Crossing the room was tough going for the galaxy-sized man. At least five seconds to transit the Briggs Investigative Group threshold. Vinnie Briggs’s finger drummed impatiently. He had thirty minutes, forty-five tops, for this unscheduled meeting. It was likely that half that time would be spent waiting for Gunter Hoffman to reach the guest chair.
Gunter swayed, legs spread to avoid chafing his massive inner thighs. The exaggerated bodybuilder’s walk was usually a ruse to impress gawkers, but in Gunter’s case the spread was genuine. And if he didn’t do pretense for run-of-the-mill anthropoids, then he either had something to say or something to hide.
Three hundred and forty pounds of muscle and bone was incongruous in the modern office. But so too was Vinnie’s tasteful male prints alongside his official New York State private detective license—but not as much if he had mounted the homoerotic graphics that adorned his home office walls.
With bulwark jaw and bunched brow, Gunter delivered a draggy dirge of death while Vinnie scribbled on a notepad. Nothing made sense, at least not what he gleaned from his notes. In the entire twenty minutes not a single word suggested Gunter required investigative services. If the gargantuan man with more muscles than seemed possible to fit onto one body didn’t reveal a serious crime soon, Vinnie was prepared to commit one just to end the interview.
Gunter took a prolonged inhale. His fifty-gallon chest wrapped the room, making a Christo installation an underachievement. “I should have called the cops, but I didn’t.”
“What for?” asked Vinnie, who regurgitated Gunter’s main point or rather his non-point. “You saw two guys carrying someone to a car. So? Was he drunk?”
Gunter’s lips twisted.
Either his balls are bunching up or he’s straining to think, thought Vinnie, who himself was straining to avoid throwing his pen into Gunter’s face. He chose to hurl it onto his desk.
“A mugging? Murder?”
Gunter jolted upright.
“Or just friends helping their drunk buddy? If that’s a crime then a significant proportion of New Yorkers should be behind bars.” Vinnie’s flailing hands matched his rapid speech.
Gunter twitched. “They were carrying him. It didn’t look right.”
Vinnie groaned. “Then why didn’t you call the cops?”
Spread lips camouflaged Vinnie’s disgust. He’d heard too often the disingenuous “dunno” excuse, which he labeled “The Dunno Defense.” Pure bullshit. Clients, especially the guilty ones, knew the truth but put the onus on the PI to ferret out the answers.
Gunter’s gut-spilling amounted to nothing more than around midnight he’d seen two men pick another off the sidewalk and shove him into a black town car.
“And where was this again?”
“Sakura Park. You know it?”
“The one near your place?”
“Yeah, Upper West Side with Grant’s Tomb.”
Vinnie nodded. Most New Yorkers knew that President Grant was buried somewhere near the Hudson River but most didn’t know the name of the park. And Vinnie was certain almost no one knew it was near Gunter’s home.
“So how much did you see?”
“Not much. I was about forty or fifty yards from the street, and with the shrubs and iron fence my view was blocked. I didn’t even see the whole car, not until it drove by.”
Vinnie Briggs did as he did with all the Briggs Investigative Group (BIG) clients—he made circles with smiley faces on his pad, sometimes adding a mop of curly hair. When really bored, he drew triangles. As founder and chief private investigator of BIG, scribbling impressed corporate clients, luring them to believe he thought everything they said mattered. It really didn’t, but it stroked the egos of self-important blowhards with noses stuck so high they rubbed snot on his ceiling.
Gunter wasn’t a real client either—he was in the cracks between freebie and paying customer since Ben Hausen, Vinnie’s husband, covered expenses. The reason was simple—Ben trained Gunter. And the real reason Vinnie didn’t like this freebie, if he was honest with himself, was jealousy. Not that he thought Ben and Gunter were doing it behind his back, but they were doing it metaphorically or something like that. Ben spent more time with Gunter than with Vinnie. Fuckin’ bodybuilder stuff and contests. Bullshit, like this story.
Gunter paused, and Vinnie pushed his notepad aside. Among interview rules Vinnie gleaned from studying a PI handbook, the best thing to do during pauses is to wait. Let the client fill the silence. After all, nature abhors a vacuum.
Vinnie waited, checking the rise and fall of Gunter’s brow lines for signs of outright lying or spinning a tall tale. Gunter’s eyes seemed divorced from his thick black eyebrows.
“Did they see you?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so.”
“I mean they didn’t look me in the eye.”
“And they say something? Ask for help or threaten you?”
“Nah. I mean one guy waved a knife at me.”
Vinnie groaned. “That’s a threat. And it means he saw you. You sure he didn’t say anything?”
“No, just waved the knife.”
Vinnie bowed his head and touched his brow. Most people would run seeing a knife bandied about, but when you’re Gunter’s size running is not an option and is pretty much unnecessary. Who charges a bear with only a knife? Gunter was leaving out too much.
“Let’s go back to the start, to the first moment you saw something.”
“Like I told you, a guy on the ground was being picked up.”
“No, you didn’t tell me.”
“Nothing. The second guy drove up in the car and the first guy whistled. The two lifted the one on the ground and carried him to the car.”
“Wait. That means only one picked the guy up in the park. Is that right?”
“Uh, yeah. I guess. But he whistled and the other came out of the car to help.”
Vinnie’s eyes closed to picture the scene. Midnight darkness, the August tree leaves blocking streetlamps, no one around, and empty streets. Why didn’t the men go after Gunter, the sole witness to the crime? If it was a crime then Gunter was the only witness, and it sounded like a crime to Vinnie. Did Gunter’s size frighten them? Didn’t they have guns? Who commits a crime these days without a gun? Kids in school carry guns. Every criminal has an arsenal.
Vinnie hummed while thinking about what he’d have done, or any sensible person for that matter. It was obvious but before he asked Gunter said, “I didn’t have my cell with me.”
Vinnie rested an elbow on his desk, rubbed his chin, then stood with his head against the window to look out on lower Central Park. The bright blue sky proclaimed a glorious August morning. Gunter rocked. The chair legs creaked. Vinnie made a mental note to ask Blanca, his assistant, to order a new chair because this one would soon break at this rate. Something sturdier too, if Gunter was going to continue as a client.
Vinnie’s next question was a follow-up to Gunter’s previous preemptive answer. “And when you got home did you call 911?”
Gunter folded his double-barrel, fully loaded arms, the bulging guns straining the shirt seams. Vinnie waited, the silent pause longer than the last. Even Gunter’s chair legs stopped creaking.
“They’ll find you and ask. You know that, right?”
“The cops. Once they find the body.”
Vinnie stared at Gunter’s frozen, inanimate block-head processing the last comment.
“They’ll check cameras at the scene and around the neighborhood. Columbia has their own campus security cameras too.”
Even Vinnie doubted what he said. Didn’t matter as long as Gunter believed it.
Gunter’s brutish face, shyness, stilted speech, and humongous size made him a credible suspect or accomplice, more so than the average-sized person. But the lame responses might actually work in Gunter’s favor, might help the cops buy his story as so dumb as to be believable, take him off the person-of-interest list.
“And if they don’t find the guy?” asked Gunter.
The astute question surprised Vinnie. There were several scenarios that Vinnie winged and revised as he explained. There weren’t many possibilities, just small variations. Vinnie concluded that only one answer had merit, the original supposition—eventually the body would lie on a morgue slab because the people who committed this crime were not professionals so wouldn’t know how to dispose of a body.
“You’ll have to file a report,” said Vinnie. “It gives you an alibi.”
“Why do I need one? I didn’t do nothing.”
Vinnie moaned, revising his earlier “Dunno Defense” to the “I Did Nothing Defense.”
“Look Gunter, I’ve been here myself. All sorts of things can happen. Even before the body gets discovered, a friend or family member will file a missing person’s report, unless the guy’s homeless or a mobster. But that seems unlikely. And if the guy’s important, then the cops will look harder.”
“Uh… and so?” asked Gunter.
“And when they find this murdered person, the friend or family will identify as many people associated with the murdered man as possible, including you.”
“But I don’t know the guy.”
“You sure? Maybe you ran into him at UltraFit. Or on campus. Even if he didn’t talk to you and you don’t remember him, he probably told his friends about you.”
“I never met him, I’m sure of it,” said Gunter, his tone defensive.
Frustrated, Vinnie went into a longer explanation about murder investigations. The casting of wide nets so what seemed small or trivial became significant. He didn’t want to argue but Gunter wasn’t getting it. Was he hiding information or did he truly not know the guy or remember meeting him? “Maybe a photo of the dead man will jog your memory,” Vinnie offered. Gunter insisted it wouldn’t. Vinnie held back his real belief that Gunter knew the man and the reason he wanted advice was to learn how to cover his tracks.
“Look, you saw a murder. Deal with it,” said Vinnie angrily, “and—”
Gunter unfolded his arms, his hands cupped over his ears stopping Vinnie from completing his sentence. The hands appeared to force the head to nod in agreement.
Vinnie finished his sentence. “…and who did this will determine the dumping location. This is too sloppy to be a professional hit, so the body will be discovered sooner rather than later.”
Gunter’s fingers linked across his chest. “I screwed up, didn’t I?”
Vinnie looked at the wall clock. This would not be a forty-five-minute favor, it looked like it would take a half-day. Gunter had just become a client. Doing this favor was proving a fuckin’ mistake. Vinnie called Blanca on the intercom requesting she reschedule the next meeting—a corporate high-tech client paying above the standard BIG fee for premium service to take over the in-house espionage surveillance.
“Fuckin’ mistake,” Vinnie muttered looking over at Gunter, a typical bodybuilder who spent his entire day pumping iron. His drooping eyes and slack narrative reeked of complicity to a murder, not that he believed Gunter was the killer. He was trying out a cover story. Vinnie maintained a weak smile while surveying Gunter’s bulging mass, and his oversized cranium mixing facts with fairytale crap.
“One more time,” said Vinnie while thinking, if I’m going to help him fabricate I might as well be sure of the details.
“How much longer? I’m missing my morning session.”
“I saw him as I turned the bend,” said Gunter, spewing out his words.
There was no answer.
“Words, a cry, sentences… you know, the kind of things people do to communicate.”
“Uh… not that I remember. I’m not sure.”
“So two guys carry a body out of Sakura Park late at night. One guy had a knife and waved it at you. Is that about right?”
“Yeah, I think so. Maybe the knife was sticking out of the man.”
Nothing infuriated Vinnie more than having a story change as it was being told.
“I thought you said the men carrying the body waved it at you. Which is it?”
“He did. Maybe he pulled it out and waved it. Or from the car. I can’t remember.”
This isn’t helping, thought Vinnie. “Are you sure two men put another man in the trunk of a private town limo? Is that still true?”
“And the men didn’t say anything? That’s still true?”
“Hey, it’s all true,” said Gunter, his voice rising, “I don’t lie.”
Vinnie grinned, thinking, Yeah, just like every other liar in the world. Without liars I’d be out of business.
Gunter rubbed his nose and drip-fed details. “I think I heard the men yelling to each other… I mean their voices but not the words, I think they sounded foreign.”
“And the man they were carrying, did he say anything?”
A rise of Gunter’s chin made it seem he didn’t understand the question.
“What about clothing? Any special kind of jeans, sneakers, a sweatshirt?”
“Yeah, the sweatshirt looked like the Columbia colors. And maybe blood.”
Not good. His story’s jumbled. Vinnie looked around the room.
“By the time I was on the path they were at the car.”
“But you were close enough to see the vehicle and two men.”
“Yeah, but… I don’t know. I mean…” His blocky chin gave a slight shiver, a finger swiped at his eye.
A smile hung from Vinnie’s lips. He should pity Ben for having to spend so much time with this babbling blockhead. And unattractive. A construction crew would have trouble fixing his cinderblock face. Ben definitely went for good-looking men. And while Ben was no fashionista, he didn’t like sloppy dress. Zero intellectual curiosity was also a turn-off.
Vinnie knew Gunter wasn’t stupid, but he didn’t radiate brilliance either. He’d give him points for being polite, friendly, empathetic, and he had a dry sense of humor. Probably not gay, but Vinnie knew gaydar didn’t exist so couldn’t rule it out. Maybe Gunter was at the park for a tryst and came across the scene.
“Let me look into it, see what I can find out,” said Vinnie, leaning over and tapping Gunter’s shoulder.
As if stirred from sleep, Gunter rose, filling the three-dimensional space with his four-dimensional body. Momentum propelled him to the exit.
“Hey,” called out Vinnie, “I don’t think you should worry. We’ll check hospitals and police reports.”
Gunter stopped, ducking under the office doorway’s lintel and missing it by inches as Vinnie called out.
“Wait for my call. Pump as much as you want. We’ll know enough before you’ve added another five pounds of muscle to your body.” A chalked grin smeared Vinnie’s face.
“I’m no longer in the mood. I’ll catch the subway on Fifty-ninth and Columbus Circle and go home,” Gunter said.
Vinnie watched the man who was six feet three inches in all directions decide to miss a session. A first. Now to wrap this up and return to paying clients. Shouldn’t take long, he thought.
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