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Caught red-handed

August 01, 2006|by LYDIA HADFIELD

Editor's note: In Pulse's first serial fiction, a private detective struggles with cold business, hot weather and clues wrapped in red.




Chapter 1: The ring of truth



Some detective stories open with the sharp-jawed hero slouching at a bare-bones desk. His hard eyes are half-illuminated by a single swaying bulb that tosses random shadows across the dank basement walls. The detective maintains a serrated-edge distance from his raw surroundings. His associates live in half-wary suspicion of his talents and dark-seeking heart.

This story, however, opens in a kinder setting.

I don't feel I have to begrudge myself of comfort to maintain a quick mind or cultivate wariness among my neighbors. My basement room is furnished with a fourth-hand rug, beanbag chair, miniature refrigerator and telephone. A servicable Chinese-lantern shade softens the glare of the single lightbulb swinging from a wire.

I feel that my abilities have not suffered in consequence. I almost complete the newspaper crossword puzzle every morning. My reputation is such that when I dive in the garbage cans behind my apartment house, searching for potentially suspicious matter, my fellow tenants raise their eyebrows and shuffle away at a safe distance.

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I wake every morning in bright spirits that today may be the day my brilliant deductive powers, and 99 cents-a-day newspaper ads finally pay off. If I settle down to sleep on my carpet without a call or mystery to mark my day, I console myself with the fact that I've only been in the business for a few weeks. As sure as the temperature rises at noon on a gun tossed into the Mojave desert in August, business will pick up.

This morning - a searing, humid summer morning - I was conducting my daily investigation of the trash bins, when mystery found me. As I said before, I'm not one to suffer unreasonably, so my trenchcoat had been abandoned in early May. I wore my summer attire: a white T-shirt, blue-and-yellow-striped vest, cut-off black slacks and a pith helmet. My January hatwear, a brown fedora, is also in hibernation due to the heat. The pith helmet, I believe, suggests authority, but is also nice and cool.

I knew, then, that what I saw in the trash bin of my neighbors, the Waskotts, could not be a delirium of the heat.

I pushed aside the tuna fish can in the Waskotts' trash bin. My trembling gloved fingers seized upon a towel drenched in dried blood. The stained fabric was crumpled into a ball. I carefully opened its stiff folds.

A diamond ring winked in the center.

(To be continued next week)

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