Off-Duty

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Christopher Glenman


At about half-past midnight, David Gannon leaned out over the rail from the top of the pedestrian ramp that provided access to the platform of Tyrell Street Station. To anyone watching, he might have appeared to be doing what any good detective would do—taking advantage of his elevated vantage point to get a feel for the crime scene he was about to enter.

What he was actually doing was stalling for time.

Forty-five minutes earlier, he’d been woken from a shallow sleep by his phone, fidgeting around like a dying fly on his nightstand. It was set to silent, but the impatient vibration that signalled an incoming call was always loud enough to wake him.

“Hello?”

“Detective Gannon?”

“Yes?”

“It’s happened again.”

“Oh God. Not Gut-Man?”

“Yes.”

“Jesus Christ.”

Gut-Man was the cute moniker the newspapers had invented, but pretty soon everyone internal to the case had started calling him that too. It had an ironically superhero-type ring to it that might have almost been funny if it wasn’t so tragically apt. Gut-Man, the anti-hero. Gut-Man, the elusive. Gut-Man the bringer of writhing, unpleasant nightmares to every poor uniformed cop or detective or forensic investigator who’d ever had to attend a crime scene exposing them to the visceral works of Gut-Man.

 

The first thing Gannon observed when he stepped onto the platform was that there was only one train present, sitting silent and still. The tell-tale fluorescent glow from the first carriage told him that the investigating team had commenced work already. It was going to be a long night. A familiar face stepped from the passenger door of the carriage and approached.

“Hello Anthony.”

“David.”

“You’re coordinating here?”

“Yep.”

“Good. I feel better already.”

“You won’t in a minute.”

“What do you mean?”

For a second his expression changed—a flinch—then returned to normal. Unreadable. “We’ve got a witness.”

“Huh? What are you saying? Someone saw the guy?”

“He was there David. He was on the train. While it happened.”

“My God! Is he okay?”

“He’s not harmed, if that’s what you mean.”

“Have you talked to him yet?”

“Actually, we were waiting for you.”

Detective Gannon’s reputation for obtaining vital information was well deserved. Getting details from people is a difficult job at the best of times. Gannon regularly got reliable facts out of people who’d witnessed terrifying crimes. Rapes. Murders. It was a delicate balance—building a comfortable rapport and trust without being outwardly supportive or sympathetic. Let your witness collapse into a blubbering, weepy mess and you risk walking away with nothing useful.

“So you haven’t even got a description?”

“He didn’t see a thing.”

“What? I thought you just said he saw the whole thing?”

“I said he was there. I didn’t say he saw anything.”

“How is that possible?”

“See for yourself.”

David followed Anthony’s gaze. A short man and a dog stood facing the tracks at the far end of the platform. The man faced forward impassively, like he might have just been waiting for a train. David squinted into the dimness at the pair. He’d seen that breed of dog before. What was it? A Labrador?

“My God, he’s blind.”

“Bingo.”

 

The man’s dark sunglasses looked quite out of place on the dimly lit platform. His hands clenched tightly around the harness as Gannon approached. Despite the company, he looked very small and alone, clinging to the dog like a life-raft. Lost at sea.

David announced his approach.

“Sir, I’m Detective David Gannon. I was hoping to ask you a few questions. Can we sit down a moment? I just need a few minutes of your time right now. The rest we can do tomorrow.”

“Yes. Of course.”

David guided him to one of the rudimentary bench seats bolted into the stone wall that backed the platform, and pulled a pen and notepad from his inside pocket. “Sir, what should I call you?”

“My name’s Karl Bear.”

“Bear?”

“That’s spelt B-A-E-R”, and that’s Karl with a K.”

“Karl, straight up, is there anything you could tell us that might make it easy for us to identify this guy?”

“Well there’s probably a lot I could tell you. I was there, remember.”

“Yes, but—”

“You think I’m not that useful because I didn’t see anything?”

“Not at all Mr. Baer. I’m not suggesting—”

“But what you’d most like is a physical description.”

“Well, ideally, but—”

“Well, I can tell you he’s tall.”

“How would you know that Mr. Baer?”

“His footsteps. The weight of them. The pace of his walk.”

“Well, how tall would you say?”

“Same as you maybe. What are you, six-foot-two?”

“Very good. You got that just from hearing me approach?”

“Mainly. The timbre of your voice also.”

“On the train, did you hear him speak?”

“No. I heard him get up. He was sitting right near at first.

“Okay.”

“He has the beginnings of a beard also. Like a three-day growth.”

“Really? I’m sorry again Mr. Baer, but how….”

“I heard him rub his face. It was definitely bristly.”

“Are you sure? I mean, could have been the hair on his arm? Or the sound of rubbing a jacket?”

“I’ve been blind all my life Detective. Trust me.”

“But there was someone else in the carriage of course.”

“Yes. A woman. She was wearing high heels. Stilettos?”

“Karl, listen, this useful stuff you’re giving me, and I’d like to ask you some more questions. Do you mind if I examine the scene a few minutes before I ask any further questions?”

“Go ahead.”

Detective Gannon was no stranger to murder. He took his cues from the forensic guys that processed the scene, and tried to behave accordingly. They seemed to possess a Zen-like professional detachment that allowed them to remain sharp and observant, despite the horrors they were exposed to in their everyday work. However, since the Gut-man murders began, everyone was looking spooked. Grim.

He didn’t want to look.

She was perhaps 18. Much of what belonged inside of her abdomen was spilling onto the floor of the carriage through a zigzagging opening in her side. Gannon looked at her face, and audibly gasped. Her eyes were wide, but opaque, as if the retina had been removed somehow. “Oh God! Why? What… What did he do to her eyes?”

“Yes I know. That’s what I asked myself at first, but then I realized, he didn’t. She’s actually blind. Probably has been since birth. What are the chances of that? Her and the witness.”

“Oh no!”

“What is it, Detective?”

Gannon rushed for the open door and launched himself out into the night. From the shadows, a Labrador retriever padded slowly towards him, with that same grim, haunted look he’d been seeing everywhere lately.

“Isn’t that his dog? Where’d he go, though?” asked a voice somewhere behind him.

Gannon said nothing. The Labrador licked his hand, and then sat down at his feet, resting its chin on his shoe. Detective David Gannon flopped down weakly next to it on the asphalt, rubbing his fingers through the soft fur on its neck.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to pat guide dogs when they’re working. They get confused.”

“This one’s off-duty.”
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“I am an ex-foreign language teacher who now works in a technical role in the IT industry. I have written a number of short stories several of which have been published in user-moderated online communities. I would consider writing as a hobby.” E-mail: zombieholly[at]hotmail.com

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