It was an open and shut case, over an open and shut grave!
|Badowski scratched the match head with a thumbnail and held the sputtering flame to his watch. Eleven fifty-eight. The flame hissed on the damp grass where he dropped it, and went out.
The moon had been out when he entered the cemetery, but a cloud bank had drifted over its face, deepening the night and bringing a cold wind with it. Badowski shifted from foot to foot, and tried pushing from his mind the fancy that it was the chill, inhaling breath of the nearby open grave—the grave the caller had told him to wait near—that tugged so insistently at his elbows and shoulders, pulling him toward its muddy maw. But the idea, once formed, was impossible to get rid of. Badowski was not an imaginative man—save where women, dice, and horses were concerned; in their presence, fantasy flourished—but a frosty metropolitan graveyard, at midnight, would have preyed on sterner nerves than his.
The gangster jumped as a heavy hand fell onto his shoulder. "Don't turn around," the speaker said.
Badowski froze. "That you, Solomon?" he asked.
"You have my money?" The speaker's voice was soft and hoarse, and seemed to come from a long way away.
Badowski nodded, then stiffened as another hand reached around to worm inside his overcoat. "I'll want that wallet back," he said as the other pulled something from the inner pocket. "It was a present from a dame I—"
"You're squeezing me out," the other man said, accusingly. "You and Murray."
Badowski froze, then shrugged. He'd figured this meeting had something to do with that. But he wasn't scared of a mousy little accountant like Solomon.
"Yeah, well," he said. "Murray and me figure the thing don't need three of us."
"I could give your names to your boss."
A flush of anger warmed Badowski, despite the nighttime chill.
"You're as dead as the rest of us," he snarled, "if you tell Iacovone how we was fixing him on the short end of the fights!"
But the answering laugh made his blood run cold. It was an unpleasant, gurgling chortle that ended in a viscous, choking swallow.
"Yes-s-s-s-s," Solomon hissed. "I'm as dead as the rest of you! But don't worry. 'Dead men tell no tales.' So you tell Iacovone anything you want. Only tell Murray that I talked to you!"
"Yeah, and how come?"
"Tell Murray I talked to you!" the speaker repeated. His voice was fading.
"So what do I tell him?"
"Tell him where we talked!" The voice faded away completely.
But the grip on Badowski's shoulder tightened, and he was shoved forward violently. He tumbled over a low gravestone, barking his shins. When he stood up and looked around, he was alone.
The hell with this! he told himself, and scampered for the street.
* * *
Three days later, Badowski was slouching in a police holding cell, nursing a day's growth of stubble. He was in a surly mood when fetched back into the interrogation room, and he sneered at the detective who was waiting for him there.
"I saw my mouthpiece outside," he jeered. "You decided yet what you're gonna hold me on?"
"Not the Murray suicide," Detective Holland said.
"Aw. So you finally figured it was as suicide! I told you that, you dumb—"
Holland picked up a piece of paper.
"I went to see Lester Murray on Tuesday night," he read off Badowski's statement, "and I said to him, 'Murray, me boy, I've talked to Solomon. We met up in the cemetery. Now is there anything that you'd like to tell me?' That's what I said. Whereupon Murray got up and locked himself in his bedroom. I left, and was down on the sidewalk bumming a match off a flatfoot when we heard a shot from Murray's building. He was dead when we busted in together."
Holland laid the statement down and looked at the mobster. "And you still can't speculate on why your words should have galvanized your boss's bookie to kill himself?"
Badowski grinned. "Nope."
"Did you actually meet up with your boss's accountant in the cemetery?"
His nose for danger warned Badowski it was better to be vague on the point.
"It's what I told Murray." He shrugged. "I just heard Solomon had something on Murray, so I decided to see if I could shake him with it. Make a squeeze play."
"Then why mention the cemetery?"
"I dunno. To add color." Badowski flinched as steam rattled the radiator in the corner.
Holland opened a fat manila envelope and spilled a brown leather wallet onto the table.
"So this isn't yours?" he asked. "It's got nine gees in it, along with your initials."
"Oh. Yeah." Badowski's eyes lit up with cupidity. "I did drop it. Thanks." He reached for the wallet.
But Holland seized his wrist.
"Maybe we can't nail you for Murray's death," he said in a quiet voice. "But at least we can tie you in on Solomon's."
Badowski blinked and blanched.
"Solomon's?" he stammered. "Is Solomon—? I got alibis going back two days! You had me overnight here, yourselves!"
"You got an alibi for a week ago?"
"What are you talking about?" Badowski's voice was shrill.
"We found Solomon out in the cemetery yesterday. He had three bullets in him, from a gun registered to Lester Murray."
"That's impossible!" Badowski protested. "I went straight from talkin' to him to—" He caught himself. "Of course, if you want to pin it on Murray—"
"We can and we will. On you too. You got no alibi. Solomon's been dead a week."
Badowski came half out of his chair.
"The killers tried hiding him inside a fresh-dug grave," Holland said. "But some one or thing disturbed the soil, and he was spotted."
"I wasn't there!"
"Then how come your wallet was inside that pile of freshly turned dirt with 'im?"
Entry for the Weird Tales Contest: October 2020.