(A Rik Strand mystery)
Some cops police with their heads, and some cops are gut cops. Strand was a gut cop. He was all gut.
It was Strand’s gut that told him that was no ordinary road traffic accident. Cars don’t just fall apart like that. Not by themselves. Not in his town.
It was his gut that told him there was something off about the stiff. The guy’s face was all messed up. Whatever happened to his nose was real ugly.
And it was Strand’s gut that brought him here, to the part of town they called the Circus – and a two-bit motel called the Big Top.
The dame on the front desk wore a faded leotard and a face like a satchel. Strand flashed his badge and she jabbed towards the stairs with a half-sucked Lucky Strike.
Outside the stiff’s room Strand adjusted his belt. He rearranged his pants so his gut could hang free. Give it room. Among cops Strand was known for his gut.
He turned the key and stepped forward. As he went through the door there was a sound. Something flew at him. He yelled and struck out, his legs flexing and his arms whirling in front of his face. But there was no one there. Just tiny pieces of coloured paper showering to the floor, and a bucket flopping noisily against the door frame.
Strand called out, “Police.” But there was no answer. His gut told him the room was empty. The victim’s room.
Strand began to take it in. He’d never seen a circular bedroom before. It reminded him of a boxing ring – only round. The second thing he noticed was the paint job. Primary colours, lots of them. The room had been decorated all over with huge pictures of balloons – red, blue, yellow ballons all over the walls and ceiling.
The floor was something else. Strand’s gut told him it was significant. The texture was strange and he knelt to touch it. The scent of pine filled Strand’s nostrils. It was loose. It was sawdust. The entire floor was sawdust.
He crossed to a large dressing table. Above it a mirror floated in a halo of lightbulbs. The stiff seemed to like makeup. Disgusted, Strand picked up a jar and unscrewed the lid. There was a whistling noise and a blur of orange. A plastic snake flew across the room.
Strand’s eyes fell on the bed. It was long and yellow and looked like a banana. Strings of helium balloons floated at each corner. Beneath the bed a pair of shoes. He picked them up. They were black and narrow and maybe a yard long. The dead guy sure had big feet.
He went to a large double wardrobe and pulled it open. Wigs. A whole shelf of bright, curly wigs. And bow ties. Sparkling, shining bow ties. On the rail beneath flopped a row of polka-dot one-piece outfits with shiny straps, hooped waists and pompoms for buttons. Stacked on the floor were white paper plates and two big boxes labelled ‘custard pie mix’.
Strand picked up the telephone and dialled the station. The phone was shaped like a hotdog. The receiver was a large frankfurter. He barked into it.
“This is Strand. Get me forensics”.
Strand’s gut was talking again. It said follow the money.
If he could just figure out what the dead guy did for a living, this case would crack like an egg.