In his tiny office, Inspector Martin Prieboy hunched over his notebook, filling it margin-to-margin with small, neat writing. The office was about seven by seven feet, with buzzing fluorescent lights and cut-rate ceiling tiles that occasionally rained white dust down on Martin’s cramped metal desk. The first time it had happened, he sent a sample of the dust to the lab to test for asbestos. Martin was a firm believer in scientific analysis. Fortunately, the test came back negative, and now he always made sure to have a lid for his coffee.
Martin was slender, but solidly built, with fine blond hair brushed back from a high forehead. At first glance, one might assume he was quite young, but a closer inspection revealed subtle lines around his mouth and eyes, indicating an age closer to thirty than twenty. He wore a dress uniform that had recently come from the dry cleaners.
Martin was making notes regarding his latest case: an apparent murder-suicide in a dorm room at Prosser College. He had spent most of the morning at the crime scene, estimating bullet trajectories and analyzing blood spatter patterns. He jotted down a few final notes, and turned to his typewriter to begin the official report.
Martin was no stranger to ugly crime scenes. In his time with the Fester Constabulary, he had dealt with much nastier sights than the scene in Adelaide Hall. Still, the scene of the murder-suicide was gruesome. The neat, all-American dorm room setting made the bloody mess seem that much worse by contrast. Martin pushed these thoughts away. He was a professional, and he had a job to do. That was all that mattered.
Behind him, a figure silently appeared behind the pebbled glass of the office door. A hand rose to knock, but before it could, Martin said, “Good morning, Chief. Be with you in a moment.”
The door swung open and in stepped Chief Constable Billy Snyder. He was short, stocky, and barrel-chested, with a hard face that wore a permanently chiseled scowl. “Jesus, Inspector Prieboy,” he said. “You must have the ears of a hawk. No, not a hawk—that sounds fucking stupid. What the hell kind of animal has good ears?”
“A bat?” suggested Martin. “They have good ears, for echolocation.”
“Yeah, sure, a bat,” said the Chief Constable. “Whatever.”
“I figured it must be you,” Martin replied. “I heard you coming a mile away. Well, a quarter-mile, anyway.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I heard your car pull into the parking lot. It sounds like the timing is about a degree and a half off—the engine makes a very distinctive sound. You probably ought to take it to the motor pool and have it adjusted. It could improve the gas mileage up to fifteen percent.”
Snyder glowered. “Are you wising off to me, Prieboy? The last thing I need is you turning into a wiseass.”
“No sir, Chief. You know I wouldn’t do anything like that. It wouldn’t respectful.”
“Of course not. Those monks really beat respect into you, didn’t they?”
Martin Prieboy had been born in Fester, but his parents were killed in a car accident when he was very young. With no other relatives, Martin had become a ward of the state. He wound up at an orphanage in Hershey called the Holy Jesus Christ Almighty Home for Unfortunate Boys. Run by an obscure sub-order of Capuchin monks, it was notorious for its strict discipline.
“My upbringing taught me respect and fortitude,” said Martin. “I appreciate the way that Father McJaggar and the other brothers at the orphanage took the effort to instill discipline.”
“That’s terrific,” said Snyder. “If only the rest of the constabulary were so disciplined.” He gestured at the box of evidence on Martin’s desk. “So tell me, just what the hell happened in that dorm room?”
“Yes, sir,” said Martin. He thumbed back a few pages in his notebook. “Last night at approximately twenty-one thirty hours, residents of Adelaide Hall reported hearing three loud reports. The second floor resident advisor notified Prosser Campus Safety that he had heard what he believed to be gunshots. As per their protocol, they immediately informed the constabulary dispatcher.”
“Stupid campus rent-a-cops,” muttered Snyder. “Couldn’t handle a popgun.”
“Um, yes, quite, sir,” Martin said. “After making the phone call, the RA went down to the door of this room, where a crowd of students had already gathered. He used his pass key to open the door and found the bodies of Michael Neff and Thomas Dreher, both dead of gunshot wounds.
“Constable Dirkschneider arrived on the scene at twenty-one forty hours and proceeded to clear the room rather, um, forcefully. Several of the students sustained minor injuries from his action.”
“Do you not approve of Constable Dirkschneider’s actions, Inspector?”
“It seems a bit . . . excessive, don’t you think, sir?”
“He was successful in preventing a bunch of gawkers from contaminating the evidence, right? No point in making your job any more difficult.”
“No sir, I guess not,” said Martin. He cleared his throat, then continued, “It appears that Dreher shot Neff twice, then turned the gun on himself. I’ve managed to reconstruct the sequence of events. It seems pretty straightforward.” He glanced briefly at his notebook, and then gave his boss a detailed step-by-step recreation of the murder-suicide.
“Jesus,” said Snyder, when Martin had finished. “Any idea of the motive for this clusterfuck?”
“Unknown, sir. There were no witnesses. Neff’s roommate dropped out of school in early February, and he’d had the room to himself since then.
“The deceased were locals and had known each other since childhood. Dreher had reportedly visited Neff in this room the night before the shootings. Thomas Dreher was not a student at Prosser, however. Apparently, he was not quite the scholar that Neff had been.”
“That’s for sure,” said Snyder. “The kid was a major fuckup. I’ve known his father for years. Had to get that kid off the hook more than once.”
“You mean you let him escape justice?” asked Martin.
Snyder eyed Martin uncertainly. “Christ, Prieboy, not everything is black and white, okay? Carl Dreher is a deacon at Calvary Lutheran and he swings a lot of political weight in town. Not as much as the Top Hats, but enough to cause trouble with Mayor Augenblick’s re-election campaign if he decided to raise a stink. I let a few minor vandalism charges slide, nothing major. ‘Escape justice,’ my ass.”
“I see, sir.”
“I doubt it. Look, you handle the investigation and let me take care of the politics. Now, what about the weapon?”
“A Colt 1911 E .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol was recovered at the scene,” he said. “The gun is registered to Carl Dreher, Thomas’s father.”
“Oh hell,” said Snyder. “Carl’s going to lose his shit when he finds out about this twist. Inspector Prieboy, you do understand that this case is to be handled with utmost discretion, correct?”
“Absolutely, Chief Constable. You can count on me.”
“I know I can,” said Snyder. “Have the staties come by?”
“Yes sir. Commander Johnson came by, just as the coroner was leaving. He was only there for a few minutes. He said it looked like things were in good hands as usual.”
“Good deal,” said Snyder. “Wally Johnson knows that we can take care of our own problems in Fester.”
“And another thing,” said Snyder. “Why are you in your dress uniform? You know it’s standard procedure for those with an inspector’s rank to dress in plain clothes while on duty.”
“Well, sir, I felt that it was important to let the students and faculty know that their constabulary was taking care of this, given the nature of the case. I wanted to fly the flag, so to speak.”
Martin look concerned. “I certainly hope that I haven’t done anything inappropriate, sir. It seemed like . . .”
Snyder waved his hand dismissively. “I trust your judgment completely, Inspector. You could wear a clown suit on duty if you felt it appropriate.”
“Certainly not, sir,” Martin said. He paused, considering. “Unless, of course, circumstances required that I go undercover at a circus or carnival.”
Snyder’s shoulders slumped slightly. “Indeed, Prieboy. I’m certain that you would make an excellent undercover clown.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’ll want to see your preliminary report on this case first thing tomorrow morning.” He glanced at the IBM Selectric on Martin’s desk. “Why are you still using that old thing? Didn’t you get one of those new word processors? Come on, it’s 1993—get with the times, Prieboy.”
“I was requisitioned a word processor, sir,” said Martin. He waved at a box of computer parts and cables in the corner. “It seems, uh, promising. I thought I could improve its performance a bit, and made a few changes. I haven’t had time to put it back together. No matter, Chief—I like using the old typewriter.”
Snyder rolled his eyes. “Okay, fine, Inspector. You can write with a quill pen on a piece of parchment for all I care. Just have that damn report on my desk tomorrow morning!”
“Yes, sir,” said Martin. He jumped up from his seat and stood at attention.
“Relax, Prieboy. You don’t need to be so damn formal all the time.”
“Understood, sir. I just want to make sure that I’m doing everything by the book.”
“Don’t I fucking know it,” muttered Snyder. “Look, I can’t stand around chatting all damn day. I’ve got things to see and people to do.” He turned and let himself out of the office. Behind him, Martin leaned over the typewriter and got to work.