Sturgis first pages

Mathew was a block and a half from his building, when saw that there were five police cars parked in front of it. He stopped at the intersection, waited just a moment, then went on, drove slowly past the first two cars, and stopped a few feet from the one nearest his front steps. He pushed the button to roll down the passenger window and called out, “What’s going on?”

One of the uniformed officers, in his forties maybe, a lot of forehead showing under his peaked hat, came around the patrol car. He leaned down and said, “You’ll have to move along, sir.”

“I live here. Mathew Dacorian, third floor.”

The officer straightened up. His head and shoulders went out of sight above the roof of the car. He turned slightly to look at someone behind it and called out, “This guy says he lives here.” Mathew couldn’t hear the answer, but the officer leaned down to his window again. “Park across the street please.”

Mathew thanked him, pulled forward just a car length, checked the traffic, made a U turn, and parked against the opposite curb. The officer was watching him, not at all perturbed by this illegal maneuver. Mathew took his briefcase from the passenger seat and, out of habit, checked both ways again before walking over to the policeman, who said, “You’d better talk to Lieutenant Carpenter.”

Mathew followed him to a rather tall, not very dark man, looking rather more distressed than he expected a cop to be. He looked directly at Mathew as they approached.

“Mr. Dacorian lives on the third floor,” the officer said, then went away.

“Do you know a Frederick Bergendorf?” Carpenter asked.

“Freddy lives on the fifth floor.” There were too many police cars, too many officers down on the street. “Has something happened to him?”

“Can you account for your whereabouts this morning?”

The day, which had seemed so pleasant until now, took on a chill which had nothing to do with the weather. This was going to be bad. “I left the building at about eight o’clock, as I usually do. Drove to Dennison —”

“The community college.”

“Yes. Got there about eight thirty, got some coffee at the Union, went to my office, got ready for my classes. I teach Business English at nine, Contemporary Fiction at ten, Public Speaking at eleven. I came back to my office for a few minutes, then went back to the Union, had some lunch, and came home. I’ve got homework to grade. I’d like to get up to my apartment if I could.”

“You teach there.”

“Yes sir.” Patient, be patient.

The lieutenant was not angry, or bored, just very unhappy about something. “You teach other classes there?”

“Just the three. Monday Wednesday Friday, then again Tuesday Thursday Saturday. That’s about all I can handle.”

“You been there long?” He was looking at the building, not at Mathew, probably up at the fifth floor.

“This is my fourth year.”

“You like it there?”

“I like what I can do for my students.”

Carpenter looked at him now. He didn’t seem suspicious, just — disturbed. “Did you know Mr. Bergendorf well?”

“Not really.” Freddy was dead. “We always spoke. We never visited. I took care of his plants when he was out of town.”

“You have a key to his apartment?”

“He gave me one when he went out of town. How did he die?”

“How do you know he died?”

“Burglaries don’t usually call this many cops to the scene.”

Carpenter stared at him a moment. Mathew couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Then he looked back at the building.

It was going to be a cool day, not a chilly one like it felt now. A minor front had passed through the night before and there was only the vaguest of breezes. There was not much in the way of clouds, and the sun should have felt warm against the cool of the air. The streets were still damp, but the wet concrete smell was almost gone. A car drove by, slowing as it passed, curious about all the patrol cars. There usually wasn’t much traffic on this street. There were no pedestrians at all at the moment, but there were some people at their windows. Mrs. Gabbe, two doors down on the other side, was standing on her front step.

“Can I go up to my apartment?”

Carpenter didn’t look at him, he was still looking up at Freddy’s floor. “Sure. Go ahead.”

It must have been really bad. He felt a little sick. It wasn’t that he liked Freddy so much, not much at all really. But there was nothing wrong with him — had been… He was another bachelor, not the brightest of men. Mathew had known him the entire three years he had lived here. Freddy had trusted him with his apartment. That was what mattered.

He went up the concrete steps. The officer at the door was looking past him over his head. Carpenter must have given him a signal, because when he looked at Mathew, he stepped aside and said, “Go on in.”

“Thank you,” Mathew said. He didn’t bother to check his mail. He seldom got anything anyway.

The only policeman on the first floor was at the far end of the hall by the back door. He watched Mathew without curiosity or challenge. Mrs. Ellington’s door was just past the entrance, at the foot of the stairs. She had to know there was something going on. She never left her apartment, except to get the mail. She even had her groceries delivered. Mathew went past and up the stairs, more and more uncertain, more afraid of what must have happened.

There was nobody on the second floor. He came back around to the front, and paused by the door where the Finlays lived. They would both be out now. They left the building about the same time he did, and usually didn’t come back until nearly six. They both had jobs, barely enough to pay their rent and groceries, and got no help from grown children living out of state. Ruth Finlay would be hysterical when she found out about Freddy. Steven — he always used his full first name — would be angry, and flustered, and then frightened.

He went up to the third floor, and back to the front and his own door, and looked up the stairs.

The next apartment was where Millicent Purnell lived. She would also be at work. She was an office manager at Kensington Electronics, and could afford a better place, but she had lived here for twelve years or more, and was comfortable, waiting for the right guy to come along. Mathew doubted he ever would.

And above Miss Purnell was Freddy Bergendorf.

He turned away from the stairs, pulled out the ring of keys attached to the chain of his key reel, unlocked the door, went inside, and dropped the keys back into his pocket. The backs of tall bookcases, three feet in front of the door, made a kind of entryway going to the right. The wall immediately to the left was blank. He should put up some pictures someday.

He went around the bookcases, put his briefcase down on the coffee table in the wider part of the living room, between his recliner and the little sofa, and went through the dining room into the kitchen. There were three beers in the refrigerator. He stared at them, but he didn’t really want one right now. He had homework to grade, and classes tomorrow. He pulled out a Verners instead, got himself a glass, then put both bottle and glass down on the counter.

There was somebody here.

He went back to his living room and took the full sized crowbar from the heavy, ornamental metal hook screwed into the end of the bookcase. He held it near the crook, so that it wouldn’t slip from his hand if he had to swing it.

There was no one in the living room, behind or under the furniture where it was possible for someone to hide. There was no one under the table in the dining room, or in the little broom closet in the kitchen. But you always checked the places where nobody should be, or could be, just to be thorough. You could be mistaken. Or maybe you’d find a clue.

He went into his bedroom. There was nobody between the bed and the wall, but there could be someone under it. He checked his closet first, stepping well back as he swung open the doors, but there were no strange feet on the floor behind his clothes, and no hands gripping the clothes bar, as there would be if someone were hanging there so he could pull his feet up. He turned back to the bed and lay face down on the floor, ready to spring up again if he had to, but there was only dust under it. That left the bathroom.

He pulled the door open and stood in the doorway, holding his crowbar easily. The white plastic shower curtain was not completely opaque. Someone was crouched down, at the far end under the shower head, probably more frightened than he was.

“How did you get in here?” he asked, as if he were just curious.

After two seconds, three seconds, the person hiding there stood up, and pulled the curtain aside. She was shorter than he, but not by much, younger than he, but not by much, blandly attractive, dressed like an office worker. She glanced at his eyes, then stared at the crowbar. “Your door wasn’t quite latched.”

Damn. “That happens too often. I’m going to have to have it fixed. Did you murder Freddy?”

“No!” she cried. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned as far back into the corner as she could.

There was something about her terror that he didn’t like. “You saw it happen.”

She panted a couple times, then nodded without speaking.

He hefted the crowbar, held it up and looked at it, then let it down again. “Is he still here?”

“I don’t know!”

“Did he see you?”

“I don’t think so. He was — he was about to turn around and I ran.”

“All right. You don’t have to stay in the tub. I’ll put this away.”

Someone knocked rather loudly on his front door. He went back to the living room, around the end of the book case, and said, “Who is it?”

“Police, Mr. Dacorian,” a man replied.

It wasn’t Carpenter or the other officers he’d spoken to. The pulled the door open and stepped back.

A heavy man with a creased face stood there. He wore a brown suit, a pink shirt, and a blue tie. There were two uniformed officers behind him. He was a couple inches taller than Mathew, maybe forty-fifty pounds heavier. He glanced down at the crowbar, then back up at Mathew’s face. “Do you always carry a crowbar when you answer the door?” The other officers were wary.

“As a matter of fact, I do.” He went back to the end of the bookcase, and hung it up on it hook. “This isn’t the best neighborhood. Come on in.”

He went to larger half of his living room, stood beside his chair, and gestured toward the little sofa across the coffee table from him. The detective came in, and stood between him and his TV and shelves of videos. One of the officers stood near the end of the book case. The other was still at the door. Mathew gestured again.

The detective didn’t move. “Can you account for your whereabouts this morning?”

“I told Lieutenant Carpenter about it just a little while ago.”

“Well tell me.”

Mathew took a breath, then said, “Do you have a name, sir?”

The detective’s face wasn’t angry, or disturbed like Carpenter’s had been, just kind of bored. He reached into his jacket, took out a leather folder, flipped it open. There was a badge, and a license. He was close enough that Mathew could read it. Rupert Jamison, Detective Inspector, Emerson Police. He closed the case and put it away. “Where were you this morning?”

Mathew sat, gestured to the sofa again, but Jamison didn’t sit. Then Mathew told him what he had told Carpenter. Jamison listened but took no notes. Neither did the officer behind him, who was very carefully keeping to himself, with only an occasional glance at the crowbar, at Mathew, at the office end of the living room, or at the dining room. The other officer was just visible in the doorway, not looking at anything. It felt like they didn’t really want to be here.

“I suppose you can verify that,” Jamison said.

Patient, be patient. “If you ask Registrar Cho, she can give you the names of all my students in the Tuesday Thursday Saturday classes, and you can ask them, about forty in all.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Jamison said. He turned away and went past the officer by the bookcase.

“Can you tell me what happened?” Mathew asked.

Jamison said nothing, he just went to the door. The officer there went into the hall. The one at the bookcase, watching Mathew now, just dipped his head slightly, and followed the detective. The door closed behind them. Mathew heard the latch engage.

He sat a moment, waited for the subtle anger at the back of his head to go away, then waited a moment longer before going to the door. He wanted to take the crowbar but he didn’t.

He opened the door as casually as he could and stepped out, as if he really meant to go somewhere. There was nobody in the hall. He came back inside, closed the door securely, and went to the windows looking out onto the street. There were still three patrol cars, and an unmarked car across the street behind his own. Several officers were standing around. He couldn’t see either Carpenter or Jamison.

He went back to the bathroom. The woman was still standing in the far corner of the tub, under the shower. “Thank you,” she said, her voice more a breath than a whisper.

“You witnessed a murder. You should probably go talk to Lieutenant Carpenter. Not Inspector Jamison. Tell them what you saw, and that you just ran away. The sooner the better.”

“They won’t believe me.” She was on the verge of tears.

He took a breath. “Come on out. Coffee?”

She stepped out of the tub. “No, I …”

“Tea? Ginger ale? Beer?”

“Ginger ale.”

He led her to the dining room, went into the kitchen, took another bottle of Verners out of the refrigerator, and another glass out of the cabinet. He went to where the woman was waiting, and gestured to her to sit at one of the four chairs at his table. He put the bottle and glass down in front of her, then got his own from the kitchen and sat opposite her.

She stared at her bottle, as if she didn’t know what to do with it. He took the opener from its place in the middle of the table and handed it to her. It took her three tries to get the cap off. He opened his own bottle while she was still pouring, not quite in danger of spilling. She took a sip, then put down her glass, as if surprised by the flavor.

His own Verners had lost a bit of its chill. He drank off half the glass, and poured in the rest of the bottle. “What did you see?” he asked her quietly.

She startled, stared at him, first at one eye, then at the other, almost panted, then swallowed, and took another sip of her ginger ale. “Mr. Bergendorf sometimes does business with us. I was bringing over his amended proposal.” Mathew had no idea what Freddy did for a living. The woman opened her rather large purse, and took out several pages folded in half the long way, showed them to him without actually letting him see what they were, and put them back.

“When I got upstairs,” she said, “I saw that his door was open. I started to go in, and then I saw him, with this other man, kind of small, pretty well dressed, gray slacks and jacket. The man was kissing Mr. Bergendorf, but I don’t think Mr. Bergendorf liked it. He kept on waving his arms as if he was trying to get away. The man took in a deep breath —” her voice rose a bit, and began to tremble, “like he was sucking the air out of him —” She stopped again, drank some ginger ale. “Then he exhaled hard through his nose and inhaled again through his mouth, through Mr. Bergendorf’s mouth….”

She put the glass down, clenched her fists on either side of it, and stared into something terrible. “Mr. Bergendorf,” her voice became strained and hoarse, “was half-way down on his couch. He waved his arms and kicked his legs. Then he just kind of trembled. Then he went limp. The man sucked on him again, and he went limper. The man let him fall, and started to turn around, and I ran.”

She wasn’t crying, but she was panting so hard she was in danger of passing out from hyperventilation. Mathew gently slapped the table in front of her glass. She startled, stared at him with terrified eyes, and stopped breathing altogether.

He poured the rest of the ginger ale into her glass. “Have some more,” he said, offering it to her.

She looked at the glass, as if seeing it for the first time. She gasped, took it from him, and drank half of it.

There was a pressure in his head, not a headache, but a sense of danger not really passed. What she had seen — assuming she had really seen what she had told him — had affected her more than a normal murder would have, certainly more than even a stabbing or a bludgeoning.

“What am I going to do?” she asked.

“Well, I don’t think you should talk to the police.”

“Am I crazy?”

“You might be, but what you’ve told me isn’t proof of that. But it’s not the kind of thing you want to go telling the police about, even if it happened exactly as you told me.”

“It did!”

“You saw what you saw, but that isn’t necessarily what happened. Especially if you were taken by surprise, and badly disturbed by it. I know I would be. It doesn’t matter. But the police won’t like it, and they’ll question you endlessly, and they might hold you as a witness, and have you take a psychological evaluation, none of which will do any good.”

“So what should I do?”

“Just wait here a while. The police will eventually —” he heard two sets of heavy feet coming down the stairs from the floor above, but they went past his door to the other end of the hall and on down the stairs. “They’ll eventually leave, and after they’ve been gone a while, you can go home. Not back to work. Phone your boss, tell him you came to deliver the proposal, found the police already here, you think Mr. Bergendorf is dead, and you’re going to stay home. Okay?”

“You sound like you’ve made up alibis before.”

“I have.”

“Are you really an English teacher?” She had overheard him talking to Jamison.

“I am. It’s a hell of a lot better than what I was before. I like teaching these kids. Kids. Eighteen to fifty two this semester. What I teach them helps a lot of them get out of their dead end jobs. Speaking clearly, writing clearly, thinking clearly. They can work their way up off the factory floor. It makes me feel good.”

“I imagine it would.” She was working hard to become calm. Give her a few minutes, an hour maybe, then she could go home.

“My name is Mathew Dacorian,” he said.

“Eleanor Silverburg.” She held out her hand, somewhat uncertainly. He took it gently, then let it go. “My friends call me Elly.”

“Thank you for including me among your friends.” He tried to sound like he meant it, because he did. “And I prefer Mathew, not Matt.” He gave her only the smallest of smiles. The poor kid, not yet thirty probably, was coming down off her terror and disgust and having a perfectly normal reaction. Hell, if he had seen Freddy die that way, he’d have a reaction too. Mostly rage, certainly. “Have you had lunch?”

“No, I …”

“How about a grilled cheese sandwich. Do you like rye bread?”

“Sh-sure, that’s f-fine.”

“Go lie down and let yourself go. I’ll bring it to you when it’s ready. Bedroom or sofa, whichever is more comfortable.”

“Okay,” she almost squeaked, and went into the bedroom. She had seen how small the sofa was. She closed the door behind her. He could hear her, struggling to not sob too loudly, but he shut it out as he made her sandwich, buttering the bread on the outside. On second thought, though he’d already eaten, he made one for himself too. The company would make her feel better.

He got out two small plates, and when the sandwiches were properly browned on both sides, and the cheese was well melted, he cut the sandwiches in half diagonally, salted them lightly, and folded paper towels for napkins. He held both plates in his left hand, and rapped softly on the bedroom door.

“Just a minute,” she said, her voice muffled. He heard her moving. “Okay,” she said, her voice normal.

He opened the door. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding a small towel in her lap. She had been wiping at her face. “Eat it here, or out there?”

“In here,” she said in a small voice. He handed her one of the plates, then sat down on the bed, about two feet from her. She looked at the sandwich, then took a bite. He started eating his own. “I like this,” she said.

“Canadian Cheddar, three years old, a lot more flavor than regular cheese.”

“Where do you get it?”

“Deli section of most grocery stores. You have to kind of try a few to find one you like. Irish cheese will do in a pinch. Boar’s Head sometimes.”

“This is good.” She finished the first half and started on the other. She was hungry. Hell, it was nearly three.

“I’ve got more ginger ale,” he said.

She put the last of the sandwich in her mouth, handed him the empty plate, and stood up. “Thank you,” she said, around her nearly full mouth.

He couldn’t help but smile more broadly this time. “You’re welcome.” He preceded her into the little dining room, and got the last two bottles of Verners from the refrigerator. This time she opened hers with no difficulty.

“Do you often deliver revised proposals to clients in their homes?”

“Sometimes.”

“I mean, why not some lowly secretary or errand boy?”

“I’m the lowly secretary. Office manager. Same thing.”

“I guess. You don’t have to justify your being here to me.”

He got up and went to the living room window. There were no more patrol cars. No cops were visible on the street. He went to his door and looked out. Nobody in sight, no little sounds like somebody standing around waiting. Just to be sure he went to the back end of the hall, looked down the stairs, listened, came back to his door, looked up the stairs, and listened again. They had to have taken Freddy away before he had gotten home. He went back inside.

“Are they gone?” Elly asked.

“They seem to be. Let me make sure.”

He left again, closing the door securely behind him, went up to Freddy’s floor, and around to the front. There was yellow police tape across Freddy’s door. He saw nobody on the way as he went down to the first floor, but Mrs. Ellington’s door opened as he went past it.

“Did they bother you much?” he asked her.

“Not too much,” she said, sounding more like a normal seventy-year-old than she usually did. Her long-haired black cat, its eyes glowing greenly as cats’ eyes sometimes did, stared out at him from behind her ankles. “I put on my best crazies,” her own eyes got a little strange, and her smile kind of twitched, “and the nice officer,” her voice quavered just a bit, “decided real soon that he didn’t want to talk to me. I wonder why?” Her eyes glinted.

He thought she might be laughing at him, but the glint was tears. “Did you know him well?”

“No. But he always said ‘Hi,’ and he never laughed at me.”

“He let me take care of his plants when he was away.”

She stared him in the eyes. Her mouth got tight. Before a tear could start down her cheek, she went back inside, and closed her door, gently but firmly.

He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and went out onto the front steps. Mrs. Ellington had let him see her as she truly was, not as she always pretended to be. He appreciated her confidence, maybe more than she realized.

There were no patrol cars. There were no uniformed officers. There were no men in plain clothes just standing around. Or women, either. People up and down the block, and across the street, had gone back inside. Considering how many police had been here when he had come home, it was odd that they should all have gone away so quickly.

He stood there, hands in his pockets, looked one way, then slowly turned and looked the other. He looked up at the few thin, high clouds in the blue sky, then at the buildings across the street. If someone was watching from their windows, he couldn’t see them. He went down to the sidewalk, and crossed the street to his car. He got in, started it, turned it around, and parked it where it was supposed to be, where his name was painted on the curb. He got out. There was nobody in the windows of the buildings on either side of his.

He went back up to his apartment. Elly was still sitting at the table where he had left her, clutching her empty glass with both hands. “They’re all gone,” he said. “How did you get here?”

“I’m parked about a half a block down.”

“All right. Just go home, call your boss —”

“I already did.”

“Good. He must have been concerned.”

“He was. He knew Mr. Bergendorf too, a bit. I don’t think he’s going to get much work done this afternoon either.”

“Then he won’t mind if you stay home.”

“No.”

“Good. Watch a movie or something. Watch two. Get this experience into the back of your head, where it won’t disturb you so much.” He took the pad of paper from the middle of the table, and took his chrome Cross pencil from his shirt pocket. “Here’s my phone number.” He handed it to her. “I hope you don’t ever have to use it, but if you do, almost any time except mornings when I’m teaching, give me a call. Even late at night is okay.” He had no idea what he would do if she did call, or even why he had told her that, except that it gave her something to hang on to, a connection, however tenuous and ephemeral.

She looked at the paper as if memorizing the number, then folded it twice and put it in her purse. “Thank you.” She stood, and he followed her to the door. She went into the hall, looked back at him, tried to smile, then went back to the head of the stairs and down, a bit too fast at first, but at a more normal speed as she went down to the first floor. He heard the door open, then close, and she was gone.

#

He did not normally watch the news. He did not take a paper. It wasn’t the criminality and violence that bothered him, it was the stupidity, cupidity, lies and deceit, corruption and betrayal that made him angry enough to almost become violent himself again. But after doing his homework that afternoon — that is, after correcting his students’ homework and, in a couple cases, seeing some real progress — he decided to watch the news on the TV which he used only for movies. He had a good collection of movies, and sometimes rented before buying.

The announcement, when it finally came at the end of the hour, was brief and with no substance. Frederick Bergendorf had been found dead in his apartment. No description. No mention of possible murder. A few more words than that, but that was basically it. Five patrol cars, two unmarked, a lieutenant, a detective inspector, and over a dozen cops, and no comment.

He turned off the TV, and just sat in his chair for, well, a while, not really thinking, just sort of feeling the situation. It made no sense. After all that fuss this afternoon, after all that nothing on the news, there were no police here now. They had had a situation like this before, and knew that nothing more was going to happen here. How many similar deaths had there been?

He became aware that his breathing was too shallow, when he had to take a deep breath to make up for it. He wasn’t afraid, but he was behaving as if breathing too loudly would give him away to somebody.

He got up from his chair and got himself a beer. He didn’t like to drink except on Saturday nights, when he could sleep in Sunday morning. Not that he drank that much, but he had learned long ago that even just two beers the night before could slow his thinking, just enough to be dangerous if something unpleasant happened. These days, it was just that he wanted to be completely on top of it for his students. They were ignorant, not dumb, most of them, and taking classes because they chose to, not because somebody made them, and even the brightest of them were a challenge to teach, especially the ones who didn’t take instruction from anybody who didn’t have obvious authority. He looked at the beer, then put it back. He was going to be distracted enough as it was tomorrow.

He thought about his crowbar, but decided not to take it with him when he went out into the hall. If he was reading the signs right, there would be no danger here tonight. He went upstairs, being quiet but not sneaky. He passed Millicent Purnell’s door. Who had called the police? Had Elly Silverburg done it? He didn’t think so. She had been too terrified to think of anything, except hiding in some strange person’s bathtub. He could ask the police, but he was sure he would get no answer.

He went up to Freddy’s floor. The yellow police tape across the door was stuck on with transparent packing tape. No problem. He carefully peeled back the ends on the hinge side and let the tape dangle. Then he took his keys off their chain, found Freddy’s, and unlocked the door. The last time he had tended Freddy’s plants, Freddy had told him to just keep the key. Freddy trusted him. Had trusted him. He hadn’t much liked Freddy, but the thought of someone who trusted him that much being murdered made him almost as angry as reading a newspaper. More, actually.

He took just one step into the apartment. There was no sense closing the door behind him. If anybody came up they would see the police tapes down. He listened. He could almost hear the refrigerator. There was a click somewhere, nothing important. Otherwise, the silence almost hissed in his ears. No subtle movements in the bathtub. No breathing in the bed.

Elly had seen it happen on Freddy’s couch, on the right, against the back wall. It was pulled out a little bit, so that a number of large illustration boards and mounted posters could be stored behind it. He had never bothered to look at them, and wasn’t interested in them now. There was no sign of a struggle, but things weren’t quite as neat as they should be, as they had been the other times he had been up here. The rug in front of the couch was a bit rucked up. The couch itself was not perfectly parallel to the wall. The low, glass-topped coffee table, with magazines on the shelf underneath, had been pushed aside a bit, probably by the police, or the ambulance crew, and had not put back just right. The plants, on the deep shelf under the windows at the other end of the room, had been moved around a bit.

There was no smell other than the faintly bitter scent of some of the plants and their damp potting soil. Freddy kept his place pretty clean, for a bachelor. Cleaner than Mathew did. No spilled beer. No dirty socks. No disinfectant, no strong cleaning solution. There was a hint of cigarette smoke.

Freddy didn’t smoke.

He went to the couch. If the assailant had had his back to the door, Freddy’s head had been at the end toward the dining room. The cushions were just slightly disarrayed, but that in itself didn’t mean anything. He picked one up, turned it over, looked at the lining material of the underside, and turned it back.

Nobody had heard a shooting, or at least Mrs. Ellington hadn’t. A stabbing would have left lots of blood, and there was no blood. Freddy had been “kissed” to death. By a guy. If Freddy had been gay, Mathew hadn’t known about it.

He backed away from the couch, watching the rug at his feet, being careful not to disturb it, leaving the little rucked-up wrinkle. No blood there either. When he was off the rug, he turned toward the door. There were no sounds other than the refrigerator, no smells other than the plants and cigarette smoke. And there had been nothing in the news, other than that Freddy had been found dead.

He had to remember to breathe again.

He left the apartment, locked the door, and carefully put the police tapes back up exactly the way he had found them, as near as he could remember. Then he went back down to his own apartment, thought about a beer again, but went to bed early, and lay in the darkness, thinking about nothing for a couple hours, until he finally drifted off.

He had dreams during the night — people running, getting lost in a complex but small building, a smiling woman, other things which were of no significance whatsoever.

* * *

His classes went well the next day. He was disciplined with himself and didn’t think about Freddy at all from the moment he got into his car until he left his office to go to the union for lunch. His students listened to what he told them, and some of them understood what he said. They all turned in their homework, some of it hopeless, some of it almost good. He would correct it that afternoon.

He sat at one of the small tables at the back. There were high windows all along the side behind him and the long side to his left. Today he had a tuna salad sandwich, regular chips, a fruit cup, and a small Coke.

The student union had better lunches than some restaurants. After all, many of the people who worked here were paying for their classes by working in restaurants, and there were fewer jobs than applicants. Some of them had had extensive experience in fast food, which was why they were at Dennison, so that they could move up, or move on. They probably weren’t aware that the union manager and their supervisors were also educating them in customer relations, basic courtesy, and good appearance and deportment, while they were doing their jobs.

He had taken the second bite of his sandwich when he became aware of someone coming toward him. He looked up. It was Elly Silverburg. She smiled at him uncertainly, he gestured to the empty chair, and she sat. “Are you having lunch?” he asked her, trying to ease her anxiety with a perfectly calm voice.

“Ahm, I already ate. Ahm, I just wanted to say thank you.”

“You’re welcome. How did you know I would be here?” He knew the answer, but she would expect the question.

“I heard you talking with that policeman. I don’t think I like him very much.”

“I know I don’t like him at all. He had no reason to grill me after I’d talked with the lieutenant down stairs. He had no call to be high handed about it.” He took another bite of his sandwich.

“He wasn’t very courteous was he.” She was looking down at her hands on the table top. She wasn’t expecting an answer.

“It takes a while to get over seeing something like that,” he said.

She nodded, small tight motions. “It does. I listened to the news last night.”

“Of course you did. So did I. They didn’t say much.”

She looked up at him now, her anxiety not quite getting the best of her. “They didn’t. Why not? He was murdered.”

“Maybe they think it was a heart attack.”

“But I saw —”

“But you didn’t tell them what you saw. I wouldn’t have either. I’d have made something up, about strangling maybe. You didn’t, by chance, call the police when you got into my apartment, did you?”

“No! I just —”

“I didn’t think so, but I had to ask. I wonder who did. If it had been the woman who lived below him, she would have been up and down the halls, talking about it, semi-hysterical. But she was probably at work when it happened. So were the people who live below me, but if they had called they would have been out in the hall when I got home. And the woman on the first floor never comes out of her room except to get her mail. So who called the police?”

“I — I don’t know.”

“It is a puzzlement, as someone once said. I don’t like it much. Too many cops, too little news.”

“Have you seen today’s paper?”

This was why she was here, not to thank him, but because she needed somebody to talk to, and he was the only one who already knew her secret. “Reading newspapers does bad things to my blood pressure,” he said. “I used to read the headlines, to justify reading the comics, but I stopped reading the papers altogether a while ago. I take it there’s not much there either.”

“Just a notice in section two. One paragraph. Mr. Frederick Bergendorf was found dead on his sofa last night in his apartment. That’s all.”

He took another bite of his sandwich and leaned back in his chair. “Pretty scary.”

“Should I go to the police?”

“Think about it. Too many cops. Too little news. There’s a cover up. You could get yourself into real trouble.”

“I know. That’s what’s scary.”

“Did you go to work today?”

“Yeah. I’m on my lunch hour. Mr. Choptra was pretty upset. He let me have the rest of the day off yesterday.”

“How much time do you have?”

“About forty five minutes. Why?”

“Come with me.” He picked up the rest of his lunch and stood. “I’ll drive and bring you back here. It’ll take about an hour. Can you do that?”

“Uh,” she stood, “yeah.”

He took another bite as he led her out to his car.

#