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A Jig Before Dying

Danny Carnahan:

Chapter 3

     "Now, let’s go through this one more time, just to be sure I’ve got it straight," the balding police inspector said slowly. He heaved his large stomach up and straightened his back, trying to get more comfortably seated in the small, slat-backed wooden chair.

     "You didn’t know the deceased except to speak to casually at the bar. Yet you sent free CDs..."

     "CD. Singular. Promotional CD."

     "... a free pro-mo-shu-nal..." He sounded it out as he penciled the word into his notes, "CD to him at the newspaper where he worked. You know nothing whatever about his private life. He made no threats before tonight... against you. Right?"

     Sweeney nodded patiently. Christ, we’ve been all over this stuff already. He looked around him, the back of his head a rhythmic, dull pounding. It was a little eerie to sit in the Bag of Nails with it so quiet. He surveyed the skeletal remains of the evening: scattered bottles and glasses, bar stacked high with dirties and empties, the half-extinguished lights of the juke box glowing dimly. Joe Gilmore had turned the sound off at the bar but the machine still hummed while the turntable continued to spin. The lively Friday crowd was now a mem-ory less tangible than the smell of stale smoke.

     God, this place is a dump when there’s no music going on.

     The dark and dirty bar was now deserted save for the inspector, two more cops and Joe Gilmore, who still leaned behind the bar on his elbows watching the proceedings with an expression of total and undisguised distaste. The cops, one in uniform, one in civvies, were both young Asians who were trying to look comfortable in this alien cultural context. They had questioned Joe and Annie briefly, squaring accounts of the fight and the ejection of the trouble-maker. A good number of regulars had volunteered to put their two cents in, claiming a drunken scrap of the evening’s notoriety for themselves and occupying the police far longer than the collected information had warranted. All had been written down in the black leather notebooks. And now everyone else had gone home.

     "The deceased entered the bar, verbally assaulted you, then without provocation physically assaulted you, subsequently producing a knife with which he attacked you."

     "He didn’t ‘produce’ the knife. It fell out of his pocket as near as I can remember. And he didn’t try to stab me with it. He never got his hands on it. The bartender stopped the fight, like I told you, and out went Blayney."

     "And what happened to the knife afterwards? You didn’t pick it up?"

     "No, I was looking for my fiddle, which at the moment was the only thing on my mind. I haven’t the faintest clue who picked up the knife, but it wasn’t me. Besides, if I’d picked it up, wouldn’t I still have had it when you boys got here? I mean, you did search me after all."

     The inspector ignored the question. "Why didn’t you call the police immediately after the fight?"

     "I didn’t think of it. I guess I assumed that was the bar’s responsibility. Why don’t you ask Joe Gilmore?"

     The policeman continued. "You then stayed in the bar for approximately twenty minutes and then walked straight back to your car, alone." The inspector took in Sweeney’s eyes over the tops of his glasses frames.

     Sweeney nodded again wearily. A bone in his neck made a slight crunching noise as he moved. He was stiff and sore, as well as dog-tired.

     "And you had no idea that you had parked in front of the house occupied by the deceased."

     That had certainly been a surprise. "Are you kidding? You know you park where you can around here. That’s just a damn coincidence."

     "Mr. Sweeney, I don’t like coincidences." The inspector put his pencil down on the handwritten report and looked steadily at Sweeney, through his lenses this time.

     "Fine. Fine. I understand your problem, but that’s the way it happened, and that’s the way I’ve told you it happened. I can’t do anything else but tell you what happened the way it happened."

     Sweeney allowed a note of exasperation to creep into his voice. It was past one-thirty, after all, and he’d originally thought he’d do his civic duty and then be done with it. Now he was nearly finished telling his story to the last of how many policemen and this one, round and fatherly as he might be, was agoniz-ingly slow. Methodical, he was sure they’d say. He called it excruciating. A credit to the force, he was sure they’d say. The guy held his pencil like a third grader. The inspector read on from his notes.

     "You never touched the body or anything else. How is it you left a bloody hand print on the door handle of your car?"

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