stretch it undoubtedly was.
“Okay, Mark. Sylvio died approximately eighteen to twenty-four hours before you found him. What that means...”
Mark sat up.
O’Hara nodded soberly.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!”
O’Hara flushed slightly.
“Er, yes, Mark. You were in custody at the time of the killing. Which means, one would suspect, that you would probably be wondering where your pants are...right about now.”
“Anyways, I was wondering if you had gotten around to the welfare office? I suspect you did, as you had a bit of cash on you when you were brought in. Ah...a fair amount, actually.” O’Hara shook his head. “There’s no better alibi than the one provided by the cops themselves, when you think about it.”
He grinned at that one.
“If it’s any consolation.”
“Can I go home now?”
“Sure, Mark. But there’s just one thing I wanted to say—”
“Like, fuck you, pal.” Mark’s face was flushed with blood, and yet the cops were simply running true to form.
They had to go by the book, and he was the nearest thing to a suspect they had. He understood that much.
Sooner or later, they’d make something stick, and it was all so God-damned unfair.
“I’m sorry, Mark, I really am. But our uniformed officers are just doing their job.” He bit his lip and then went on. “Honestly, if you had a good lawyer, you could probably get some money out of the city for this. The problem, for a guy like you, is that any half-ass attorney wants five hundred or so just to start a file. There are court fees, various expenses and they got you coming and going. The trouble is that your welfare cheque hardly even covers the rent, eh?”
Mark sat there fuming.
“Look, you’re a convicted felon. And you keep finding bodies all over the place. You have to admit that.”
“Sure. Yeah. Sometimes it’s best just to forget it.” Mark sighed, deeply. “Look. If you don’t mind my asking—”
“What killed him, anyways?” Mark hadn’t seen any blood, no wounds or trauma in his quick look.
“Ah. Cause of death. His neck was broken. Obviously, we’re treating it as suspicious. It’s possible we’re supposed to think he climbed in there himself, and somehow pushed the button, but there’s just no way. The thing won’t start up unless the door is closed. Probably homicide. It’s hard to see it as an accident. There are one or two bumps on the head as well. Most likely incurred at the time of death. The way I see it, someone grabbed him from behind, gave his head a quick twist and then they stuffed him in the dryer...he was still warm and kicking and he probably hit his head on the way into the dryer. It would have been best to kill him in the basement. The killer might have heard someone coming down the stairs or whatever. Who knows, we might actually stand a chance on this one...”
The problem with the laundry room was that the basement had a utility room, usually locked, but Sylvio’s keys were missing along with his wallet. There was also a back door at the end of the hallway with a panic-bar type of latch. While theoretically, people in the alley couldn’t get in, not without a key, anyone that wanted to could get out. There were times when people propped the door open with a rock or even a comb or a pencil or something. The police were investigating. So far they had nothing.
There was a long silence as O’Hara studied the man in front of him. Mark stared right back, face long and hard, that bottom jaw forward as far as it would go.
“Anyways, I really am sorry. Hopefully that helps.”
O’Hara got up, and extending a hand, indicated the door. Mark put his head down, kept his mouth firmly shut, and stood.
It was time to go looking for those all-important pants.
(End of Part Fourteen.)
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