The Vanishing Corpse, Part 21

“How did you track down this guy anyway?” Wally asked Bruno as they walked along the river path on their way to the chess boards.

“Good old fashioned detective work.  You should try it,” Bruno quipped.

“Not so easy to do when you’re stuck at a desk, cold calling every medical provider in the city,” Wally shot back with an attitude that he wouldn’t have dared tried back when this case began.

“Aww.  You ain’t gonna cry, are ya, kid?” Bruno teased as he made a play of checking all his pockets.  “I ain’t got my hanky with me, so you’re gonna have to hold back those tears.”

Wally rolled his eyes while Bruno had his laugh.

“Seriously, though, how did you do it,” Wally insisted.  “I am trying to learn from you, so I’d like to know the process if that’s not too much to ask.”

Bruno suddenly heard Maggie’s voice in his head, insisting that he mentor, rather than mock Wally.

“We had a nickname and a coupla distinguishing features,” Wally explained.  “That ain’t enough for some fancy database, but it’s plenty for the heart and soul of every police department: the beat cop.”

Wally smiled since he was a member of that fraternity.

“The first officer I asked knew our guy, and remembered he was a big time chess player,” Bruno continued.  “Look, I know you wanna learn, but I don’t wanna spook this guy.  I’m gonna ask you to hang back, but it ain’t because I’m looking to bench you or nothing.”

Wally nodded in understanding.  “I totally get it.  I’ll just shut up and be the muscle.”

short story, detective, mystery, Modern PhilosopherBruno waited at the table with the first chess board, while Wally sat on the bench that overlooked the river.

Champ, pushing an overloaded shopping cart, eventually emerged from the tunnel and looked up at Bruno with a smile.

“You looking for a game?” Champ asked hopefully.

When Bruno nodded, the homeless man clapped in excitement, and then pushed his cart up the hill.  He parked it underneath the tree behind the chess boards, and sat down across from Bruno.

“My name’s Champ,” he introduced himself and extended his hand.

Bruno shook it.  “I’m Bruno.  Looks like it’s your move.”

Champ nodded, and without hesitation, moved one of his pawns.

“That’s some cart you got,” Bruno observed as he considered his move.

“You know that show MASH?” Champ asked.  “That cart’s my MASH unit: Mobile All-purpose for Surviving Homelessness.”

Champ howled with laughter, and Bruno snickered as he made his move.

“Does that make you Hawkeye or Trapper John?” Bruno wondered.

“More like Klinger!” Champ answered and let out another loud laugh.  “Do I know you?  You look really familiar.”

Champ made his move without even looking at board.  It was like second nature to him.

Bruno shrugged.  “I ain’t no one special. Just got one of them faces.  And speaking of faces, with that nose and a name like Champ, I’d peg you for a former boxer.”

Bruno made his move and then looked expectantly at his foe.

“Former Gold Gloves champ,” Champ announced as he captured one of Bruno’s pawns.  “Would’ve gone pro, but I broke my hand, got a little too friendly with painkillers during my recovery, and then ended up living on the street after a couple of lengthy stints in the state penitentiary.  Ironically, I learned how to play this wonderful game while incarcerated.”

Bruno took his time to make a move, and Champ quickly countered before Bruno had even removed his hand from his piece.

“All that time in the system gave me a nose, pun totally intended, for spotting a cop or two,” Champ revealed with a chuckle.  “Your friend can join us if he wants.  He looks lonely over there.”

Wally turned to Bruno for direction, and when the detective nodded, Wally hustled over to sit on the bench at the second chess board.

Bruno removed his gold shield from his pocket, and placed it next to the board.

“Ain’t looking to jam you up, and I apologize for the subterfuge, but I had to get a read on you before I announced who I was,” Bruno stated calmly.  “This is Officer Wainwright.  He’s been working on a case with me, and we’re hoping you can tie up some loose ends.”

“Sure,” Champ replied with a shrug.  “It’s your move, though.”

While Bruno pondered his move, “We need to know about Charlie White…”

The look on Champ’s face revealed that he had not seen that question coming.

“I’m thinking Charlie started coming here on his lunch breaks to clear his head, and to mull over a sudden life change that got kinda overwhelming,” Bruno continued.  “Maybe you saw him, knew he needed a friend, and took him under your wing by teaching him chess?”

Bruno finally made a move, and this time, Champ didn’t counter immediately.

“I’ve always been good at reading people,” Champ confessed.  “Chess got me through jail and the loss of my career, so I hoped it could do the same for Charlie.”

Bruno nodded and Champ made his move.

“So you knew he was dying,” Bruno concluded.  “And he was struggling with what to do…”

Vanishing CorpseBruno went to make a move, and Champ subtly shook his head.  Bruno smiled slightly, moved his hand to another piece, and moved that one instead.

“I wouldn’t say he struggled,” Champ filled in more of the blanks.  “At first, he was depressed, in shock, at a loss for words.  He was hopeful he could fight it, but once he came to terms with the fact that the cancer was going to win, he made up his mind to make the most of his last few months.”

Bruno nodded in understanding, and took a quick glance over at Wally, who gave him a nod to indicate that he truly appreciated watching a master at work.

“So you two got close, maybe you benefited from Charlie’s Robin Hood exploits, and he counted on you to help him carry out his final wishes?”

At this point, the men abandoned the game altogether to focus on the conversation.

“Do you have any idea what happens to the homeless when they die?” Champ asked.

Both Bruno and Wally shook their heads.

“If no one claims the body, and there’s no money to pay for a burial, the body gets cremated.  Then the ashes sit around in a box to see if anyone will claim them.  When nobody does, the boxes get buried in a potter’s field.  No markings.  Just a sad patch of land that the city couldn’t find another use for.”

“Charlie didn’t want to go out that way,” Champ continued as tears welled up in his eyes.  “He wasn’t super religious, but he grew up in St. Sebastian’s parish, believed in Heaven, and worried he’d get stuck in Purgatory if he didn’t receive a proper burial on hallowed ground.”

“He knew that crooked realtor was paying you to crash in the parking lot, so when Charlie realized the time had come, he got himself there, knowing you’d take care of things,” Bruno laid it out for Champ to put the finishing touches on the story.

Wally leaned forward, hanging on every word.

“I wasn’t there yet, so he died alone,” Champ sighed.  “I’ll never forgive myself for that.  When I did arrive, your partner was already there, and I really thought I’d blown it.  If Charlie got taken away to the morgue, there was no way I’d be able to keep my promise to him.  Luckily, your officer went to search the area, which gave me my opportunity.”

“You see, kid?” Bruno asked as he turned to Wally.  “Maybe you didn’t screw up after all.”

Wally just blushed slightly, and thought it wise to keep his mouth shut.

“But what did you do with the body, and how did you get it out of there?” Bruno finally asked the question that had been bothering him for the longest time.

Champ grinned wildly and pointed to the shopping cart behind him.  “My MASH unit can handle absolutely anything.  And who’s going to stop a homeless guy wandering the streets in the middle of the night, especially when he’s carrying on a heated conversation with the voices in his head?”

Bruno let out a long chuckle.

Wally could no longer keep quiet.  He had to ask.  “What did you do with the body?”

Champ tapped the top of his King with his index finger as he allowed the question to hang in the air.  The old man was savoring the moment.

“Did you know that cemeteries dig the grave the night before a funeral?” he finally answered.  “That way, the grieving don’t arrive to see it being dug.  They leave the dirt and the shovels right there next to hole, though, so they can fill it once the coffin is lowered and the loved ones leave.”

Wally looked confused, but Bruno’s face lit up in appreciation.

“Charlie had the sense to die the night before a funeral, didn’t he?” Bruno asked.

Champ nodded.  “I’m saying it was the Fates smiling on him for all the good karma he put out into the world in those final months of his life.  I lowered him into the ground, said a prayer, and covered him with enough dirt so that the cemetery crew would be none the wiser in the morning.”

“Wait!” Wally insisted as he stood up to get Champ’s attention.  “Are you saying you put Charlie’s body in a grave meant for someone else, and then they buried the plot’s rightful owner on top of him?”

“That’s right,” Champ concurred.

“And you just rolled the body through the front gate of the cemetery in your shopping cart?” Wally sought clarification.

“Sure,” Champ answered.  “Why would they lock the gates?  It’s not like they’re worried the bodies are going to get up and walk out.

Bruno laughed at the explanation.  A stunned Wally just shook his head and sat down.

“It sounds like you granted your friend’s last request,” Bruno summarized.  “Do you mind taking us to Charlie’s final resting place so we can put this case to rest?”

“Not a problem, Detective,” Champ replied, “but do you think we can finish our game first?”

“Sure,” Bruno complied.  “Something tells me this ain’t gonna take long…”

TO BE CONTINUED…

About Austin

Native New Yorker who's fled to the quiet life in Maine. I write movies, root for the Yankees, and shovel lots of snow.
This entry was posted in Humor and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Vanishing Corpse, Part 21

  1. kristianw84 says:

    It all makes sense now, but I’ve gotten used to your writing, so I’m guessing there’s another twist coming in the next installment…

    Either way, this is perfection, and I hung onto every word! Nicely done, as always, Austin!

  2. davidprosser says:

    Even at this point your characters hold it together while they give, and get, what they want. the storyline has been fantastic, the characters have been (are) brilliant, and I’d love to meet them again now we’ve been introduced. Well done Austin.
    Hugs

  3. markbialczak says:

    Genius at work in many ways. Great stuff, Austin.

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