(NOTE: I moved this story off my regular blog so I could get back to the business of Regular Life. I will post a copy of the entire story here soon, but for now you may go to the table of contents on my main blog to read the previous 10 installments.)
Jim landed on a steep grade of shale, which acted as a landing ramp. Had the moon shed more light, he would have been able to tell the difference between it a large boulder field about 10 yards away. The unexpected landing prolonged his life, but helped him understand how people in severe physical discomfort could ask for death. He almost forgot his anguish, the pain was so great.
I’m not dead. How long will this take?
He drew wet, raspy breaths, but never a full one. One of his ribs must have punctured a lung. Nobody would find him in time to save him. He would die out there, alone, as intended. He thought of his kids, and a Shakespeare passage from Venus and Adonis:
By law of nature thou art bound to breed,
That thine may live, when thou thyself are dead;
And so in spite of death thou doth survive,
In that thy likeness still is left alive.
A spider silently shuffled its feet across the rocks only a few inches from his face. Displacing none of the thin, loose shale, it scurried way into the night, without noticeable impact on the world.
Through the closed door, Wall heard Stivins’ muffled voice. “Who is it?”
Wall yelled back, “It’s Detective Davies. I spoke with you regarding Frank Shaeffer.”
Dammit. I hope Wilson and Max get here soon.
Wall looked down the street. Isn’t that the house they used in the opening credits of “Designing Women”? He remembered reading somewhere that more than 200 homes and other buildings in the vicinity were on the National Register of Historic places. It seemed like exactly the kind of place Stivins would live.
He heard footsteps and then the door chain sliding out of its channel. The deadbolt scraped free from the door jamb, another victim of swelling brought on by humidity.
The damn humidity made even the nights intolerable in the city. Wall steeped in sweat, a result of the heat and his nerves. Besides his rookie days, no past case had made him jittery, but Stivins gave him the creeps.
When the door opened, his eyes widened to help take in what he saw.
Stivins stood there, wearing a baby blue polo shirt and khaki shorts, his sandy blond hair tussled. He was not one to stay in uniform after work, and on a casual stroll through the neighborhood he could have been mistaken for any homeowner.
If it had not been for all that blood.
Stivins’ right shin was missing at least a layer or two of skin, and it and everything below was bathed in red. He could not tell what color the shoe was supposed to be. The left leg looked fine, besides a little smeared blood.
He looked behind Stivins, across the living room to the back patio door. Bloody footprints formed a path leading across the hardwood floor and a Persian rug to the kitchen. The left foot was not represented, and the bizarre sight at first had Wall envisioning Stivins hopping on one foot across the floor.
He leaned around Stivins to get a better look at the kitchen sink. The decorative faucet gushed hot water; steam billowed up around a large machete laid across the basin.
“Holy fuck,” Wall said. “What’s going on here?”
“I’ve had a bit of an accident, I’m afraid.”
“Am I about to find another body to add to the collection?”
“No, Detective.” Stivins stumbled a bit as he turned to walk back to the kitchen. “Please, come in, but if you would be so kind as to phone the hospital, I would be grateful.”
Stivins limped to the sink and picked up the machete. He ran the blade under the water, flipping it every few seconds.
“You know, I think it’s in everybody’s best interest for you to put down the blade,” Wall said. He took a few steps through the wide open front door, and then to his left. He stopped just one step into the kitchen.
Wall needed to search the premises, but he was not going to turn his back on the suspect. Considering his condition, he could not ask him for the official tour, either. With Wilson and Max on the way to the scene, he did the only thing that made sense at the time.
“You mean we’re both going to the hospital, Mr. Stivins. You’re losing blood fast. I’ll drive you. And stop rinsing that blade. That could be evidence you’re washing down that drain.”
Stivins turned around, holding the machete in front of him. “Very well. Perhaps we’ll speak of our childhoods on the way.”
“How about let’s leave the knife here?”
“Oh, this thing? I was merely out back ridding myself of an invasive Vitis aestivalis. Pestilent little bugger.” He gave a few short chops through the air.
Wall heard a shot as Stivins dropped the machete. It clanged hard on the bloodied stone tile floor. Stivins fell back and caught himself against the counter.
Wall turned and shouted, “Stop firing!” As he rushed to Stivins, he turned his head long enough to bark at the junior detective. “Dammit, Wilson! What are you doing?”
“He was coming at you, and you were unarmed.” He still had his gun aimed at Stivins.
“Holster your weapon, now, and don’t take another step. There’s evidence all over the floor.” Wall said. Then, to Stivins, “Are you okay?”
“First my shoes and my rug. Now my shirt,” Stivins said.
“I’m sure your Persian will be fine,” Wall said.
“No, no, it’s not Persian. It’s from Tunisia.” He groaned in pain and put his hand to his shoulder. “This is beginning to smart, along with my leg. Could I avail myself of that complimentary ride you offered? If you don’t mind a jest to lighten the mood, I must say that I am a bloody mess.” He laughed, then coughed. “Mother would have enjoyed that one.”
Wall ducked his shoulder under Stivins’ good arm to support him. They walked slowly through the kitchen. He was lighter than Wall thought he would be, but heavy enough that he needed Wilson to help them down the stairs.
“You stay here and keep the place secure until Max and his team arrive. I’m taking Mr. Stivins to the hospital. I kind of hate to mention this now, but here’s the search warrant.” He pulled a folded sheet of paper from his back pocket. “Wilson, give me a hand.”
They worked together to unfold it and show it to Stivins. He gave it a quick look. “I suppose my attorney would approve, but please call him straight away, and do not search my house until he arrives,” he said.
Underway to the station, Wall took advantage of the relative calm. “So, what did you say you were getting rid of back there?”
“Vitis aestivalis. Also called summer grape. It’s a wild vine that plagues my trees.”
“So you decided that after dark was the perfect time to do that?”
“I have a very bright light back there, attached to a motion sensor.”
Wall laughed. “Doesn’t seem like it helped much.”
A thought crossed his mind. Is he crazy enough that he was trying to cut off evidence? He had heard of criminals scraping off identifying tattoos.
(continue to Part 12)