Hendry’s Crown Vic floated to a stop in front of the men’s shelter. A relic of his rookie days, it would retire when he did. Seven in the morning, and already undesirables hung over the railing out front, shouting one insult or another at each other. The adjacent soup kitchen would open for business in fifteen minutes.
A scuffle over cot space or prized possessions usually brought Hendry here. This was the first homicide.
Old Sid used to live under a stairway on the corner of West and York. He dragged his valuables around inside a discarded fishing net. A few nights each year, Hendry and his partner rounded up Sid and others like him and threw them in the drunk tank for the night — their contribution to helping the homeless, but it wasn’t enough. Too much time dealing with bullshit and paperwork. No, he could do more. It was too easy to coast along on the sea of privilege, tossing the occasional line to people sinking around him.
Hendry moved past the early-bird breakfast crowd. Inside was a room, open like a school gym — only the smell was far worse, more like a subway restroom. He ignored the few bodies still sleeping and ducked behind a make-shift wall, where Sid huddled on the floor beside his cot, blood spreading away from his body in a pattern that reminded Hendry of a surfer’s wave. The presumed murder weapon, a rusty fishing knife, lay a few feet away.
“We kept everyone out, like you said,” Ed Horton, the shelter manager, said.
“What time did you find him?” Hendry pulled out a swollen coil-bound notebook and jotted as Horton spoke.
“Five this morning.”
“He been coming here long?”
“Almost a year.” Horton sniffed. “In two months he gets a permanent bed.”
“Would have. Who else was awake when you found him?”
Three other men. Hendry wanted them brought back to their cots to be interviewed.
First, Suicide Joe. Hendry had been on duty for four of his seven jumps off the West Street Bridge.
“Jump off any bridges lately, Joe?”
“What’s this about, Officer H? I don’t know nothin’ about Old Sid.” Joe clasped his hands between his knees to keep them from shaking.
“Show me your hands.”
“Flat on your knees. Palms up.”
Suicide Joe complied. They were blackened as if he’d done push-ups on fresh asphalt. Hendry doubted that, since the man’s arms were spindly as chair rails. Wonder he’d never broken one.
“Now flip ‘em,” Hendry commanded. Joe’s fingernails were rimmed with a black curl. “You have a job?”
Joe’s mouth twitched sideways. “Used to work on the dock, loading cargo. Got canned ‘cause they said I drank too much.”
Next up, Bermuda Willy. He owned one shirt — a loud, floral-printed number with no buttons, which overexposed his hairy gut.
“Take your coat?” Willy possessed the only coat rack at the shelter. “My visitors gotsta hang up their coats.” Hendry humoured him and hung his jacket beside a dirty raincoat.
“Did you and Sid get along?”
Willy pulled the two sides of his shirt together. They didn’t quite meet in the middle. “I never had no problem with him.”
“Were you friends?”
“Me and Sid, we talked. He showed me his stuff, wanted me to have it, anything happened to him.”
“He gave you his net?”
“Yup, and everything in it. Look.” Willy produced a worn leather wallet from his pocket.
Hendry looked. A credit card expired eighteen years, issued to Sidney Wallace, and a driver’s license. Sidney Wallace had short, neatly combed brown hair, gold framed glasses, a close shave, a button down powder blue shirt and yellow tie. That couldn’t possibly be Old Sid, the man from under the stairs with the shoulder-length, matted hair, creased and dirty face, knotted beard and moustache. Hendry had guessed him to be in his seventies. According to the driver’s license, he was forty-six.
Twenty years younger than Hendry.
If Willy was eager to share, Johnny was the opposite.
“Did you know Sid?”
“Would that be yes or no?”
“Did you ever interact with him?”
“Mm, mm.” The direction of the head shake was a negative.
“Do you know who killed him?”
“Alright, Johnny. You ‘fess up and I’ll go easy.”
“N-n-no. It wasn’t me.”
“They all say that. Who then? I suppose the homeless fairy flew in last night and killed Sid?”
“I-I-I…” Johnny swallowed hard. “L-l-l-look at his coat.”
Johnny was done. He’d said all he would, but the question session hadn’t been a bust. Hendry had a lead from Johnny, a motive from Willy, and opportunity from Joe.
“Don’t let anyone leave,” he told Horton.
Three hours later, Hendry returned with a team and a warrant. First, they removed Sid’s coat for closer inspection. Then Hendry questioned Suicide Joe.
“You have a knife, Joe?”
“I never killed Sid!”
“Didn’t say you did. Fishing knife?”
Joe reached under his mattress, then scowled. “It’s gone.”
“Okay. I think I know who took it.”
Hendry approached Johnny’s cot. “How’d you know about the coat?” He didn’t expect or need an explanation. “You saw it, didn’t you?”
Johnny gave a barely perceptible nod. Hendry moved on to Willy’s bunk.
“Hey, officer. You find out who killed my buddy yet?”
“Yeah, I did.” Hendry produced his badge.
“You arresting me? I didn’t do nothin’.” He protested as Hendry pulled open Sid’s fishing net. Inside a tobacco can he found a wad of bills. “How much is this?” Hendry guessed a little over five thousand.
“That’s mine,” Willy whined as Hendry slapped on the handcuffs and read him his rights.
In the squad car, Willy asked, “How’d you know?”
“Sid wasn’t stabbed through his coat. He’d have hung it up when he visited your cot.”
Hendry’s Crown Vic sputtered and stalled. Time for the car to retire. Maybe both of them. It was time.
Heather O’Connell is a freelance writer and a teacher. She recently finished the first draft of a mystery novel, Immovable Objects, and has published a story at 365 Tomorrows. She is thrilled that her five children have inherited her love for reading and writing. Heather teaches her students to “wake up the pictures and stories in their heads” and write them down so they can be shared. She lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.