Taking his cue once more from his favorite band the Smashing Pumpkins, Steve genre-hops again with this week’s story.
Steve is the writer and creator of the webcomic REDemption.
My name is Steve Amos. I’ve been a homicide detective for nine years, and I have solved every case that has ever been given to me. That’s not bragging, my friends; it’s the honest truth. My peers like to call me “the literary detective” because I always give my cases creative names. However, the case I am going to describe was an exception to that rule. Not only was it difficult to solve, but it was nearly impossible to name. So please forgive me if this isn’t too creative, but I like to call it “Blood Bus.”
There were twenty-six of us riding a Greyhound out to Denver, CO. I was on medical leave because I’d recently taken a blow to the head from the last perpetrator I arrested. (That is a whole other story, whose details won’t be shared here.)
The first thing I saw when I climbed on the bus was a vast ocean of people from all walks of life. There was a single mom and her daughter, a stoner, an accountant, a gluttonously obese man, and the like.
While I took notice of all these details, there was one that escaped me: the fact that my cell phone threatened to fall out of my pocket. A man with a pudgy, radiant face shouted a warning to me just in time.
“Thanks for the save,” I said. “Mind if I sit down?”
“Not at all,” the man answered, moving over. “Carl Bitteron’s the name.”
I shook his hand. “Steve Amos.”
After our introductions, Carl wasted no time in jumping into a long string of unconnected topics. For the most part I was able to pay attention and respond to him, but I couldn’t help being distracted by my surroundings. (I’m a detective. The only way I can do my job is by training my mind to soak up every detail around me.)
My attention was drawn to two passengers in particular. First there was the beautiful woman sitting in front of me. She had silky black hair, and her body possessed the scent of some exotic wine. Then I took notice of an old man sitting across from me, whose actions resembled that of a broken machine. His mouth would fall open, and then his hands would shake. After about twenty seconds of this, he’d calm down. The weird thing was his mouth never closed on its own; he had to reach up with one of his spastic hands to close it.
He caught me looking at him after one of his tremor sessions. I gave him a blank stare, unsure what to say since I had been caught in the act of observing his unusual tics. To my relief, the old man dissolved the tension with a smile.
“I don’t normally eavesdrop, but I was wondering if I heard you right. Did you say you were a detective?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Excellent!” he shouted, startling the passengers around him, and myself. “I’m Frank Cadelo. You might have heard of me. I’m a movie producer.”
Frank spoke slowly, as if he were uncertain (or maybe even scared) of what words would come out of his mouth. Maybe he was worried he might reveal his deepest, darkest secrets.
His name meant nothing to me but, smiling politely, I said,” I’m sure I’ve seen a few of your movies.”
“I wasn’t in them. I produced them,” he clarified.
A cloud of confusion drifted over my face. Why had I thought he starred in the movies? After a moment, I realized this forgetfulness really wasn’t all that shocking; my memory had been spotty ever since I received my injury. In fact, it had me worried about the future of my job. What good was a detective who couldn’t remember anything?
“Mr. Amos, I know you are on vacation,” Frank said, “but I have a business proposition that I don’t think you will want to turn down. To be blunt about it, I would like to hire your services for a few weeks.”
Holding up my hand, I said, “Let me stop you right there, Mr. Budelo.”
“It’s Cadelo, son,” he said.
“Sorry…I’ve always been bad with names,” I said, hoping this would sound good enough to cover up my mistake. “I’m a detective, not a private eye. File a complaint down at my precinct and then you can get my help, but only if this concerns a homicide.”
“Look, I need your assistance without going through all the red tape. There’s this guy who has been stalking me. He’s real subtle. He always changes the make and model of the cars he uses to follow me, but they are always the same color: black,” Frank said. “And I happen to know he has a fetish for straight razors. He is always carrying one.”
I looked toward the front of the bus and watched the highway disappearing beneath us. The old man across the aisle tapped me on the shoulder. When I looked at him, I saw an unhappy expression on his face. It dawned on me that I had no idea why this gentleman was so sad, nor did I know why he was trying to get my attention.
“Well, Detective Amos?” he said. “Will you help me?”
“With what?” I asked.
“The guy stalking me!” the old man exclaimed.
I was confused. “Who is stalking you, and why?”
At this point the old man clammed up. He sat back in his seat, throwing his hands up in the air out of frustration. If he is reluctant to say what he means out loud, I thought, it’s probably a bad idea to get mixed up with this guy anyway. There were two other things I found suspicious about him: (1) he was asking for my help without even introducing himself, and (2) I had no idea how he knew my profession.
The old man leaned forward in his seat, deciding to give things another shot, and said, “He’s stalking me because I slept with his wife.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at his admission. “If you’re dumb enough to mess around with another guy’s wife,” I said, “then you shouldn’t be shocked he’s mad at you!”
I reclined my seat and noticed a raven-haired beauty sitting in front of me. She turned around and looked toward the back of the bus. For a brief moment her eyes settled on me, and she gave me a mysterious look. Believe me: if there is one thing in this world that I love, it’s a good mystery. (After all, I’m a detective.)
“Hello,” I said. “I’m Steve Amos.”
“Allison Furrows,” she replied.
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
She gave me the slightest nod of acknowledgement, and then turned around again. (This wasn’t exactly an uncommon phenomenon: a gorgeous female giving me the cold shoulder.) I swung my gaze toward the window and watched the landscape transform around us.
Silence wrapped tight around every passenger as the inky blackness of night spilled over us. I could no longer see my environment, but I could smell it: faded cigars, heavy perfume of women in their golden years, burnt coffee of breakfasts long past, even the stale aroma of copulation. (Lord knows how people can do that on a bus without getting thrown off.)
I realized my overnight bag was on my lap, but I didn’t remember taking it down from the overhead storage compartment. It dawned on me that I hadn’t shaved in a couple days. I took out my razor and a trial-sized can of shaving cream. Then I made my way to the back of the bus. Not a single light was turned on. For all I knew, every passenger was sitting in the dark with their eyes wide open, watching my every move.
I hoped the bathroom would provide me with some relief from the hidden glare of other passengers, but that dream was stolen from me once I entered the tiny compartment. The stench of human waste destroyed the comfort of privacy. Still, my hygiene had to be tended to. I would just have to put a rush on it to escape the odor. In my haste to shave and exit, I wound up nicking myself a couple times.
As I made my way back to my seat, I was nearly thrown forward when the driver unexpectedly slammed on the brakes. The stranger in the seat across from me was startled from his sleep, shouting out some woman’s name (which indicated to me that he’d been in the middle of a dream). I regained my balance and returned to my seat.
“Well, looks like bad news,” the old man across from me said. “I just heard the driver talking on his radio. Apparently he didn’t get much sleep last night, so now he has to pull over and wait until someone comes to relieve him. On top of that, we’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s going to be a while before his relief comes.”
What a wonderful vacation, I thought.
Eventually the bus came to a halt. I looked out the window and saw woods on either side of us, stretching as far as the eye could see. The man beside me (whose name, I just remembered, was Carl) was snoring. With a sign I leaned my seat back so I could get some rest too.
Before drifting off completely, I heard the bus driver exit the vehicle. Due to Carl’s buzz saw sounds, I wasn’t sure if the next thing I heard was real or part of my half-asleep imagination, but I could have sworn another person got off the bus after him.
An ear-shattering scream woke me up. I opened my eyes and saw the beauty who had been sitting in front of me charging down the aisle. She grabbed my arm and yanked me out of my seat. Whispers of confusion and fear filled the air behind me.
“Not that I mind being man-handled by a beautiful woman,” I said, “but what is this all about?”
“You’re a detective, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Someone killed that old man sitting next to you,” she said, “the crazy one who claimed he was a movie producer.”
It took me a moment, but I eventually recalled his name was Frank Cadelo. And the woman leading me to his corpse was named Allison.
She dragged me off the bus and across a small open field toward the tree line. Frank’s body was a few yards into the woods. His throat had been cut. Judging by the angle of the slash, the killer had done the deed while standing behind his victim. Tough break, I thought to myself, otherwise I could solve the case by simply finding the passenger that was covered in gore.
“Let’s go back to the bus,” I said.
When Allison and I got there, the other passengers were standing outside. The looks on their faces told me they were waiting for answers.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Detective Steve Amos. I need your cooperation to figure out what’s going on here. All I ask is that you remain calm, and we can get to the bottom of this in no time.”
A short, athletic-looking young man stepped forward, raising his hand as if he were a student waiting for the teacher to call on him.
“Yes?” I said.
“I think we’d all calm down a little if you told us what’s going on,” he said. “We’re not babies; we can handle it.”
A mumble of agreement rose from the crowd. I had to agree the young man had a point. People want you to be straightforward with them, no matter how bad the news may be. To do otherwise was to imply you thought they weren’t mature or intelligent enough to handle reality.
“Someone has been murdered,” I said.
It took them a few moments to calm down from the shock of my announcement. Then there were the inevitable questions, the two most frequent ones being: (1) when did this happen and (2) how did the person die?
“I’m not sure when, but the gentleman’s throat was cut,” I answered. “I need to know if anyone here is a doctor.”
A frail old man hobbled forward. The moonlight reflected off his bald head.
“I’m a doctor,” he said.
“What’s your name, doc?” I asked.
“Pleased to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand. “Now come with me.”
I led him to Frank’s body. It took Alex a minute or so to find out some important facts. First of all, he determined Frank had been dead for less than a half hour. He also agreed with my assessment that the attack had come from behind.
“What about the murder weapon?” I asked.
“It looks like one of those old-fashioned straight razors,” Alex said.
This statement struck me dumb. Frank had said some guy had been pursuing him who had a thing for straight razors. That meant his stalker was one of the passengers, but then how was it possible that Frank hadn’t recognized his adversary?
After this line of thought, one other important fact occurred to me: I owned a straight razor. Could someone have seen it when I went to the bathroom to shave? Did they spot me putting it back in my overnight bag? If so, would they suspect that I was the killer?
Shoving these worries aside, I said, “Thanks for the help, Alex. I think you and I have done all we can here. Now I need to call for some backup.”
I tried not to look like I was rushing back to the bus, but it wasn’t easy. All I could think of was getting on that vehicle and rifling through my bag. The urge to break into a full-blown run was strong, but I resisted. Even when we had returned to our transportation, I forced myself to stay outside and talk to the passengers before I went on board.
Just as I was preparing to talk, Carl Bitterton walked over to me and tugged on my sleeve. The look on his face told me he had news to share, but he didn’t want to say it in front of everyone. He and I walked a few yards away from the crowd.
“The driver isn’t here,” he said.
“Okay. I need you to go look for him while I get on my cell phone,” I said. “I’m going to get some backup out here.”
As Carl walked off, I boarded the bus. The passengers were keeping an eye on me, so I flipped open my cell phone to make it look like I was calling someone. It turned out the battery was dead, but I did my best to keep up appearances.
I searched my bag once, then twice, then a third time. My worst fear was confirmed: the razor was gone. The killer was more clever than I thought. They were going to rely on my poor memory to frame me.
I knew I would get nowhere if I panicked. I took a few deep breaths to calm down, and then I got off the bus.
As soon as I stepped outside, a young lady asked, “What do we do now?”
“I called the local police. Help is on the way,” I said. “For now, I’m going to go look over the crime scene again. No one is to leave anyone’s sight.”
I dropped my cell phone into my right hip pocket and headed toward the corpse. Before I was even halfway there, Carl came charging out of the woods to my right. Judging by the look on his face, he did not have good news for me.
“Detective!” he said breathlessly. “I found the bus driver. He’s dead too.”
I closed my eyes tight. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere with two dead bodies and a killer was not my idea of a dream vacation.
“Doc!” I shouted. “We got another body this way. Carl will take us to it.”
We followed Carl to the second victim. Sure enough, it was the same story: dead within the hour, throat cut from behind with a razor.
“Thanks for the help, Charles.”
“It’s Carl,” the heavy-set passenger said.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Ever since my accident, I’ve had trouble with my memory.”
Carl gave me a puzzled look. “Accident? I thought you said you got blindsided by one of the criminals you caught. You’re on medical leave because of it.”
I couldn’t remember telling Carl that, but I put on my best game face and said, “Oh, right. I remember now.”
Carl gave me a weak smile, one that suggested he didn’t quite believe me. After an awkward silence, he and the doctor left. I remained behind with the body, trying to desperately hold on to the details.
Twigs snapped and leaves rustled behind me as someone approached. I turned around to see Allison. She looked at the corpse and grimaced.
“I can’t imagine having a job where you see this kind of stuff all the time,” she said. “I’d quit after one day.”
I laughed. “My wife used to say the same thing.”
“I didn’t know you were married,” Allison said.
A disturbing trio of words flashed through my mind: neither did I. (Luckily I managed to prevent this realization from flying out of my mouth.) Jesus, had the accident or blow to the head or whatever it was screwed me up so bad that I forgot I was married? Forget medical leave; they should have made me retire. Then again, maybe they did and I forgot that too!
“Are you going to come back to the bus soon?” Allison asked.
“In a while,” I said. “Why? Is there a rush?”
“People are just starting to get worried,” she explained, “and they’re depending on you for guidance. You are a detective, after all.”
“Tell them I’ll be back in a minute,” I said.
She nodded and turned to leave. While I looked over the murder scene, I stuck my hands in my pockets. To my surprise I felt an object in each one. The cell phone was in my right hip pocket, but I had no idea what was in the left. I took the unknown item out to discover what it was. In that instant, my entire world turned upside down because I’d finally found my straight razor, and it was covered in blood.
Everything came back to me. I wasn’t a detective named Steve Amos. I was an unemployed construction worker named Richard Evans. Steve was just an identity that I had assumed. Had he ever been a real person? Did I kill him to gain his life? My head injury prevented me from being able to recall the entire story, but there was another truth I was now aware of: the blow to the head was the result of an injury sustained during a car accident.
A few weeks ago I had rammed myself into the side of a vehicle driven by a man named Frank Cadelo. It was no wonder I showed him no sympathy when he told me about the man who had been stalking him.
That man was me.
He had been sleeping with my wife for over a year. Despite the length of the affair, Frank had somehow never managed to get a good look at me, hence why I had been able to sit across the aisle from him on that bus without him fleeing in terror or calling the REAL police. The accident also explained Frank’s nervous tics, plus the illusion of being a movie producer.
“Steve, what’s the matter?”
It was Allison’s voice coming from behind me. She must have noticed me acting funny and decided to stick around to see if I was okay.
She put her hand on my shoulder. I turned around to face her. It took her a second to notice the razor, but I knew she had spotted it when her eyes went so wide that they appeared lidless. A scream started to escape her mouth, but I was quick to silence it by clamping a hand over her mouth. Then I got behind her and slit her throat.
I held her tight until her body stopped quaking.
I have been heading west for at least an hour now. Some of the details of what I have done tonight have already started to fade on me. By now I couldn’t even tell you why I killed Allison, or the bus driver, or Frank Cadelo, or my wife. (Right now I couldn’t even say how I dispatched of my spouse. All I remember is that I killed her a few days before my bus trip.)
But you know something? It’s okay if I don’t know now. I’m a detective. When I learn of a homicide my job is to find out the reason why it was committed, and I’m sure I will uncover the truth this time too.
Sooner or later.
Aside from writing short stories, Steve also has a poetry collection and book for martial arts enthusiasts on Amazon. Click on the titles below to buy them. The other two links are to the other short stories that have been published on this site. Thank you for reading!
Author: Redemption Comics
Steve Grogan was born in the often-filmed city of Troy, NY. He has written in a variety of formats (novels, short stories, poems, screen and stage plays, blogs/articles) and genres (horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, drama).
Steve is also a father, a boyfriend, a musician, a fitness fanatic, and a martial artist. He has been studying Wing Chun Kung Fu since 1995, and he maintains a blog/YouTube channel that describe his training habits, epiphanies, and advancement. It also candidly discusses his stumbling blocks, such as his struggle with nutrition and mental health issues.
He is no relation to the New England Patriots quarterback from the 1980’s.