Mistakes Were Made

Mistakes Were Made by Bill Capron

I found her in my garbage can. I turned on the outside lamp. She didn’t look like anyone special, but under the circumstances, who would? She was maybe seventeen, possibly younger. She looked like she was in pain, but of course she wasn’t, never would be again. I’d heard the spinning of wheels as the car sped down the street as I came out of the back entrance to my office, but I didn’t see it.

A line of black blood was dried from the corner of her mouth to her right eye, defying gravity. She’d been dead a while, but not long enough for rigor to set in. She might have been pretty once, but that was before the beating, the broken nose, the black eyes, the bloody ear, the dirty black hair. She looked vaguely familiar. She was naked, and her body held more depredations than one could imagine being dealt to one human being, by another.

I went upstairs and called the cops. Maureen McMartin, detective, showed up with a tall, uniformed cop, Diane Simpson. They were about the nicest cops in Portland, and among the best. McMartin worked with the evidence people, and Simpson went around to check with the neighbors, see if anyone saw anything.

McMartin finally got to me, “So, CB, what’s with them picking your place to dump the body?”

I shrugged. “Don’t know. Coincidence?”

She smiled and shook her head. “Not a chance, Green. Who’s going to pick out the only private dick within a half-mile and put the body in his garbage can?”

I felt the same way, but what did I know? “If it has anything to do with me, it’s news to me.”

She shook her head like she didn’t believe me. She’s a bright girl. She turned her attention to Simpson who was making her way up the sidewalk. Simpson had a man in tow, a short, white-haired guy of about fifty. He looked reluctant. I’d seen him before. He lived in the building next door, the lower flat. He had a daughter about seventeen. Could have been the girl.

“Detective, Mr. Martinez here needs to see the dead girl.”

McMartin told me to wait. That’s not me. I followed them out to the ambulance. The man sunk to his knees. He cried into his hands. McMartin hadn’t a clue what to do, but Simpson bent down and put her arm around his thin shoulders. She talked to him. He talked to her. McMartin sort of backed out of the picture.

“You know him, CB?”

“Yes, my neighbor. Don’t remember his name.”

She gave me one of those down under looks, the kind that would be sexy in a different setting, but kind of skeptical now. “His name’s Manola Martinez. They call him Dollars. Daughter’s name was Fuscia.”

Dollars Martinez, I’d heard of him; didn’t know he was in my area. Would never have guessed the guy and the girl were Hispanic. “So he’s a big shot bookie, it doesn’t mean a thing to me.”

She nodded like she agreed. “I think they got the wrong garbage can. That’s what I think. A message killing, but sent the message to the wrong house.”

The guy on the other side of me, a lawyer, came up the sidewalk. He was wearing a robe over silk pajamas. He had a daughter the same age as Fucsia Martinez. Now that I knew who she was, geographically, I put the two of them together. They were nice girls, always together, same hair, but different shades of black. I knew the lawyer’s name since he had a plaque on the front porch; Anthony Lewis, Attorney-at-Law. He also had an office downtown.

Lewis pulled on McMartin’s sleeve, said something, she said something back, and he ambled back away. He nodded when he recognized me. “What’s going on?”

I told him. No reason not to. Like an afterthought, he said his daughter was going to take it pretty hard. He looked like his head was somewhere else. When I returned my attention to him, he was gone.

It was one of those situations, we all have them, when the answer was staring me in the face, but it was one of those things you never look at, even though you’ve looked at it a thousand times. In my world I couldn’t even blame it on the confusion of color.

There was nothing for me in it. I mean, it was my garbage can, but nothing more. I went up to my apartment, couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I should act, so I made my way down the inner passage to the office.

I answered the ringing phone, “Green.”

“Mr. Green?”

I made an appropriate sound.

“This is Manny Martinez,” a pause, “your neighbor.”

“Yes, Mr. Martinez,” an awkward moment before, “I’m very sorry about your daughter.”

“Yeah, that’s why I want to talk to you.”

I told him the office door was open. I unlocked the door.

He did a double-take when he first entered the room, like he had stepped through a barrier into a black and white movie. It’s the first sign my clients have that I’m different. It’s disconcerting. It usually puts them ill at ease. Martinez, despite the tear-stained eyes, smiled like he’d recalled an inside joke.

“Fuscia said this was a strange office, all grays, no colors.”

I put a question on my face. I’d never met the girl.

He answered, “When the painters were in. They had some kid from her class working for them. His father was the contractor. Fuscia would come over for lunch, bring him a sandwich. He was a nice kid. I liked him. He liked Fuscia.”

I recalled the kid, one of those eighties’ names. “Yes, Ryan. Nice kid.”

Martinez got sadder. “She was thirteen then, he was fourteen. They started dating a couple weeks ago. I don’t know if I can tell him about this, but I can’t let him hear it on the news.”

He was doggy-paddling around why he came to me. I waited through it.

“I’m a fifty-year-old man with no prospects. My only daughter …” He looked up like he realized for the first time we didn’t know each other. He reached over the desk and extended his hand, “I’m sorry. It’s not so easy getting away from the memories. My name’s Manny Martinez. The cops, I saw you talking to them, probably told you who I was?” He made it a question.

I nodded. “Yes. Dollars Martinez.”

A cold edge tinged his voice, “I don’t care for nicknames. They trivialize the subject. You can call me Manny.”

I liked him. I liked the way he thought. I liked the way he smiled when he entered my world. “How can I help you, Manny?”

“Find out who killed my Fuscia.”

“The police think it is some kind of message killing.”

The thin man with the prematurely gray hair shook his head; “No, they got it wrong. The people I work with, they don’t send messages that way.” He seemed to search inside for more. “No, they know you don’t kill a man’s only child and expect he’ll somehow get the message.” He shook a finger at me. “They know I’ll search to the ends of the earth until they’re dead. My enemies aren’t that stupid.” His finger traced a circle on my desk. “It looks like the work of drug guys. It’s how they send messages.”

“They don’t know you?”

His voice acted surprised, but he hadn’t the face for it, “I’m a gambler, Mr. Green. I survive because I give better odds than the race tracks and the state. It’d be tough if they were competitive, but they’re not. Drugs are filth.” He rolled that idea around in his mouth and said, “I got nothing to do with filth, Mr. Green.”

I said he could call me CB.

We talked a while. I learned a lot about the bookie business. I learned a lot about Fuscia, the good girl. Even if there was a side to her that her father didn’t know, I knew the murder had nothing to do with Fuscia being Fuscia. I didn’t learn anything I needed.

Once he was gone, I put my sized-sixteens up on the desk and leaned back in my chair. My lips pushed in and out, until I realized I was pulling a Nero Wolfe, so I stopped the lip thing. Something in my head told me I knew everything I needed to already.

I called the police station and got connected, after five minutes on hold, to Maureen McMartin.

She was in a bad mood; “What do you want, CB?”

“You got my garbage can.”

Incredulous, “You want it back?”

“No, you guys can keep it. I’ll get another.”

Sudden interest, “So?”

“I need to know the number on the can.”

“It’s not your can?”

“Hey, detective, I didn’t look. Anyway, they all look alike.”

“Hang on.”

I tapped my fingers for another five minutes. “Twenty-three-sixty-seven. What’s your address, CB?”

“Twenty-three-sixty-one.”

“It was Martinez’s can?”

“No, Anthony Lewis’s.”

“Who?”

“The lawyer on the other side of me.”

“What were you doing with his can.”

I thought on that before answering, “Pick up was early this morning. We set our cans out about ten feet apart. Maybe the garbage guys got them switched around, maybe not even this week.”

“Yeah, like they left you the one with the body in it.”

“No, detective, but the guys that killed her left the body in the right can, wrong address.”

“So why’re the crooks going to kill Martinez’s daughter to send a message to some lawyer?”

“Lewis has a daughter same age as Fuscia Martinez. They were friends. They looked alike, a little.” As my thoughts traveled downstream with the logic, the next words stuck in my mouth, “They grabbed the wrong girl.”

I could almost hear her thinking on the other end of the line, and then, “Don’t go anywhere, CB. I’m on the way over.”

Well, I’m not made that way.

I knocked on the door. No answer. The attorney’s car, a white-gray Lexis super-sized SUV, wasn’t parked on the street. There was nothing I could do but wait for McMartin.

It was a half-hour before she showed up with Diane Simpson and another uniformed cop in tow. She focused on me. “I thought I told you to wait.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Not there?” she asked.

I shrugged them again.

She knocked on the door, rang the bell, looked in the windows. She’s a decisive girl. She made an executive decision. To Simpson, “Tell the captain we’re going in.”

Simpson spoke into the walkie-talkie on her shoulder, waited, talked some more. She nodded to the detective who’d returned with a crowbar.

I said, “Wait with the tools, eh, Detective.”

In my office I got my lock picks. When I started on the door, the detective said, “Those aren’t legal, CB.”

“So arrest me.”

The door clicked open. I slipped the pick-locks into the pocket of my jacket. They’re not so easy to replace these days.

We made our way through the house. At the bedrooms we could see clothes strewn on the bed, and the closets were pretty much rifled. The bureau drawers were open.

I put my finger to a white gauze lining the bottom of the bedside drawer and smelled it. “Gun oil.”

Lewis didn’t get far. He stopped at his office to gather up his files. By that time the hoods realized they’d sent a message to the wrong man, but he got it anyway. So they looked like fools. Not good for business. They shot him and sent a stream of bullets into the wife’s SUV. Those Lexis’s must be made to take it though, because she stepped on the gas and she and her daughter got away without a scratch.

I took a walk over to Manny Martinez’s house. We had some coffee and I told him what happened to his daughter. I told him mistakes were made.

The bookie was sad. The bookie was mad. When the two came together there was going to be a hell of a storm.

When I got back to my office, I saw the corner of the envelope under the area rug that butted up against the door jamb. It’s flap wasn’t glued shut. I opened it. It was a handwritten note, “Dear Mr. Green, I would like you to be one of my sponsors in the Heart Run next month. I will stop again later. Thank you, your neighbor, Fuscia Martinez.” So I knew why she was picked up coming out of the house with the wrong garbage can out front. It broke my heart.

About three weeks later three Columbian killers were found stuffed in Lewis’s garbage can outside another lawyer’s house, like a message. Yes, the same garbage can. Someone had stolen it from the police evidence, or maybe it was discarded. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Detective McMartin someday. Probably won’t.

I’m glad I’m not a lawyer though. There’s just too many of them, and what with attracting those really money-flushed clients, it’s gotten to be a really cutthroat business these days.

 

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