Prose Header


by Rick Rose

Part 1 and part 2
appear in this issue.

“You were convicted of DUI in Santa Monica in 1979. Your prints were found on Briar’s car,” she said. “They searched your house and found what looks like his blood on your shirt. They’re running the DNA.”

“I can explain how that got there,” I said.

“Save that for your attorney,” Karen said. “I know a good criminal defense guy. But he’s expensive and needs the money up front.”

“I picked up a lost dog,” I said. “She jumped up on me and left what I thought was a muddy paw print on my shirt. I looked into the Hummer parked at the house where I left her.”

“I’ll get you someone who can help you, but say nothing to the police,” she said.

Ten minutes after Karen left, Skinny and Mailbox returned for another round of ‘I-ain’t-talking’. They brought along an attractive stenographer.

“This is Mrs. Steer,” Mailbox said. “She takes down what we say.”

“Lawyer,” I said. “Did she take that down? I want a lawyer.”

“You spoke to a lawyer but we have a few questions for you,” Skinny said.

“Lawyer,” I said.

“This is Phoenix homicide detective Greg Panatoni interviewing Theodore Mathews regarding the murder of Thomas Briar,” Mailbox said. “Also present are Detective Paul Stapley and court reporter Lois Steer.”

“Lawyer,” I said.

“Mr. Mathews we no longer believe you were responsible for the death of Mr. Briar but we need to clear up a few matters,” Mailbox said.

“I’d like my lawyer present before you ask me any questions.”

“That’s fine, sir, but you don’t need an attorney,” Skinny said. “You’re free to leave whenever you like.”

“Great, please take off these handcuffs,” I said as I stood up.

“See how easy that was,” Mailbox said. “We’re having a nice conversation.”

“Lawyer,” I said sitting back down.

“Mathews, we have your prints on the victim’s car and his blood on your shirt,” Skinny said. “Either level with us or you’ll be facing the death penalty.”

“I’ve asked to have my attorney present six times but you appear deaf. Even if I confessed to killing JFK you couldn’t use it against me. I’d like you to leave and please don’t speak to me without my attorney present.”

“What Detective Stapley said was true,” Mailbox said. “You’re no longer a suspect. But you need to tell us how that blood got on your shirt.”

I pinched the index finger and thumb of my right hand together, brought them up to the left side of my closed mouth and moved my fingers to the right side of my mouth. I pretended to turn a key and throw it away.

“Tell you what Mr. Mathews,” Mailbox said. “Why don’t you write down how your fingerprints got on Briar’s vehicle?”

I wrote down a single word in bold letters, LAWYER. Mailbox seemed genuinely hurt at my reluctance to play along with him. Skinny whispered something in his ear then left the interrogation. Mailbox looked at me and smiled.

“We won’t need you any longer, Mrs. Steer,” Mailbox said as he looked at me. Once the court reporter left he said, “You’re a tough nut, Matthews. Every crook I’ve met thinks he’s smarter than me but I go home to my wife and they end up in jail.”

“I’m not trying to crack smart,” I said. “I won’t talk without my attorney.”

“Alright,” he said. “We want to know how Briar’s blood ended up on your shirt.”

“People in Hell want ice water,” I said. “Doesn’t mean they get it.” I shrugged.

He left the room shaking his head. After a while a Sheriff escorted me back to my cell. Cops settle on one suspect as quickly as possible then gather the evidence needed to convict. Alternative suspects get disregarded. I thought about these things and others as they walked me down the shiny cement floors. I wondered who’d walk the dog and how I was going to get out of this mess.

Wednesday Night

My idea about not sneezing my way out needed reconsideration. Reviewing the day of my arrest and the two days prior made me realize I’d have to sneeze back to Monday morning. But first I had to get pepper, which meant getting to my office by sneezing naturally. Sneezing on command isn’t simple and can’t be faked. What works best for me is pulling out nose hairs.

The first sneezes got me back to the first interview with Panatoni and Stapley. When they freed my hands I pulled another hair and traveled back to the holding cell. My hands were cuffed again. I closed my eyes and turned my face to the corner to minimize the light. After three minutes I stared at the over head light. I almost got there but didn’t quite sneeze. I tried again.

“Whachu doin’?” my cellmate said.

“Trying to get out of here by sneezing,” I said.

“Lemmy know how dat work for you,” he said.

Three minutes later I tried it again and found myself in the back seat of the cop car with my hands still cuffed behind my back. I tried a couple of times to get a little sternutation going.

“Sit up, jackass,” said the cop in the passenger seat.

I did as he said. This car wasn’t equipped with all the cop gizmos, just a Plexiglas window separating us. The cruiser was fairly new, but I hoped not completely new. I pitched myself down between the seats and found what I was looking for, some common dirt tracked into the car on the feet of felons lined the vinyl floor mats. There was just enough dirt to snort.

The next thing I knew I was back at work, back behind by desk and back in business. The next jumps were easy once I had access to my pepper packs.

The toughest part of backsliding is keeping mentally alert. Immediately after a sneeze there’s a moment of impaired visual acuity due to the eyes being closed (sneezing is always done with eyes closed) and a cringe. Tanya calls my cringes ‘getting-the-woolies.’ The physical sensation is an involuntary raising of the shoulders, a tightening of the muscles in the upper back accompanied by a slight shiver. This is what keeps me from driving and flying. ‘Geting-the-woolies’ approaching a red light or landing a plane could be fatal.

I sneezed back to Tuesday night, through all the messiness with Larry Wells and Gary Clark. The next time through I hoped I’d get to play it the same way with Clark because working for the ball club sounded more interesting than working at Reliable Title. My primary concern was getting back to that SUV and making sure my fingerprints weren’t anywhere near it.

I sneezed past saving Perez only to find he’d gotten arrested for DUI after Monday night’s game. The owners had zero-tolerance with any drug or alcohol situation. Perez probably would’ve traded a busted tailbone to that DUI. Soon enough I was back at the hotdog stand.

“Where are you?” the murderer asked.

“The corner of 24th and Camelback,” I said.

“The hotdog stand?”

“Yeah. You want to come pick her up?”

“I’m busy,” she said. “Can you bring it here?”

“Look lady, it’s hot out. I ain’t bringing your dog home for my health. I want a reward.”

“Is a hundred dollars enough?” she said.

“I’ll be right over,” I said. “I want cash and I want some bottled water too.”

She clicked off again. This time I met Donna at the rear fender of the Hummer.

“That’s all I’m givin’ you.”

The envelope had the same hundred dollar bill. I took a drink of water and watched her more closely. I’d missed her most fascinating feature, she had one brown eye and one blue eye — and not from contact lenses.

“Thanks, honey,” I said. “Same deal if I find her again?”

She whipped around and said, “There won’t be a next time, you slimy twit.”

“Enjoy your gas guzzler,” I said.

She ignored me, returning to the mini-mansion, closing the door with a slam. I headed back to work via the Ambassador hotel on the corner of 24th and Camelback. They have cozy phone booths that afford a modicum of privacy. I called the number I’d memorized earlier.

“You’ve reached the Police non-emergency line. If you have an emergency, hang up and dial 911. An operator will be with you shortly.”

“I think there’s been a murder,” I said when the operator came on.

“Hold a moment,” she said. After a couple of clicks she came back. “Our conversation is being recorded.”

“I think there’s been a murder,” I said and gave them Donna Wells’ address. “I saw a dog there tracking bloody footprints.”

“What is your name sir?” she said.

“That’s not important,” I said and hung up.

This time Perez didn’t even make it into the game. He caught a weird carom off the third base screen in batting practice giving him a shiner. By the time I got home, dead on my feet, it took an act of Congress to get me to walk Kita. Actually all it took was one look from her beautiful brown eyes. She lives for these walks and walking her connects me with Maui.

My second shot at Tuesday went the same as the first. I was surprised to find Larry Wells at the ball park but realized that Briar’s body wouldn’t be found until three the following morning. This time the police would have enough to nail Larry and Donna.

I got the same offer for an interview from Gary Clark. But it didn’t quite work out. The police have ways of tracing calls and the Ambassador employs surveillance cameras. The bottom line is that on Wednesday morning I got to my pepper just before the cops arrested me.

Monday (again)

This time I’d be more surreptitious about the tip. My company provides us with bus passes and even pays us to use them. After dropping off the dog I took the bus down Camelback and exited at 16th street.

I walked back to Sandy’s restaurant. I used to love Sandy’s when I was a kid. Now I don’t like the chain so much; there’s a layer of grease everywhere and, like so many places in Phoenix, smoking seems mandatory.

I used a pre-wiped quarter. I held the handset with a cloth handkerchief and entered the numbers with a bandaged finger.

“You’ve reached the Police non-emergency line. If you have an emergency, hang up and dial 911. An operator will be with you shortly.”

“Turn on you recorder,” I whispered. “I’ll wait.”

After the requisite beeps I began, “This is an anonymous tip. Tommy Briar has been murdered.” I rattled off Donna and Larry’s address and hung up before the operator could ask questions. I walked back to my normal bus stop a few blocks west and boarded the bus as if I’d ridden home for lunch.

Perez didn’t make it into the ballpark this time. Someone rear-ended his truck on his way in. He was listed as day to day. We won the game but it took twelve innings. I got home much later and my walk with Kita was much shorter.

On Tuesday I didn’t get to meet Gary Clark because Larry Wells and his wife were arrested for murdering of Tommy Briar. Larry had more than popcorn on his mind. They caught him very red-handed dismembering the body of the baseball legend.

I was astounded when the big cops stopped me outside my office on Wednesday morning to bring me in as a material witness. By now I’d started lacing the knees of my slacks with chili powder. I wanted an out in case of slip-ups. I’d slipped up bigtime.

“We got a curious call on Monday, Mr. Williams,” Mailbox said.

“We to traced it to Sandy’s on 16th and Camelback,” Skinny said. “Were you there?”

“I mighta been,” I said.

“Listen to him Louie,” Skinny said. “He says he ‘mighta” been there.”

“Look, porkchop,” Mailbox said. “We got a photo of you making a call tipping us to the Wells’ home.”

“OK,” I said. “So I placed the call. I heard you caught them cleaning up.”

“We caught the bad guy,” Skinny said. “She was along for the ride. We thought Wells killed him because he caught Briar dipping his pen in some very expensive company ink.”

“That wasn’t it?” I said.

“No my Good Samaritan,” said Skinny. “Wells liked watching his wife and the pitcher play. Wells didn’t want to pay that sixteen-million salary for the next three years.”

Mailbox took over. “Do you have any idea how long finger prints are kept on drunk driving charges in California?”

“But I didn’t leave any fingerprints,” I said.

“We didn’t get your print off of the phone or the coin you used or even off the bus you took to get there,” Mailbox said. “You remember a dog? A dog named Betty?”

“Yeah, I took her home. I saw the blood on her paws,” I said. “That’s why I called.”

“We got your print off her collar. A neighbor saw a conversation you had with Mrs. Wells at the time of the murder.” Stanley said.

I looked at Mailbox then started coughing. I bent over, still handcuffed, sniffed the chili powder deep into my left nostril and began another trip back to Monday.

Monday morning (last time)

I sat by the hotdog stand sharing my tube steak with Betty.

“You’re a good dog aren’t you?” I said.

Betty wasn’t talking but her eyes told me she might just be the second best dog in the history of the world. Since my troubles revolved around returning Betty to an unloving home I thought about making a subtle change. We finished the hotdog and I called home.

“Hi, this is Tanya.”

“Do we have room for another dog?” I said.

“You’d have to make sure it’s OK with Kita. She was here first.”

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

“You have one in mind or do you want to try the pound?” Tanya said.

“There’s an abandoned dog licking my hand who’ll fit in nicely.”

“I know you’ve been missing Maui. Is that what all the ‘woolies’ are about?”

“Naw,” I said. “That’s something else we need talk about.”

We were quiet for a while. I opened the box to look at the diamond ring again.

“You know I’m not crazy, right?” I said.

“Teddy, you sappy fool. You cry at car wash openings. But you’re not insane.”

“Good,” I said. “I’m bringing Betty home and we’ll discuss the ‘woolies’.”

“Theodore Williams, I won’t share you with another woman. Who’s Betty.”

“She’s our new dog,” I said.

I started to cross the street but had to walk around a yellow SUV blocking the crosswalk. Briar was driving. I approached his window making a cranking motion. The window slid down.

“I can’t do autographs now,” Briar said.

“Donna’s dog just told me she and Larry are gonna kill you,” I said. “Do baseball a huge favor and go home.”

He looked at me then down at the dog and flinched. Then he turned off his blinker. As I crossed the street I watched the bright yellow SUV drive past the Ambassador toward Scottsdale. No one understood why he asked to be traded from the World Series Champs but I had a pretty good idea.

Copyright © 2006 by Rick Rose

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