It was too hot. For a trench coat and the fedora. And the Italian leather shoes. The charcoal gray flannels stuck to his thighs. But then the drug store was air-conditioned. And Milt Blunt was a detective. Retired. Semi. Automatic. Which used to be next to his breast pocket. German. Against his heart beat. Straps around his back. Like a bra.
There was a kid with him. Someone’s kid. Not his. Kid had wandered off from his mother. While the mother tried some of the samples offered at the beautician’s counter. Just a little day dream she fell into. Life before the kid. When boredom didn’t seem like freedom. When the phone didn’t interrupt. Each day was Valentine’s Day. And so she forgot. About the kid.
The detective looked down at the kid. His name was Robert. The kid. Not the detective.
“You’re short,” Blunt said to the kid. Then snorted. Blunt was the detective’s name. Joe Blunt. Blunt for short.
“I’m a kid,” the kid responded. And moved to one side. Fearful that something was going to be catapulted out of the detective’s nostril.
The detective grunted. “In my day, we didn’t have kids. As soon as you were seven years old you went to work. Usually in a coal mine. On your knees. Pulling a cart through the tunnels. By a rope. In your teeth. Filled with coal. The cart and the tunnels. Not your teeth. And you smoked cigarettes on your break. Wore a suit jacket. Tailored down. Put your trousers on. One leg at a time. And referred to your elders as old man. And knew what a dish was. But didn’t know what was served on it.”
“Did you work in a coal mine?”
The detective looked at the kid suspiciously. Why would he ask something like that? Maybe he wasn’t a kid? Maybe he was a short hood. Pretending to be a kid. One of those dwarfs. Never trust a dwarf. As far as you could throw one.
“It was twelve years ago,” Blunt said. Something leaped out of his lung. Into his mouth. “Last year before my retirement. Semi.”
Blunt took out a tissue and spit into it. The kid watched him. It made Blunt feel guilty. For something.
“It was a hot summer,” Blunt continued. “Summers were always hot back then. Don’t ask me why. We don’t seem to have summer anymore. We have two weeks in August. And don’t get me started on a-c. Ruined the heat wave. There were nights we didn’t sleep. Just lay there. Sweating buckets. Talking to each other. Killing time. Listening to the radio. No television. At least none in the early hours. Over there.”
Blunt pointed to the other end of the drug store.
“That used to be a grocery store. Hard to believe when you look at it now.”
The kid looked around.
“I don’t believe it,’ the kid said.
The detective stared at the kid. Does he think I’m lying to him? Who lies to a kid? Where’s the profit?
“You think I’m lying?”
“Why not?” the kid responded.
“To what point?” Blunt responded.
The kid shrugged his shoulders.
“You got a name?” the detective asked.
“Robert,” the kid replied.
“I sent a guy up the river who was called Robert. Any relation?”
“There’s lot of people named Robert,” the kid said. “My uncle’s name is Robert. I was named after him. He died in the war.”
“Which war?” Blunt asked.
The kid shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“There are lots of wars, kid. You should get your facts straight. So your uncle was a hero?”
“He was a cook,” the kid said.
Blunt moved over to the counter where drugs were dispensed by the pharmacist. Placing his hand on the counter, he turned to the kid.
“This used to be a freezer.”
“You sure?” the kid asked looking at the counter.
Blunt glared at the kid. “I’m sure. This was the freezer we found the body in. She’d been stabbed eighteen times with a potato peeler.”
“Eighteen times?” Robert asked.
Blunt nodded. “With a potato peeler.”
“Did you count them?” the kid asked.
Blunt glared at the kid. “You think I’d make something like that up?”
The boy looked at the detective.
“What’s a potato peeler?” the kid asked.
“It’s a kind of knife. We never found the killer,” Blunt added then snorted. “He’s still out there.” He looked down at the kid. “Somewhere. Laughing probably. Knowing he got away with it. For the time being. But, you don’t have to be afraid. I’ll get him.”
The kid smiled. “I’m not afraid.”
Blunt glared at the kid for some time.
“Well,” he barked, “you should be.”
The kid turned his head and looked around the store.
“What’s your mother’s name?” Blunt asked.
The kid hesitated. “Mom.”
Blunt stared at the kid. He grinned. Is he trying to be funny?
The kid looked at the detective, thought for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders.
“You don’t know what your mother looks like?” Blunt barked.
“I know what she looks like,” the kid responded. “But I don’t know. She looks ordinary.”
Blunt glared at the kid.
“Ordinary, eh? That covers a lot of ground.”
The kid pointed down the aisle at a woman looking at cosmetics.
“She look like that lady?” the detective asked.
“Exactly,” the kid respond.
“Well, that’s a start. Things are looking up kid.”
“That’s my mother,” the kid said.
The detective snorted. He took another tissue out of his pocket. And blew his nose.
The kid had disappeared. When the detective looked around. The kid was now standing with his mother.
“Well, well,” the detective said shaking his head. “Not so much as a thank you.”