“The victim tried to write something as he was dying,” she said.
“And how do you figure that?” I asked.
“The scratch marks. I see an “A” and a “B”. He must have realized there was blood under his nails.”
“So you think that he was writing the alphabet?”
The victim was a teacher. It could make sense. I covertly consulted my watch. Unlike my younger associates, I do not carry a cell phone. The superintendent ordered one for me. An eyephone, or maybe an earphone. I don’t know. We have no enforced retirement, thank God. Not that I wouldn’t want it, if I could afford it, but Mabel invested our retirement savings with her brother, who is currently on an island in the Pacific with said savings. As a result, I had to come out of retirement last year, and here I am, age eighty-one, supervising homicide cases again.
“No, that’s not what I think,” she said with exaggerated patience and rolling her eyes at the constable. She was sharp in every way. Sharp eyed, sharp nosed, sharp nostrils, pencil shaped, pencil browed. You can be assured that she has an eyephone and an earphone and every other electronic device that can be ordered from the tech division.
I suspect that she’s had my phone—the one that’s wired to the wall in my office—bugged. Do they still call it that? Surely there is something more clever than the bug that resided in the American ambassador’s office in Russia 70 years ago. It worked well, though. It was the discovery of that bug that made me want to be a spy. With my facility for languages I was a shoe-in. Unfortunately I didn’t have the stomach for murder. I flunked out of spy school, and they recommended I try the police force. A man disgusted by murder would make a good cop, they said. They were facaetious, but it was true. I am a good cop. “What do you think?” I asked.
“A name. Or initials. The A, B being sequential is coincidence.”
“You’re reading too much into it,” I said. “It looks to me like he was trying to hold onto the wall. That’s what I would do if I was shot and dying. I wouldn’t be thinking of leaving messages. Have you ever been shot?”
“No,” she said reluctantly. Presumably she looked forward to being shot. Sharply.
“I have. And you don’t think about leaving messages. You experience pain, shock, and disbelief, and your only thought is putting things back to the way they were. Staying upright, or shoving your guts back in. Personally I have not had my guts fall out, but I can attest to that being the case as I have observed other people’s guts falling out on more than one occasion.”
Did I mention that between being a spy and a police officer, I was a soldier? That is also not an occupation I would advise for someone who dislikes killing. However I did get a medal, which Mabel prizes. She even purchased a display case for it, and can’t understand how I could misplace the medal. It’s gold. If we are ever that broke, I can assure you that I would be able to place the medal in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. I have seen lamb’s tails shaking, and not just on a plate, but in the field. That was when I was a spy student. My friendship with the shepherdess I was supposed to be spying on was the result of my flunking my field assignment, not because of our relationship, that was encouraged, but because I refused to terminate it in the manner specified. If I hadn’t been a student, but a sworn in spy, I would have been disposed of in the manner that I refused to complete. “Have you checked his pockets?” I asked.
She—Detective Bradford, Anastasia Bradfrod—turned to the Constable. “Did you?”
He brought out the evidence bag. Both of them looked askance as I reached in with my bare hands. “This isn’t CSI,” I said. “You won’t find the murderer’s prints in your database. That’s what you call it, right?”
I was pulling their legs. Even fifty years ago, we had databases. They were on paper. I like paper.