The first thing I heard that damaged my calm was the sound of two doors slamming. The sheriff had help with him.
Up until when I opened the door to the cabin, I half expected the big, four-armed, whatever-it-was to be standing behind him, electric ray gun at the ready.
But it was just Maynard, the chief deputy, looking stern, a step behind Sheriff Belloc like he always was.
“Hey, Francis,” I said to the sheriff. He hates being called Francis. “Hey, Maynard. What are you guys doing out here this early?” I figured it wasn’t 5 yet, by the light or general lack thereof.
“Mind if we come in, Hank?”
“Matter of fact, I do.” And it’s true. If I don’t object to guys in uniform barging into the house, the sheriff would think something was wrong. That’s one of my basic beliefs, scared to my bones or not but more so when scared to my bones: the God-given right to be secure in my person and property.
Belloc chuckled. He knew I’d mind if they came in, like I said.
“Look, Hank, I’m here with bad news,” he said. “It’d be better if you sat down.”
“Any bad news, I can take standing just as well as sitting.”
“Suit yourself,” Belloc sighed. “Buzz is dead.”
“Not funny, sheriff.” I had been thinking about how I might react to the news if I didn’t know it was coming, but then I thought I’d let my mind go blank and say the first thing that came to mind when he said it. Turned out to be a good strategy: “Not funny, sheriff,” that sounds like something I would say.
“I’m not kidding, Hank,” he said gently. “We found his body down by the train station about an hour ago.”
“Well, we thought maybe you could shed some light on that, Hank, seeing as how he was here all the time, working,” Belloc said. “Did he say anything, make any plans, that would put him in that part of town, this early in the morning?”
“I can’t think of anything,” I lied, glad that the coin was over at Pete’s house. “You found him down by the railroad station? Huh.”
“Buzz sure loved to tinker with things, didn’t he,” said Maynard with a grin. Maynard didn’t know Buzz from a red-winged blackbird chattering on a power line. He was just trying to get me to spill something. Maynard was always a little too obvious.
“Yeah, he sure was a tinkerer,” I said. “Is that what got him killed?”
“Now, that’s a very interesting question, there, Hank,” the sheriff said after a pause.
“How do you mean? Was it – unusual?” I asked, trying to avoid thinking about how an electric charge that blows out your heart is not a usual way to die.
“No, not that,” Belloc said. “It’s interesting that you would ask how he was killed, when all I said was we found the body. What made you think he didn’t just keel over or have an accident?”
“I don’t know, Buzz was healthy as a horse and he was always very, very careful,” I said. “I guess I just figured somebody popped him or something.”
“As a matter of fact, it turns out he was not as healthy as a horse,” the sheriff said. “Looks like a heart attack.”
“Huh,” I said, which was quite a triumph of restraint on my part. I wanted to bust out laughing and say, is that what you call a heart attack now? Ripping a hole clean through a guy’s chest does constitute an attack on his heart, I suppose. But I knew any such outburst would put me at the scene and in the crosshairs of the sheriff and the four-armed thing.
Maynard turned his head a little sideways like he was trying to see something better, except he was looking at my face.
“Something bugging you, Hank?”
“It’s not every day the cops wake you up from a dead sleep and tell you your buddy is dead,” I said. “Just trying to make sense of everything. Heart attack? I’d never have thought.”
“Let’s get back to why you thought he was killed,” Belloc said.
“Oh, I don’t know why I said that.”
“When was the last time you saw Buzz?”
“When he left work yesterday afternoon, quittin’ time, 5 o’clock-ish.”
“Where were you this morning, say, from midnight on?”
“Right here,” I said. “Turned in around 10, 10:30, and slept through.”
“Nobody can confirm that, I guess,” Maynard said. “You didn’t have company.”
“I wish,” I said. “If I had company, I wouldn’t have slept through.”
That made Maynard laugh, a little too loud I thought.
“Hey, why would I need an alibi if Buzz dropped dead of a heart attack?” I said.
“Who said alibi?” the sheriff said. “I’m just trying to figure out where Buzz was before he came into town. Who he saw, what he ate …”
“Won’t the autopsy show some of that?”
“We’ll see about that,” he said. “And he didn’t call you or anything after he left last night?”
The two lawmen looked at each other. They looked done, but then …
“Say, Hank, you know Buzz didn’t have no family,” Maynard said. “We need someone to officially identify the body.”
“What, me? Now?” I said after it sank in. I really wanted to get back to Pete’s and find out what the bejeebers was going on.
“Well, yeah, now. The sooner, the better.”
I whirled it around in my head. Pete had said 10, and it was barely 5 yet.
“OK,” I said. “I’ll get dressed.”