People call me Buzz. Yes, like the astronaut. But I’m a girl, not a boy. I get that a lot. You can call me Buzz, or whatever. I don’t care. You’re here to read about Chick, right? Not me.
I bet you already think you know some stuff about Chick. I mean, you read the papers, right? About all his cases. You want to know how he caught the Wild Side Killer. You didn’t just randomly pick up this book in a bookstore and turn to the first page. You’re here to read about Chick. Well, just forget what you think you already know.
Who is Chick? What’s his process? His secret to criminal investigation? Hell, I have not idea. Chick is...well, Chick is Chick. Nobody thinks like Chick. I mean, nobody.
Okay, maybe he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But Chick would be the first to say it’s not about smart or stupid. He’s no genius consulting detective or anything. This isn’t going to be any Sherlock Holmes story. He isn’t stupid, either. No sir, because, when you meet him, you’re prone to think he’s…but he’s not, he’s not dim...
But then, nobody else ever had to think like Chick – to accomplish what he’s accomplished. So, it makes some sort of twisted sense. If Chick hadn’t had to be Chick, he wouldn’t have had to be Chick. You know? No? No. I’m not making sense.
Okay. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That old riddle, right? But, in this case it’s more like, which came first, Albert Chick or the Wild Side Killer? It’s a riddle just as hard to answer. One made the other, you know? And the other made the one. One wouldn’t need to exist without the other. Could not have existed.
I’m not helping, am I?
Maybe I should go back to the beginning.
It was the year I dropped out of collage. 1992, I think. I’d moved to Longview in the State of Washington, into my dad’s spare room. Flunking out of school hadn’t done me any favors. Dad letting me crash with him, hadn’t either. I was working a bunch of odd jobs. Stocking shelves, cleaning floors, that sort of thing. I had no direction. Rudderless, mom would have called it, if we’d been speaking. She hadn’t taken my sudden collegiate career change well. She didn’t think you could make anything of your life without a degree. Maybe she was right. I was sure well on the way to proving it.
Anyway, around the summer of ‘92, I was working at this little computer store, Nybbles and Bytes, in the mall. Well not in the mall, but near the mall, in one of those strip-mall parking lot deals, on the corner of Ocean Beach and Washington, in between a nail salon and a sticky chicken joint. This was back in the Amiga days, and this place exclusively sold Amigas. Well, perhaps “sold” is too generous. “Stocked” is certainly more accurate. Sometimes, they got units in for repairs and my electronics background and a basic understanding of how to use an oscilloscope kept my busy earning six bucks an hour. The store, in order to make ends meet, stocked a wide supply of non-computer related items that otherwise appealed to Amiga enthusiasts: pen-and-paper role-playing games; remote-controlled toy cars; and Japanese scale-model sets. It was this last item that first brought me in contact with Chick. He would come into the store from time to time to purchase a Gundam.
What’s a Gundam? Well, it’s...I don’t really know. A model of a plastic robot? They have guns and stuff. That’ll be important in a bit. Chick liked to put them together. Meticulous. Ordered. Delicate. Just like Chick. He glued them together, but he never painted them. People usually painted them. Not Chick. He always left them as gray plastic.
I had three co-workers back then. Well, two co-workers and one permanent loiterer. I can’t totally remember their names, but I remember the user names I gave each of them in my head. I guess it’s best I don’t use real names, anyway, since I have no idea what became of them. They’re probably still there, in Nybbles and Bytes, sipping Coke and bitching about the new Star Trek movie. Maybe the computers they sell have changed. Maybe not.
My boss was Spider. He worked the register and did the hard sell on the Amigas. I called him Spider because, despite only having the requisite two arms and two legs of a human, he moved uncannily like an arachnid, skittering for here to there, suddenly looming over you, as if to strike. His fingers were in almost constant motion, wiggling like tentacles, or ten little snake-tongues tasting the air before him. Maybe that’s what gave him the predatory vibe – the inquisitive, searching fingers, always at the ready, as if he might, at any moment, reach out and firmly clamp down on one of your boobs. He never did. Never. Not even as much as a lurid grin. He was an okay guy and all around good boss, but the whole screaming, heebie-jeebie vibe was hard to get past.
The other technician was George McFly. That wasn’t his name, of course, but he was the splitting image of the Crispin Glover character from Back to the Future, right down to the horn-rimmed glasses, corduroys, dress shirt and pocket protector. He even broke down into fits of the character’s signature laugh apnea whenever he found one of his own, startlingly dry jokes particularly funny. Which was often, and never really funny to anyone else.
He was a good guy, too, and really knew his computer shit. I learned a lot, working at the table next to him in the stores’ weird, little raised bullpen that was our workshop. But he pegged high on my heebie-jeebie meter, too, though he was never weird with me. I think he had a wife and kids somewhere he never talked about. Which was weirder than just being a creep.
Our permanent loiterer was the real McCoy. Creep-wise that is. I called him Moist, because he was. All the time. He was a sweaty, little creep who showed up in the mornings with a two-liter Coke and parked his ass at the card table by the door, where kids were supposed to play Magic: The Gathering, and was generally rude to anyone and everyone who came into the store. He’d sit and drink from his bottle and wipe his fat mouth on his sleeve and shuffle through collectible cards and argue loudly about Heinlein or Asimov, or who was hotter, Beverly Crusher or Dianna Troi. He was a friend of Spiders’ from Longview High School. I guess they’d all graduated the same year: Moist, Spider, McFly and Chick. But why any of them put up with Moist around the store, I couldn’t say. I mean, nobody ever really wanted to buy an Amiga, but with Moist there, it was almost impossible to keep any normal person in the store long enough to give them a chance. Ten minutes after the door chime rang, Moist would be badgering some poor housewife with a baby in stroller about POW’s in Indochina or some shit. And all she wanted was some floppies for her son’s computer.
They’d all leave angry and insulted and never come back.
Some days I wanted to do the same. But Moist never said a word to me. Not after our one, lone interaction. It was, maybe, on day three of me working in the bullpen. He’d catcalled, as I’d bent over to pick up a screwdriver. I’d straightened up, turned and thrown the Phillips at his head. He still had the scar over his left eye. That was the first and last time he had acknowledged my existence, in the store or out. I didn’t speak to him, and he didn’t speak to me. That one act of violence, and I got off easy.
But I couldn’t help feel sorry for the customers. Even if they already knew about Moist. I felt worst of all for Chick. Moist really had it in for Chick. In the past, there was some bad blood between them, more than just a screwdriver to the skull. Every time Chick came into the store for a Gundam set, Moist was merciless. And Chick, even on a good day, made for a pretty pathetic spectral. Watching him be ridiculed by a fuckhead like Moist...it broke my heart.
That was why, when Chick came in that day with the computer under his arm, I knew I was going to help him, no matter what.
And that’s what opened up the whole can of worms.
“How would you handle the Kobayashi Maru Test, Spider?” Moist asked. “Do you even know what it is?” Spider knew – we all knew, we’d all seen the movie. Many times, in the theaters and on VHS. Spider initially ignored the question. Moist asked the question apropos to something to do with immigration policy. Something Moist had been pontificating on for about fifteen minutes. I wasn’t paying attention, I was trying to get a particularly difficult C2000 out of kickstart.
“It’s the no-win scenario,” Spider finally replied. Spider knew it would do no good to ignore Moist. Moist would just keep asking his question until he got the answer he wanted.
“Wrong!” Moist replied emphatically, slamming his palm down on the card table. This caused his two liter to topple over and fizz wildly inside the bottle. McFly found this instantly humorous, and he began to choke, in his way, on his own laughter.
Moist shot McFly and angry glance. He righted his Coke and went on. “It’s not a no-win scenario – never was a no-win scenario. That’s what everyone says, but everyone is wrong.” His voice was nastily and contrite. Like he was accusing everyone in the room of peeing on his shoes. “You can’t win the Kobayashi Maru Test, because the Kobayashi Maru Test is rigged. A rigged test. Rigged by Starfleet. Just like the government rigs everything.”
Spider just shook his head and returned his attention to his comic book. He was thinking maybe that this was the end of it. If he didn’t goad Moist anymore, he might finally shut up.
I just couldn’t help myself. “But, isn’t that the same thing? Don’t they have to rig the test so you can’t win it?”
“No, it’s most certainly not the same thing!” Moist sounded indignant, but he wasn’t addressing me. I didn’t exist. He was still talking to Spider. “How did Kirk beat the Kobayashi Maru?”
Spider sighed and answered, not looking up. “He cheated.”
“No,” Moist shook his head, as if talking to a child. “That’s exactly my point. You can’t cheat in a rigged test. You can only re-rig it in your favor. Kirk didn’t cheat on the Kobayashi Maru, he made the Kobayashi Maru his bitch. That’s all I’m saying. The U.S. Government is a no-win scenario. It’s the Kobayashi Maru. You can’t cheat the U.S. Government, all you can do is make it your bitch.”
His point made, Moist finally fell into silence. It was an early summer’s day, just starting to get hot. We had the door open and fans running. Moist was moister that usual and wiped his brow with the tail of his dirty T-shirt, showing all and sundry his enormous, hairy belly. A look came over him, as if he was contemplating getting up and taking a shit, or perhaps fishing something half-eaten out of his teeth.
I was contemplating Moist, contemplating his next, disgusting move, when I spied Chick outside the store, crossing the median between the strip malls, as was his habit.
As I said, Chick had been in the store a few times before to buy Gundam kits. Up until then, I hadn’t given Chick much thought, beyond just felting sorry and embarrassed for the way Moist, and their others, always treated him. I had noted, however, that he always came on foot. He didn’t seem to drive. How he crossed the parking lots and the grassy divides between strip malls was curious; he didn’t follow any sidewalk or path, just cut a straight line from wherever he was coming toward wherever he was going.
He was right, if you thought about it. It didn’t make much sense. The parking lots of each, individual strip mall didn’t connect. If you wanted to go from say, Nybbles and Bytes to the Babies R’ Us, you had to get into your car, drive out onto the road and pull into the parking lot next door. There wasn’t even any sort of real, pedestrian access, just a dirt, sloped divide. What was that about? How was that conducive to shopping? Even just walking. Chick made his own path, unconcerned for steps or parked cars. He simply followed the most efficient route – a straight line.
My heart sank a little when I spied Chick’s distant but distinct shape moving toward the store. Moist hadn’t yet seen him. Neither had Spider or McFly. Turn around, go home, I told Chick mentally. Not today. Moist was in rare form. It was just too warm to sit through another one of his self-important fits.
But I had no psychic gifts. Chick was still coming, closing in on the store. And in a part of my brain that I didn’t like to admit I had, I agreed with Moist. Just watching Chick walk, you could tell that there was something off about him, something not quite right. He wasn’t that fat, but he waddled like he was carrying weight. He walked duck-footed, his knees too far apart. As he closed in, I could spy the heavy coat he was wearing despite the summer heat. What was up with that? Wasn’t he hot? And then the headphones, always with the headphones. Not Walkman headphones, but big, bulky cans like the sort you’d see a black kid wearing in a breakdance video. He always had them on. He never seemed to take them off. Even when Spider was ringing up a Gundam purchase, he didn’t bother to tell Chick the price, he just waved a hand in front of Chick’s face and pointed at the register. Chick would fish a fist full of crumpled bank notes out of the bag around his neck and smooth them out onto the counter. Maybe he couldn’t hear Moist’s insults over whatever music he was listening to. But I doubted it. The burning look of fury and humiliation in Chick’s eyes always told me he didn’t have his music turned up nearly loud enough.
As I said, that day Chick had a computer under his arm. That was different. I’d never asked where he was coming from. He always wore scrubs and came from the direction of the warehouses behind the Lamont’s. I knew there was a gun range in one of those buildings. With the door open, we could faintly hear the pop, pop of pistol shots. But Chick wasn’t coming from there.
If I’d know the Cowlitz County Morgue was back there, too, I might have been a little more cautious.
For an instant, I hoped against hope that Moist’s plan to get up and go take a dump was about to materialize. If he was in the bathroom when Chick came into the store, there was an outside chance we could get Chick in and out with a new Gundam before Moist returned to his folding chair. But my hopes were quickly dashed when Moist, choosing plan B, reached a finger into his mouth and began to dig around for something in his back teeth.
Chick came into the store and moved with purpose toward the bullpen. He didn’t acknowledged the presence of Moist, Spider, or myself. He just pulled the wide, thick laptop from under his arm and placed it on the rim of counter around the bullpen.
It sat there for a long moment, hovering beside McFly’s head. “What?” McFly asked, annoyed.
Chick opened his mouth and stammered something.
“Bur, blah blur!” Moist mimicked, faking a spasm. He laughed at this, then changed tack. “Cluck! Cluck!” he squawked and clapped, like he was selling something Kentucky Fried.
Chick turned and shot him a glare of burning disgust.
“That’s a T1000,” McFly dismissed, turning his attention back to his green and black screen. “We don’t fix those.”
“N-n-no–” Chick stammered.
“Chick have computer...” Moist said slowly, then burst out laughing again, “Computer go beep beep!”
“Shut up!” Spider said from behind the register.
Moist continued to laugh at his own joke, but shut up.
“It’s...” Chick began again, searching for the words. It was excruciating watching him try and construct a sentence. “Computer...”
Moist, leaned forward and picked up his two liter. “Yes, Chick, you retard shithead. A computer.” He unscrewed the lid, and it exploded in a torrent of foam. He shirt was soaked, but Moist seemed unconcerned. He took a long swig.
This made McFly laugh his throttling laugh, pointing a finger at Moist’s folly. But Chick didn’t move, still holding the laptop on the rim of the counter. McFly gave him a look and sighed. “That’s a Toshiba,” he said slowly. “This is an Amiga shop. We don’t work on those, here.” McFly gave the laptop of slight push. “Take it to the Toshiba dealer.”
“No!” Chick growled, frustrated.
“Don’t waste your breath, George,” Moist dismissed, returning his bottle of soda to the table. “The dummy isn’t going to understand. Just take it from him before he drops it or trades it for magic beans or something.”
“Leave him alone,” I interjected, just wishing the whole thing would be over. “What’s wrong with the laptop?” I asked Chick. “Is it broken?” I reached for it on the narrow counter.
Chick snatched it up and hugged it to himself. “No, not broken!” he yelled too loud. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as loud for him under his headphones. I recoiled, slightly shocked. Chick looked horrified, like he’d kicked me or something. “I’m sorry!” he said, again far too loud. He turned quickly and began for the door.
Moist, the absolute asshole, was ready with his foot extended. Chick tripped over it and landed hard on his folded arms. The headphones came off his head and clattered down onto the concrete sidewalk beyond the door. That’s when I noted there was no wire. The headphones weren’t plugged into anything.
Chick wailed in pain and pulled the crushed laptop from underneath him. Moist was howling in delight at the spectacle and wasn’t ready for Chick’s fist connecting square with his left kneecap. There was a hideous cracking sound, perhaps Moist’s knee, perhaps Chick’s fingers, then Moist flipped back off his folding chair. Screaming in pain, he fell square into a rack of comic books.
“Fuck!” Moist screamed. “My knee!”
After that, we were all on our feet. Spider skittered around the front counter and began to pull Moist out of the comic books. Chick was up and out the door, scrambling after his headphones. By the time McFly and I climbed out of the bullpen, Chick was already gone, Moist was blubbering like a little girl, and the laptop lay in the middle of the floor.
I scooped it up and sprinted after Chick.
“Hey, wait up!” I called after Chick. He was already halfway up a grassy incline between strip malls, walking head down, shoulders hunched. He couldn’t hear me, his headphones were securely over his ears, but something made him falter in his stride. Perhaps he suddenly realized he no longer had the laptop in his hands. Panicked, he turned about and I almost crashed right into him. “Hey, I–” I began, panting. Running was really never my thing.
“What?” Chick interrupted, tilting his head to one side.
“Hey, you forgot this!” I held up the laptop.
“What?” he repeated, louder, as if it was me who couldn’t hear him.
“You forgot–” I sighed, frustrated. I pantomimed that he needed to take off his headphones.
Chick got the general gist of my hand waving and pulled of the phones.
“You forgot your laptop,” I finished.
“It’s not–” Chick began, shouting. “Mine...” he finished, lowering his voice.
“Well, um,” I stuttered. I didn’t really care who’s it was. It wasn’t mine, that much I knew. “Here,” I held out the bulky laptop to Chick.
He recoiled and stepped back. Each of his hands went instantly into the opposing armpit. He stood there, akimbo, biting his lower lip and staring at the laptop. At the time, I thought Chick had hurt himself when Moist had tripped him, fallen hard on him hands, perhaps. I was quickly to learn that this fingers-in-the-armpits move was Chick’s signature stance when dealing with anything even remotely distressing.
“Okay, okay,” I was at least empathic enough to realize I’d made some sort of mistake. I lowered the laptop, hiding it behind my back. “Are you okay?”
Chick nodded. His fingers came out from under his arms and reached for the headphones around his neck. His feet were moving, climbing again.
“No, wait!” I called out before he could replace the cans. I was losing him. “Is it broken? I can help. I’m good with computers. Do you want me to take a look at it?”
Chick paused, headphones hovering over his ears.
“I can help,” I repeated.
This seemed to sink in. Chick fixed me with an inquiring glare, then tore his eyes away. “It’s not broken,” he mumbled. “I mean, before I fell on it. I can’t get it to start – I mean, I don’t know how...”
“I can help,” I said in my most calm, caring voice. I’m not sure what I thought Chick was about to do. Runaway, I guess. I just wanted to help him out. I felt so sorry for him. He seemed so terrified and humiliated at the same time. Of course, if I’d know why he wanted to boot the laptop, I might not have been so eager to help. “I had one of these at college,” I went on. “They’re pretty tough. I’m sure it will boot right up.”
I pulled the laptop from behind my back and began to open the screen.
“No,” Chick shook his head. “Bring the laptop, after work,” he said quickly. “We’ll do it then.”
“Okay, I said,” closing the screen. He was probably right. The battery would be dead. I’d need an outlet. Besides, the sun was too bright to make anything out on the black and green screen. “Bring it where?”
This should have been my first clue that I was getting in way over my head.
“Morgue,” Chick said.
“What?” I’d heard him, I just didn’t understand.
“Morgue,” he pointed at the building behind the Lamonts. The one next to the gun range. “Medical Examiner’s Office. I work there. I’m an orderly.”
“What?” I repeated. This time I’d understood. I just didn’t want to.
“Okay?” Chick nodded, hoping he’d got his point across. He didn’t wait until I affirmed. He snapped the headphones over his ears and started up the slope. “After work, okay? Anytime. I’m there all night,” he said back to me. I was paralyzed in fright.
Of course you are, I said to myself.
What had I just agreed to?
I walked back to the store in shock, hugging the laptop to my chest. A growing sense of unease was building inside of me. I didn’t want to go inside the county morgue. For any reason at all, but particularly not to do IT support. There would be, well, dead people in there. I didn’t think I could handle dead people.
I got back to the store and returned to my workbench. Spider was the only one there. McFly had taken Moist to the emergency room. Chick had really done a number on Moist’s knee. Probably broken it, or dislocated it, or something. Spider didn’t seem overly concerned. Moist had had it coming, Spider commented. He’d had it coming for years. Good thing it was just his knee.
I hid the laptop away in my bag. If McFly had helped Chick in the store, I wouldn’t have been facing the prospect of having to go look at dead people.
But then, why had I offered to help? None of it had been any of my business. It, still, really wasn’t any of my business. I didn’t have to go. Seriously. I didn’t owe Chick anything. I’d just felt sorry for him, felt like I could help a guy out. Now I had to go deal with a guy in headphones who spent his nights with a bunch of corpses.
What was the deal with those headphones? It seemed like he hated to take them off. But they weren’t plugged into anything. No music. After mulling it over, I asked Spider that exact question.
“He hears things,” Spider answered from behind the register, back to reading his comic book.
“What? Like voices?” I asked.
“No, he’s not crazy,” Spider shook his head. “Just sort of dim. He’s been like that since we were kids. We all went to high school together, you know. Well, we did until Chick went to St. Bartholomew’s.”
“An asylum,” Spider said, matter-of-fact.
“What?” my eyes popped. Great, I was going to meet a psychiatric patient. In a morgue. At night. “I thought you said he wasn’t crazy?”
“He’s not. But they thought they could fix him. I don’t know. Electroshock therapy or something. Didn’t work. When he came back, he was worse than ever.”
“Jesus.” Now I definitely wasn’t going to go. Next time Chick came into the store, I’d give him back the laptop. There was no way in hell I was going to meet him after work.
“Why are you asking about Chick?” Spider asked, looking up from the comic book.
“I...” I didn’t know how to answer that. “I said I’d help him with his computer.”
“Don’t know why Chick would have a computer,” Spider returned to his comic. “Unless he stole it or something.”
I blinked. Oh crap.
“Sometimes they get personal items that come in with the bodies. They’re supposed to turn it all over to the sheriff. But, you know...”
I looked down at my bag beside my workbench. Oh, double crap. I was going to have to do it. I was going to have to go over to the morgue after work and give the laptop back to Chick. It was probably evidence in a murder investigation or something.
Out of everything, why did I have to be dead right about that?
“Hi, I’m here to see...” I instantly felt self-conscious, standing at the Formica counter of the Medical Examiner’s Office. Me, in my Doc Martins and Gits T-shirt with my samurai ponytail and the bangs of my hair longer than the rest. I felt like a total freak, walking into the morgue like that. I couldn’t have felt more out of place. The heavy, black woman behind the counter raised an eyebrow at me. “Chick,” I finished.
“You,” she said, incredulously, “are here to see Chick?”
“Yes,” I nodded. She looked at me like I was totally insane. I couldn’t have agreed with her more. It was totally insane. Nevertheless, I had that laptop in my bag. This shit was going to have to happen.
I could see the wheels turning behind her eyes. Should she call Chick or call the cops? Something about me must have come across as legit, because instead of reaching for the phone, she turned her head and bellowed off into the hallway behind her. “Chick! You got a visitor!”
Chick came scrambling down the corridor almost instantly. He was out of his heavy, winter coat but still in his scrubs and headphones. He smiled and waved to me from behind the glass, then fumbled to open the security door for me.
“Thank, thank you,” he mumbled as I stepped into the hallway behind the door. “Thank you for coming.”
“Chick!” the receptionist bellowed. “Take off them damn headphones!”
“You know you ain’t suppose to have no guests.”
“Sorry, Nicole,” Chick replied, contrite. “She works at the model store. She’s bringing me a special order.”
“Not more of them damn robots!”
“Yes, yes,” Chick faked a smile. “Yes, more of them damn robots.”
Nicole shook her head. “Well, don’t be fiddling around with them all night. Latch of 5C is broken again. You said you were going to fix it yesterday.”
“Yes, Nicole, I’ll get right no that.” Chick nodded, bowed a little, then scurried off down the corridor. I assumed I was supposed to follow. “In here,” he said, pointing to a door. That’s when I first noted the smell. A mix of formaldehyde and...well, death.
Chick waddled into the small room. I peered curiously around the door.
It wasn’t much more than a closet. A desk, a chair, and shelf after shelf of the small, plastic Gundam robots. Chick dropped into the chair and pulled a stool out from under the desk. He tapped it, indicating I should sit down.
I cautiously obeyed.
Only when Chick stood up to close the door did I protest. “Can we keep it open?” I asked. The smell, the tiny room. The creepy robots. At least Chick wasn’t wearing his headphones. I didn’t have to shout.
“Oh, sorry,” Chick sat back down, leaving the door open. His foot began to twitch, osculating his knee rapidly up and down. “So, did you bring it?”
“Oh, of course,” I was so freaked out, I’d almost forgot why I was there. I reached in my bag and pulled out the laptop. “Do you have the power cable?”
Chick didn’t seem to fully understand, but he shook his head.
“That’s okay, perhaps the batteries still have charge.” I opened the laptop’s screen. “Do you have the disk?”
Chick stared at me, blankly.
“The floppy disk,” I repeated. “That you want to read?”
“You don’t have a floppy?” For some reason, I felt I need to explain “A Toshiba T1000 has a boot ROM drive, but it’s read-only. You need to have a floppy disk to store anything.” I pointed at the 3.5” drive bay in side of the laptop.
Chick didn’t reply. His fingers shot to his armpits and his foot began to oscilloscope faster.
“What’s going on here, Chick?” I demanded angrily, closing the laptop. “Who’s computer is this?”
Chick looked at me, terrified. I think he was about to cry.
I climbed to my feet and slammed the laptop down on the desk. I’d had enough. I turned for the door.
“She’s dead,” Chick said to my back.
I stopped in the door jamb and turned back to Chick. “Who’s dead?” I asked. But I already knew the answer.
“The girl. The computer’s owner.” He nodded toward the wall. I looked in the direction he was indicating, down the hallway. I could see into the examination room from the doorway, at the wall of refrigeration units. “Murder.”
“Then, that is evidence! Jesus, Chick! Why are you walking around with this? You should give it to the police!” I’m sure Nicole, down the hall, could hear me. But I didn’t care.
Chick shook his head vigorously, his fingers still in his armpits.
“I don’t want anything to do with this!” I bellowed. “Leave me out of it!” I made a gesture that was very dramatic and final.
“She’s dead,” Chick repeated. Now he was crying.
“Yeah, you said that.” I rolled my eyes.
“No, not her,” Chick nodded to the wall again. “My wife.”
What? What the hell was he talking about? Talking to Chick was liking only getting every third word of a conversation.
“Your? Your wife?” I was confused, but I was no longer angry. “I’m...sorry. Is she...” I looked back toward the refrigerators.
“No, she died. Seven years ago,” Chick said, choking on his own words.
Seven years ago? Now I wasn’t quite as sorry. “I don’t understand...”
Chick sucked in a great lungful of air and reached quickly for his headphones. He snapped them back over his ears.
Oh no you don’t! The fury welled up inside me again. You don’t just drop a bomb like that and pull your little turtle head back into your shell. I grabbed the headband of the phones and yanked them roughly off his head.
Chick leapt from his chair and stumbled back, bringing a shelf of Gundam crashing to the floor. His face wore an expression of infinite, wild-eyed horror.
That had been a mistake. You don’t rip the headphone off of Chick’s head. I took the mental note for future reference, but I wasn’t about to apologize.
“What happened to your wife?” I said instead.
“She was murdered,” he answered, robotically, without any emotion in his voice. He was watching the headphones in my hand. As my hand moved, his eyes followed. “Seven years ago. A victim of the Wild Side serial killer.”