Short Story: Reel-Gun Blues

Detective Arnold Foster had been on the force near-on twenty years, but nothing had been like this. He’d done his fair share of high-profile cases and seen enough things to make the average uniform retch, but nothing had ever been so rough. He took off his gray fedora and knelt beside the body, tailored trench-coat falling around him to rest on the floor just beyond the pool of blood.

She lie on her side, arms near one another, left hand clutched half-closed as if sleeping. Everything about her was peaceful, as if lying in her own blood with a gut-wound was just another night of beauty sleep. Even her auburn hair had fallen around her pale-skin like a woman sleeping the greatest sleep of her life. Foster wasn’t sure about that, but it would certainly be the longest.

There was nothing unusual around the scene; no marks on the wrists, no broken glass or furniture askew. Nothing had been thrown, or knocked around. There was just her body and a pool of blood. It was still the most difficult thing Foster’d ever forced himself to witness.

Ali was one of the few friends he had left, alongside the now-primary suspect, her husband. Neither one had ever been the angry type. What had kept Foster on such good terms with them was their glowing love that welcomed him to bask in it. He enjoyed it.

But there was no glow now, just pale skin wrapped around coagulated veins and dead organs.

Foster rose from his stance. He shouldn’t be here, his heart said it, his analytical mind said it. There was nothing to find, and he’d been explicitly barred from the case on grounds of personal attachments. He disagreed with that decision and he doubted the Chief himself could have stopped him from coming.

But the Chief wasn’t there, just a group of uniforms, a few forensics squints, and a few reps from the coroner’s office. Even if there’d been something to find, Foster wouldn’t have needed it. The fact that Sten was missing was enough. He’d been the loving husband that stood by Ali through everything. If he wasn’t here, lying in a pool of his own grief, then he was the one responsible. Foster didn’t need any further proof. The door wasn’t forced, the room wasn’t askew; Ali had known her attacker, hadn’t expected her death. If she had, she’d have run, tripped, fallen, knocked over a lamp– left some sign that it wasn’t the man she loved and trusted.

Foster re-fitted his Fedora, and stepped away from the body. He pushed through some uniforms, passed the ambulance and coroner that helped EMTs to remove the gurney, and headed for his unmarked car. Like him, the Ford Sedan was getting on in years, but remained reliable enough not to be cast out. Its turbo-charged police engine had always gotten him from point A to point B, no matter the situation or urgency.

The Sedan was now the one constant in a world of variables. As he slid in and ignited the engine, it agreed with him. They were a package deal, it seemed to say, two old dogs trying their best to keep up and abreast of all the new tricks. The times had changed enough that technology was often their greatest asset and biggest rival, but today both sensed it was unnecessary. Personally, Foster didn’t need a bold repertoire or an extensive case-history to know where he’d find Sten.

When the Ford rolled up to the edge of the pier, Sten’s pickup was already there. Foster could just see him through the back and front windows of the truck, propped backward against the bumper with his hands in his pockets. For a moment, Foster considered leaving, but Ali’s dead body was too prevalent in his mind. Her supple, vibrant skin was too pale, eyes too closed and dead to let him leave.

Foster checked the reel-gun he’d inherited from his father to ensure it was still loaded. Cleaned, oiled, and fired regularly, it was as near to mint condition as an old thirty-eight could be. Part of him want to aim it through the windows separating him from Sten and pull the trigger. Something about Sten’s refusal to acknowledge his presence made him hesitate. It reminded him of the few times he and Sten had talked office-politics or work-business. Sten was always reserved, quiet, only letting out enough not to defy the NDA’s his software company made him sign. He was always honest, straight as a razor, Foster’d liked him for that.

But now he was jagged, crooked enough to have murdered his own wife then run to the one place he knew he’d be found; Why? Why any of it? Why murder his loving wife? Why make it so obvious? Why stand still when he could run, leave Foster in the dust? The old detective had to know, and there was only one route to the truth.

He slid from the sedan and sidled between the bumpers, reel-gun in hand, to approach Sten from the truck’s right.

“You don’t need the gun, old man,” Sten said as he approached. “I’m still the same man you’ve always called a friend.”

Foster stopped just out of arm’s reach, near the front-right fender, “My friends don’t murder people in cold blood, let alone their loving wives.”

“If you think that, you don’t know your friends too well.”

“What the hell’re you talking about, Sten? You killed Ali, your wife, and all you can do’s be a smart-ass about it? What in the hell’s happened to you?”

Sten finally moved, but only his head and neck. It still made Foster tense, just in case his so-called friend had any designs in mind. “Jumpy today,” Sten said blankly. “Why don’t you come over her, take a load off with me?”

Foster’s mouth half-snarled, “You son of a bitch, you think I’m gonna’ risk my neck for–”

“I think,” he interrupted. “You should hear me out. You wanna’ take me in after, fine. You wanna’ blow my brains out on the gravel, fine, but hear me out. You owe me that.”

Foster remained still, it was enough of a sign for Sten, whom turned his head back to the ocean. He was lost in thought for a long moment before he began with a distant vacancy, “Just before you and I met, I was writing software for a government agency connected to DARPA. Someone in the CIA contacted me asking for a meeting. Two months later, I was field-rated and on my first op. Nine months after that, I met Ali. She’d passed all of our screenings, and she believed every word of my lies. Or at least, I thought so.”

He slipped a hand into his inner-jacket pocket. Foster tensed up again. The hand withdrew, clutching a printed, digital photograph between its fingers. A small memory card had been taped to a bottom corner. He set the photo on the hood of his truck, slid it at Foster, and re-pocketed his hand.

Foster craned his neck to eye it and Sten continued, “That photo was taken two-days ago outside the Villa-Nova hotel. You’ll notice Ali meeting a bald man.”

Foster’s eyes confirmed as much, “This going somewhere?”

“Twelve hours ago the CIA informed me that Ali’s file had been forwarded from a contact in Moscow. Her real name is Ivana Kurleynko, an SVR agent sent to spy on the CIA through me. A contract hit was put out on her by the agency, but I got there first.” He finally met Foster’s eyes, his own sharpened by pain. “I… couldn’t let someone else kill the woman I loved. So I came in, and she saw me, smiled her smile, and blinked. I shot her once and left. I’ve been here ever since.”

They were quiet for a moment, only the ocean and distant gulls willing to force themselves on the scene. They created a background of white-noise that infected Foster’s heart.

He swallowed hard, “How’m I supposed to believe this?”

“All the information you need is on that card, Arnold.”

“You understand I need to take you in ’til this can be verified,” he said, only half believing him.

“Just make sure they don’t try to take retribution on me, you know?”

Unfortunately, Foster did. Wife killers were second only to child molesters when it came to inmate hatred.

“I’ll do what I can,” Foster said, still not sure what he believed.

Sten stepped around the truck. Foster’s followed, pocketing the photo. The two men stopped at either of the front doors and their eyes met again.

“You know,” Sten said. “I guess it’s true what they say, “You never really know someone.”

Foster thought about it, but Sten slipped into the Sedan and took the thought with. He ended up in a mired confusion… just another day of reel-gun blues.