Bruno went for a long drive whenever he needed to think. Or clear his head. Or couldn’t sleep. Truth be told, long drives were something of a cure all for the detective.
After the meeting with ADA Ambrose, he’d congratulated Wally for getting information that he was sure she never would have shared with him. Then he’d told the kid to go home. They’d both been at it for close to thirty-six hours and needed rest.
Bruno had wanted to hang out with Maggie, but the bar was too busy for her to slip away. Stupid drinkers always had to be thirsty after work. So predictable.
So he’d taken his beloved ’67 Mustang for a spin. Everyone knew Bruno loved Mustangs, but only a select few were aware that the classic he was currently driving had been purchased with the signing bonus he’d received from the New York Yankees when they’d drafted him right out of high school.
But that was a different life, when he’d lived on a different coast, and had chased strikeout records and ERA titles instead of bad guys. Bruno kept the tales of those days safely locked away, just like he did the Mustang. He only took it out of storage on special occasions, like when a case really gnawed at him, and he needed all that horsepower at his disposal in order to help him process the facts.
ADA Ambrose had given him so much to consider, and he needed to work it all out in his head without anyone else around…especially not an ambitious rookie eager to impress him.
Bruno never had a particular destination in mind when he set out in the Mustang, and tonight had been no different. However, he soon found himself in a very familiar place.
He parked the car at the curb, and walked over to the spot in the parking lot where the kid had last seen the corpse. He had been so lost in thought, that he hadn’t noticed the woman with the dog until she was right next to him.
“I’m glad the police are finally taking this seriously,” she said to snap him out of his trance.
The dog barked just once, as if to say hello to Bruno, and then turned his full attention to sniffing the asphalt.
“I’m sorry?” Bruno asked. “Taking what seriously?”
“The homeless problem,” she replied like the answer should be obvious. “There aren’t any here tonight, thankfully, so I guess I should thank you for driving them off.”
Bruno raised an eyebrow. “How’d ya know I was a cop?”
The woman snickered. “Come on. Look at you.”
She smiled like it was meant as a compliment. Bruno finally smiled, too.
“I’m Detective Bruno. And you are?”
“Karen. That’s all I’d like to disclose, though. I’m a concerned citizen, but I don’t want to get caught up in any official investigation, or have the homeless folks targeting me or my house for any sort of retribution.”
Bruno nodded like this all made sense, and something in his gut told him that what Karen had to say was related to his case.
“Tell me more about the homeless problem,” he asked politely. “Ain’t exactly the Ritz. Why crash here when the park is only a coupla blocks away?”
The dog wandered over to sniff Bruno’s shoe, didn’t seem to like the scent, and went back to the delightful smells of the asphalt.
“Didn’t make much sense to me, either, but every night I would see two or three of them camped out when I walked Gunther. They’d be gone the next morning, but something about them being here unnerved me. I live across the street, and I was always worried they were going to break into my house.”
Bruno nodded and pulled out his phone. He found Charlie White’s mug shot and showed it to her. “Was this one of the guys?”
Karen gave it a look and shrugged. “It’s hard to tell because they all look the same. Not to sound like I’m promoting stereotypes, but they were all dirty and bundled up. Hard to discern any distinguishing features.”
Bruno got what she meant, and tucked his phone in his pocket.
“Still don’t make sense,” Bruno remarked as he kicked at the ground, but not too close to Gunther’s nose. “Can’t be comfortable to sleep on blacktop.”
“Here’s the crazy thing,” Karen offered. “One morning I saw one of the guys leaving, and I don’t know what possessed me, but I walked right up to him and asked him why he chose to sleep in this particular parking lot. Guess what he told me…”
Bruno shrugged. “Haven’t gotta clue.”
“He said some rich guy gave him a hundred bucks to sleep out here, and told him he’d give him another hundred every week if he kept coming back and brought some friends.”
This Bruno found very intriguing. “And you’re sure it wasn’t the guy in the photo?”
“Definitely,” Karen assured him. “This guy was older, which I could tell because his hair was long and white, and he walked stooped over. He also had a very distinct nose. Looked like it had been broken and reset incorrectly. The guy in your photo has a straight nose.”
“That he did,” Bruno quipped.
The bog barked.
“That means Gunther’s got to do his business, and he’s embarrassed to do it in front of strangers,” she explained. “Thanks again for clearing the homeless away.”
She smiled, so Bruno smiled.
He watched her walk away, and then closed his eyes to process everything she had just told him. Then he fished the keys out of his pocket because he was definitely going to need another long drive to make sense of what he was sure was pertinent information.
TO BE CONTINUED…