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Chapter Three - Dead and Buried
What happened next was a blur to Charlie afterwards.
While he was focused on his new friend bleeding out on the table, the man who had committed the deed turned sharply on his heel. The stranger ran back the way he came, right past Charlie.
Charlie had enough presence of mind to grab at the man, but got little more than the chain around the man's neck. Under regular circumstances that may have been enough to stop him from escaping. Instead, he elbowed the shaken Charlie in the stomach, then he whipped his head back into Charlie's faced.
Stunned and in pain, Charlie let go of the chain. The culprit paused in his escape from freedom and turned back towards him. He shoved Charlie back into the other tables, and didn't stay to watch, but continued running out the door.
Charlie fell backwards onto a nearby table, and his added weight caused it toppled over. It listed to the side at first, then toppled right over. Charlie rolled and landed on his hands and knees. More like his leg and an upper arm, but that was his intent, at least. The table landed with a crash, silverware clattering in a cacophony of metal against tile, and the glasses shattered as they connected with the floor.
As he lay there surrounded by debris, Charlie's head was ringing from the headbutt to his nose. His side was throbbing in pain, and even his gut got in on the complaining. He shifted until he found himself on his hands and knees like he had intended to be falling from the table, and got himself back up on his feet.
Charlie had spent far too much time on his back since arriving in town, and he was beginning to have an intense dislike of it.
No one helped him back onto his feet. The few customers the diner had were too unnerved by what they had witnessed, if they weren't still staring out the front windows trying to follow the man who had run off. The wait staff was too busy scrambling around calling the police, and trying to decide where to start cleaning up.
Getting back up on his feet, Charlie took a quick look around. People were starting to return to their tables, but were still too shocked from what had happened to just return to eating their breakfast.
Someone wearing a blue shirt with the Four Winds logo on it, a series of four swooping swirls of white signifying a gust of wind blowing through, was coming over to where Charlie stood, carrying a dustpan and broom.
Charlie pointed at the kid, he guessed he was no more than 17, probably attending the local high school. "Hold it, kid. Don't touch a thing until the cops get here."
The kid's eyes grew almost twice their size, and he smacked himself on the forehead with the broom handle. Charlie did his best to not smile at the appropriately hollow sound it made as it connected with the kid's skull. His voice crackedas he shuffled back to the kitchen, muttering, "I so knew that," under his breath.
Charlie went over to Markus's table, and looked over everything, keeping his hands behind his back.
The man who had been so kind to give him a ride all the way from Massachusetts had bled out before he even realised what was going on. Charlie glanced down at his feet to make sure he wasn't standing in any of the blood.
Markus had gone pale and pallid. Charlie had never gotten a good look at him the night before, at least not one that wasn't by the green light of the radio. However, he was still certain this was not a normal colour for a living body.
Almost nothing on the table was disturbed, it had happened so fast. Not even the glass Markus had been drinking out of was out of place. The worst that had happened to it was maybe the straw had been moved from one side of the glass to the other in the commotion. The only other signs, besides the obvious, of anything happening was the silverware on the plate where Markus's head had landed were pointing up at an angle looking as if they were ready to be used to pick the head of Markus out of a bowl.
To Charlie's surprise, the table was almost clear of blood, save for nearest the wound and the body where it was pooling. The only thing that had spilled was the salt shaker, leaving a spray of white crystals scattered across most of the table.
Charlie paused and took a closer look at the spot where there wasn't any salt. Much of the table resembled the start of the first snowfall of the year, sprinkling the ground with ivory flakes. But on the edge of the table, the spray of salt strangely stopped, leaving a clear spot, outlined in clean edges.
At first, Charlie thought it may have been a menu, and the accident had happened long before he had even arrived, but part of him said the salt would have been brushed away, or disturbed further in the ever so brief scuffle. This was too uniform, too new.
Looking around for what could have been laying there and now wasn't, Charlie searched with haste. As he was about to give up, he glanced over and saw something resting upon the seat he would have taken had he shown up earlier.
He reached down between the table and the back of the chair, and scooped up a notebook. Charlie recognised it as the one Markus had been writing in the night before, and a sheet of paper from which was now shoved into a coat pocket.
In his head, Charlie could hear the advice he had given the busboy or whatever his job was, and decided better to do as he said, and not as he did. He stuffed the small notebook into the same pocket where the other piece of paper was already waiting. As he moved the booklet over the table, he used it to casually disrupt the salt, to disguise that it had ever been there in the first place.
Charlie buttoned his jacket pocket closed, and just in time. As the final snap clicked into place, he heard the door jingle. Someone Charlie recognised from years before that he knew owned the cafe, but could not remember the name of, greeted the local police.
The lead cop assessed the situation, and looked over the crowd inside the restaraunt. Several of his men were outside and dealing with the crowd out there, keeping them away from the doors and windows long enough for them to set up a police cordon with the familiar yellow tape wrapping around lampposts.
"Ok, folks," he said, "We're just going to take some statements, and try to get you out of here as quickly as possible. I know you've got work -" He stopped midsentence, and looked straight at Charlie next to the heart of the crime scene. "Well, shit on me. Charlie Boxer."
Charlie didn't quite recognise the officer, until he removed his sunglasses. There was no way Charlie could forget those hazel eyes flecked with grey. It had been nine years since they had seen each other, and he had changed quite a bit, but the eyes were unmistakable.
"Brendan? Brendan Franks? You're a cop?"
If there wasn't a dead body behind him, Charlie would have let out with the loudest laugh he'd made in five years.
Back in high school, Brendan was quite different from the man now standing in front of Charlie. A decade had taken off about 100 pounds or more, and transformed the rest from flab into muscle. A growth spurt had hit him somehow after they graduated, and he was at least six inches taller than Charlie remembered. The hair was still that same shade of honey blonde, leaning towards brown, and those same eyes, but the loss of weight had thinned his face, and the acne had cleaned up as well. Charlie was also used to seeing Brendan in rattier clothes. Never had he seen him wear a button up shirt or a suit, let alone a full fledged uniform.
All that time ago, Charlie never would have pegged Brendan for a career in law enforcement. He was the closest thing to a friend Charlie had, and they had spent many afternoons together getting into trouble, not unlike most teenaged boys. With them, there had been a few more fires and disciplinary problems than most teenaged boys, hwoever.
As Charlie stood there in stunned silence, since he was choosing to fight the urge to howl with laughter, Brendan tucked away his glasses in his brown jacket. "Yep, it's me. What the hell are you doing back in town?"
Before Charlie could answer, Brendan's eyes narrowed and he guaged his old friend with suspicion. "It's not coincidence that you blow back into town, and the first I hear about it is at the scene of a murder, is it?"
"If you're asking if I did it, no," replied Charlie. He hated the idea of being accused for a murder after returning to the town where he technically committed the last one. "But I don't think it is entirely coincidental, no."
Brendan gave a sigh, and pushed his fingers through his close-shaved hair, much shorter than the shoulder length mop Charlie was familiar with from their wild days. "Ok, Charlie, have a seat somewhere over there. I'll get everyone else's statement, then we're gonna have a long chat, ok?"
With a nod, Charlie found an empty seat. Before Brendan got started on his interviews he called back to some of the staff near the back of the cafe. "Suzy dear, Sofia, could someone get Charlie some coffee? Put it on my tab."
Charlie sat there in silence, drinking a bottomless cup of coffee as Brendan conducted his interviews. The waitress who kept his coffee mug filled up while he waited was a young thing, Charlie suspected she was attending school with the pimply faced busboy. With a glance at her nametag, he saw this was the Sofia that Brendan called on for help. She was the sort that would not have given Charlie even the slightest notice in high school. Probably a cheerleader. Perfect in every way, from her auburn hair, to her skin, and even her curves. Charlie gulped down a mouthful of coffee when he realised where he was looking on the young girl, who was quick to come over and fill his mug right back up the moment it slammed down on the table.
Charlie listened to the various interviews; most of those in the diner had not seen much of anything, it had happened so fast. They all confirmed Charlie wasn't involved, at least, and he thanked whomever had decided to actually look after him for a change. They said Charlie tried to stop the man responsible, but he got away.
What he found most unusual though, was that no one could give a clear description of the man. Everyone had gotten something of a look at him after he'd stabbed Markus. Whether it was immediate, or when Charlie grabbed him, or tossed back, they all saw the guy. Everyone was consistent in what they described, but it was just so plain. Average height, average build, brown hair; every day clothes with no identifiable logos. Charlie searched his own memories of the event, and even he didn't have a clear picture of the man. He was almost too average in his appearance, Charlie thought.
While he was lost in the murky brown reflections in his coffee mug, pondering upon the too average man, Charlie didn't notice Brendan come over and sit in the seat opposite him at the table.
Charlie's eyes flicked towards Brendan's own reporter's style notebook. Slender to fit in the hand, and flipped open along the top edge. He tried not to give any sign that he had aquired a new notebook of his own.
Brendan looked over the notes he'd made from the interviews already, and taking in the crime scene. Most of the patrons had departed, others were still finishing their meals, as best they could. Kraftsbury people had always been good at ignoring something right next to them so they could get on with life, Charlie had noticed.
"So," Brendan began. "It sounds to me like you are quite the hero."
Charlie shook his head, staring down into the mug. He cluthced it with both hands. "Nope, a hero would have kept his grip on the bastard that killed Markus, and he wouldn't have got away."
"Ah, so you did know the deceased. Suzie, the manager, said she saw him wave as you entered, but she wasn't sure if it was you, or the guy who walked in behind you." Charlie looked chagrined as his memory clicked upon hearing Suzie's name. It was hard to believe he had forgotten it, now that it came back to him.
"Yeah, I knew him," continued Charlie. "Not that well, you understand. We just met yesterday. I was hitchhiking, and he drove me to my sister's place."
Charlie didn't know if Markus's murder was the result of having met him yesterday, or it truly was a coincidence, but if it had anything to do with what had been going on throughout Charlie's life, he was not about to let that stand.