Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Des Nnochiri
Shouldn’t it be “Smythe?”
Vitale wrinkled his brow.
“I mean, that’s how it’s spelt.”
Still frowning, Vitale cast a critical eye over the desk.
Preternaturally tidy. Custom stationery, designer ornaments. Gilded
plaque, in front: John Smyth.
Everything put in place, just so. Evidence of a fastidious nature,
which permeated the entire office.
Prissy, thought Vitale. That’s the word.
Polished bookshelves, neatly stacked. Plush furniture, like you’d find
in an old English gentlemen’s club. Everything spotless, and
positioned as if by design.
Behind the desk, an upturned swivel chair. Sprawled in it, the body of
John Smyth, a well-groomed man in his fifties. Polished as his office.
Save for the bloody hole, in his forehead.
On the wall above Smyth sat a circular depression, at the center of a
splatter of blood, bone, and brain tissue.
Some of the goop had splashed a series of frames on the wall above the
desk. A diploma. Certificates of Appreciation, from various Bar
Associations across the country. Photo of a fishing trip: Smyth and
the current Attorney General. Smug expressions on both men. Look at
us; we’re just a couple of regular guys.
Vitale grunted. “Hmph. Probably had an intern catch those bass, for ’em.”
“Privilege of power.”
Vitale almost jumped, as Garber stepped up beside him. A big
African-American man in his forties, the Lieutenant was remarkably
light on his feet. And quiet. Vitale often joked that he should start
a training program, at the precinct. Ninja Sneaking, 101. Could be a
“The man moved in exalted circles.”
The Lieutenant’s voice was dry. “Fellow of his standing, station in
life, he’d want to be a cut above. Set himself apart from all the
other John Smith’s, out there. Guys with solid names, like us –
Vitale, Garber – we don’t have that problem.”
Vitale was unmoved. “Why the hell doesn’t he spell it right. Did. Didn’t he.”
Behind the two detectives, Forensic Investigator Matthew Clapton
fussed around the body. A solidly built man in his thirties, Clapton
had the look of a teenage computer geek; he was that absorbed, in his
work. Plotting trajectories, doing scrapings, dictating notes into his
iPod. Clapton was meticulous. Thorough. Brilliant, on occasion.
Slow, thought Vitale.
“Hey, Matty. What do you say? D’you think he’s dead?”
Clapton interrupted his work-flow just long enough to respond.
He didn’t even look up.
Vitale rolled his neck, as he adjusted the knot in his tie. Though in
his early thirties, Vitale seemed uncomfortable in the slacks and
sport jacket combo favored by so many male detectives (and a fair few
of the women; but that was another story) in this city. Like a brash
college kid gone formal to impress his rich girlfriend’s snooty
grandparents, or something.
He turned toward Garber, who was frowning over the nick-nacks on the
desk of the late Mr. John Smyth, pronounced “Smith.”
Vitale caught himself, as the frown on Garber’s face grew deeper.
“Len. Lennox. What’s it look like, to you?”
Garber nudged a drinking bird paperweight, on the desk. Like Vitale
and Clapton, he wore surgical gloves.
“I’m not sure.”
Nestled neatly behind the bird was a sleek little cell phone. Garber
picked it up, and hit last number redial. He held the phone close to
his ear, as a whiny, nasal voice piped up from the other end.
“Arnold Gleissner, paparazzo. Hello? Hello?”
But Gleissner had cut the connection.
Mouthing the word, “Paparazzo?”, Garber turned toward the Forensics man.
Clapton held out a clear plastic evidence bag, with a scrap of paper in it.
I pried this out of the victim’s hand,” Clapton said. “Had to smooth
it out, a little. Well, a lot, actually. See the edges, there?”
Garber held the bag up to the light. And grinned.
He passed the bag over to Vitale, who studied the paper. It was a
fragment from a glossy photograph. Vitale smirked, as he took in its
“Hmph. Couple of exalted circles, there, all right.” His eyes widened.
“Hey! Isn’t that…?” He tapped a portion of the the image. A face.
Partly obscured, but recognizable.
Garber’s silent nod confirmed it.
Vitale gave a low whistle.
“You guys can go ahead.” Clapton studied the expressions of his two
colleagues, as they both turned to face him. “I’ve dusted for prints,
Vitale barked a harsh laugh, jerking a thumb toward the corpse behind them.
“Yeah. That’s what this guy was, looks like. Dusted.”
He held up the photo fragment.
“Mm-hmm,” nodded Garber. “Let’s go pay a visit on an Arnold Gleissner,
photographer. See if he can put us in the picture.”