Captain Marc Hamel was a notorious workaholic. He rarely left his office, but he knew about everything going on with everyone under his command.
He also had a well-known superpower. He had the uncanny ability to sense Detective Bruno’s presence whenever his star employee was in the general vicinity.
“I thought you were taking the long weekend,” Hamel said without looking up from the file that he studied like it contained the answers to the meaning of life.
Bruno had not even made it to his boss’ door when he heard the comment. It did not surprise the Detective that his Captain was addressing him when he wasn’t in the man’s line of sight.
“That ain’t never gonna stop freaking me out,” Bruno confessed as he leaned against the door frame.
“It’s your own fault, you know,” Hamel scolded him. “After all those years of unrelenting Star Wars jokes, I’ve finally developed the Force. And I’ve turned to the Dark Forces specifically to make your life a living hell, Detective Bruno.”
“The Dark Side,” Bruno corrected.
For all the Star Wars jokes made at his expense, Hamel had not taken the time to watch any of the movies. All he knew of them was what he picked up in dribs and drabs when he asked someone to explain one of the wisecracks.
“What’s that?” Hamel asked as he finally looked up from the file.
“Nothing, Boss,” Bruno mumbled. “I just gotta work on something personal. Do ya mind?”
A look of concern crossed Hamel’s face. “Is everything okay with Maggie?”
Bruno nodded. “Other than seeing ghosts, she’s great. This ain’t nothing major, just something for a curmudgeonly neighbor who demands my immediate attention.
Hamel chuckled. “I always pictured you as the curmudgeonly neighbor to the people in your neighborhood. If you want to work it, I’m not going to stand in your way.”
“Ya mind if I take the kid? It ain’t gonna take much time, but I got no interest in doing the crap work involved when I’m supposed to be on vacation.”
Hamel smiled. “That’s fine. But if you keep asking to work with Officer Wainwright, I’m going to have to assume you’d like him assigned to you permanently as a partner.”
“I ain’t gonna say nothing cuz I know you can just use the Force to read my mind,” Bruno quipped as he left the office.
Hamel shook his head and turned his attention back to his file.
Officer Wally Wainwright was thrilled to be pulled off foot patrol to work with his favorite Detective. Sure, Bruno rode him pretty hard and had a tendency to call him “Kid”, but he was also a great, albeit reluctant mentor, and they had become friends outside of the office.
Of course, their friendship had a lot to do with his new girlfriend’s hitting it off instantly with Maggie McGee, but Wally liked to think he was growing on Bruno.
Wally was even more excited to partner up with Bruno today because his body was still feeling the effects of all those after dinner drinks on Thanksgiving.
Drinks that had kept coming because Wally had refused to look like a wimp to his mentor, who also happened to be pouring the shots.
They were in Bruno’s car. The Detective always had to drive because he was a control freak, and because he didn’t trust anyone else with his life.
Wally had changed out of his uniform for this assignment, and felt more relaxed as a result. Even though he was relaxed, however, he knew to never let down his guard when working with Bruno.
“So we’re really looking for an inflatable Santa Claus?” Wally asked cautiously because he still thought that Bruno could be pulling his leg.
“Apparently whenever a corpse or a Santa Claus vanishes, I gotta partner up with you,” Bruno quipped.
Wally chuckled. He didn’t mind the dig because he knew that if he hadn’t lost that corpse, he might not be working with Bruno and absorbing his insults right now.
“Thanks for asking me to tag along.”
Bruno gave him one of his icy, raised eyebrow looks. “Don’t read too much into it, Kid. I ain’t thrilled to be looking for a giant balloon on my day off, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna do all the leg work. That’s where your overenthusiastic attitude factors into the equation.”
Wally chuckled and turned his head to enjoy the view. He cracked the window in hopes that the fresh air would do something for his pounding headache.
“You don’t look too bad given all the drinking we did last night,” the rookie observed.
It was Bruno’s turn to chuckle. “When ya decide to date an Irish lass who owns a bar, ya learn real quick that if ya wanna spend any time with her, ya gotta keep up with her in the drinking department.”
“Please don’t tell Michelle I shared this with you, but she had to call in sick today because she was so damn hungover.”
Bruno smiled like this news did not surprise him. “ADA Ambrose ain’t seem like the Bailey’s type. She got more a white wine spritzer kinda vibe.”
Wally nodded in agreement. “She really likes Maggie, though, so she’d do anything to impress her.”
Bruno was going to make a snarky comment about how that sounded a lot like someone else he knew, but he decided to hold his tongue. The kid had proven himself to be a more than adequate partner, so he’d earned the occasional reprieve from his constant wise ass comments.
“I gotta hunch the third time’s the charm,” Bruno said instead. “My gut says we’re gonna find these skateboard punks here.”
“And you’re sure these kids are the ones who stole Santa?” Wally asked because he had a knack to question everything.
Bruno shrugged. “I ain’t got no clue, but the grumpy old bastard who ruined my long weekend sure as hell gotta bug up his ass that these kids did it. The head dipshit is a punk named Kyle, and we both know anyone named Kyle’s gotta be either guilty, or just a total prick.”
Wally pulled a notepad and a pen out of his pocket. “I want to write that down. Can you repeat that gem about individuals named Kyle?”
Bruno flipped him the bird, but cracked a smile while doing so.
“Which one of you upstanding citizens is Kyle?” Bruno demanded as soon as he got out of the car.
His logic being that whichever one was Kyle was going to take off on his skateboard. Bruno wanted to be close to the car so he could chase him in it, while Wally got the privilege of running after him.
The kid in the Foo Fighters tee shirt grabbed his skateboard and took off without a word.
Wally sprinted after him, while Bruno jumped back into his car and sped off in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, the other punks scattered in all directions.
Wally, the former college football standout, was in excellent shape. Kyle might have had four wheels under him, but Wally had two long, strong legs and a set of lungs that didn’t even start to feel the burn until he hit about mile ten.
In other words, Kyle had no chance.
The chase lasted three blocks. Once Wally got within arm’s length of the skateboarder, he reached out and shoved the kid off the board.
Kyle went flying, did a couple of forward rolls, and came to a stop five feet from the grill of Bruno’s car.
The Detective stood next to his vehicle, and as soon as inertia had stopped playing games with the suspect, Bruno stepped forward so he looked directly down at the skateboarder.
“I’m Detective Bruno and that’s Officer Wainwright. I sure as hell hope you’re Kyle cuz otherwise, you’ve gone and ruined a nice pair of shorts for no good reason.”
Kyle looked down and noticed the tears in his shorts and the blood leaking from his knees and elbows.
Wally, who hadn’t broken a sweat and wasn’t even breathing hard, yanked the young man to his feet.
“What do you want?” Kyle asked in a panicked voice. “I didn’t do anything!”
“Then why did you run?” Wally challenged while giving him a little shake.
He had no immediate answer, and Bruno wasn’t about to waste his afternoon playing games, so he just cut to the chase.
“What did ya do with the Santa Claus you stole from old man Kroski’s lawn?” Bruno demanded.
“They send Detectives after stolen Christmas decorations?” Kyle questioned.
Wally gave him another shake.
“Do us all a favor, and fight your natural instinct to be an obnoxious prick,” Bruno advised. “I ain’t got no patience for nothing right now. Just give us the damn Santa and ya can go play Tony Hawk with the other dipshits for the rest of the afternoon.”
Kyle stared at Bruno with a confused look on his face, but fought the urge to make any of the dozens of snarky comments bouncing around in his possibly concussed brain.
Wally’s tightening grip on his shoulder also most likely contributed to the skateboarder’s decision to come clean with law enforcement.
“I don’t have it anymore,” he said.
Bruno sighed. That was not the answer he wanted. He really hoped the punk would have the Santa handy, so he could return it to his neighbor, and get back to his long weekend.
“What did ya do with it?” Bruno barked in frustration. “And why the hell are ya stealing giant Santa Claus balloons anyways?”
“Some guy offered me twenty bucks to steal Christmas decorations and bring them to him,” Kyle answered without any hesitation.
“We’re supposed to believe that?” Wally asked and squeezed the suspect’s shoulder tighter.
“Why would I make that up?” Kyle countered. “Why would I waste my time stealing something so stupid unless someone promised to pay me for it?”
Bruno’s words were not a request, and to Kyle’s credit, he picked up on that.
“I asked this dude to buy me beer the other night outside the Circle K,” he responded. “He came back with a counteroffer. I could make twenty bucks a pop stealing decorations, bringing them to him, and telling him the address.”
The story was too ridiculous to be made up as far as Bruno was concerned. And something about it set off some read flags.
“Who is this holiday entrepreneur?” Bruno asked as he realized his hopes for a long weekend were definitely down the drain now.
“His name’s Tex. He’s one of the Astro Cowboys.”
“How hard did you hit your head, son?” Wally asked. “What the hell is an Astro Cowboy?”
Bruno grinned, clearly pleased with his protégé’s line of questioning.
“I don’t know, but he made a big deal of bragging about it,” Kyle told him. “That’s all I know. Honest.”
“Where can I find Tex, the master criminal?” Bruno asked as he plotted out his next move.
“He lives in that old house on the corner of Wilson and Fifth, but he isn’t home until tomorrow. He told me not to bother bringing anything else by until then because he had some gig out of town.”
Bruno nodded at Wally to let go of the suspect.
“We’re gonna check out this story, Kyle, and if you ain’t telling the whole truth, you’re gonna wish you’d cracked open your skull when you fell off of your board. Am I clear?”
Kyle nodded emphatically.
“Get the hell outta here,” Bruno ordered. “And they’re ain’t better be no more Santas vanishing in my neighborhood. Understand?”
Kyle grabbed his skateboard, and ran off before he could answer, or Bruno could threaten him again.
“Do you really think it’s safe to send him out into the world bleeding and with a possible head injury?” Wally asked.
“I ain’t his mother,” Bruno grumbled. “But maybe we should look her up, and arrest her for doing such a horrible damn job of raising him.”
Wally shrugged. He was okay with that if Bruno was.
“You don’t want to hold him on burglary charges?” Wally asked knowing full well he could still chase down the skateboarder if Bruno changed his mind.
“Ain’t no point,” Bruno shrugged. “We lock him up, we tip off whoever the hell else is involved. And my damn gut tells me this ain’t just about some vanishing Santa.”
Wally nodded because he knew by now not to question Bruno’s famous gut.
“So what’s our next move?”
“Let’s figure out what the hell an Astro Cowboy is, and why he’s got a hard on for stolen Christmas decorations.”
Wally watched Kyle skate off down the block until he was finally out of sight. Satisfied that the suspect had survived his watch, Wally made his way over to the car.
TO BE CONTINUED…
If you need another fix of Detective Bruno, and can’t wait for the next installment of this serial, you can read The Vanishing Corpse. That 22 part serial, which first introduced the world to Detective Bruno, is available only on The Return of the Modern Philosopher blog.