Apartment 19

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Chapter 3

Finneas awoke to the alarm clock. It was 5:30 AM, Tuesday, and he had to go to work. A dream had left him bereft of an item belonging to Marlowe. From the left side of the queen-size bed, he hurriedly opened the top drawer of his gray oak nightstand, which was a fairly long stretch for the elfin man, and furiously rummaged around for Marlowe’s school ring. In the nightmare he had dropped it down a sewer. He found the ring in the nightstand and was reassured that the 5-carat near-flawless oval diamond Marlowe bought to replace the faux gem was not lost.

His phone was plugged in and stopped playing Peter Tosh’s, “Legalize It”, sometime during the night. Before going to bed he had imbibed his favorite nightcap, an Aviation, which Marlowe had always prepared for him out of the driest, best gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice, and violet liqueur. He had smoked a half bud and fell into bed stoned.

The night before was the first day of the week, weed being more than a Sunday sacrament for him, but not for Marlowe, dead or alive. The drive from 892 Lombard to Dunkin’ Donuts for a blueberry iced coffee took him a few blocks past Pfizer at 230 East Grand, a newish South San Francisco industrial park at the bay’s edge, an unreal location complicated by criss-crossing streets. The pale Vietnamese-like liquid wetted his lips and cooled the middle of his tongue.

Waiting for him as he walked through the front door at Pfizer was Larry Leahy.

Finneas put his brown leather carryall down and noticed a scuff mark on his Carven monk strap boots. He had disregarded the fact these boots didn’t give him the height he craved because men said how spiffy they were.

The running of both hands over tight, curly black hair reinvigorated the flamboyant feeling of success he had so desired and achieved, which meant that weathering the questions of a mere policeman would be easy, and he even felt himself entering into a thrilling, jumpy state and removed his face mask with extra flair.

“Good morning. Nice to see you. I’m headed to my office. You can make an appointment to see me with the departmental secretary. I can show you the way if you like.”

“Sir, please sign in!” a security guard yelled.

“I’ll sign in for him. He’s my guest.”

I don’t want anyone to know who he is, Finneas thought.

Finneas put his face mask back on and led Inspector Leahy to the departmental office.

Inspector Leahy said, “Not here. Let’s go to your office.”

They did.

“Sit down,” Inspector Leahy said.

“I have a busy day, Inspector. What’s this all about?”

“I got a report on some toothpicks in your kitchen.”

“What...you took some of my toothpicks? You had no right to take anything of mine.”

“I do.”

“Aren’t there laws against an illegal search?”

“I didn’t search you or your apartment. They were in plain sight, and their value is negligible. Marlowe’s blood DNA is on one of the toothpicks.”

“That’s ridiculous. How could blood be on an unused toothpick in my apartment?”

“You grabbed as many toothpicks as you could after killing Marlowe and seeing them scattered about. You threw most of them away when you got home, and then thought, no, it’s not really necessary and put a few back into the holder without knowing Marlowe had used one of them. You don’t look like a miser, but toothpicks were the smallest item on which you could economize. What do you have to say?”

Finneas choked on his blueberry coffee.

“I can give a logical explanation.”

“Go ahead.”

Larry pulled out his notepad.

“Marlowe cleaned his teeth with the toothpicks all the time. He could have put one of them back into the cup without thinking about it. Sometimes I would find him sitting in a dwaal at his place or in my apartment or even a nightclub where there’s lots of noise and dancing and chatting.”

“What’s a dwaal?”

“I think you Americans say ‘absent-minded’. That’s what ‘sitting in a dwaal’ means.”

“Maybe he was thinking about the future?”

“No doubt.”

“I mean a future without you!”

“Did Milo say that? If she did, she’s a lying skirt. Mar was mixed up sometimes. He had these thoughts of needing to make up stories to explain to people the absence of a wife accompanying him wherever he went. He said sometimes when he was sitting in church, people were looking at him and wondering where his wife was. I told him he was imagining things, and he should be proud of who he is.”

“Don’t you miss your family in South Africa? You’re alone here.”

“My dad, Oba Obi, said ‘if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.’ That’s what I did when I came to America.”

“I thought you had a job offer from Pfizer?”

“When I got here, they wanted to send me back. It turned out my background wasn’t what they wanted, but I proved to them they were headed in the wrong direction on developing a vaccine for COVID-19. They decided to keep me. I opened a door!”

“If I talked to the director here, would he confirm that?”

“I’m not comfortable with you speaking to anyone else here.”

“I think you are full of yourself and you made up that whole thing. I think Marlowe found out who you really are, full of ego, bluster, and hype, and he decided to leave you. He didn’t reject you to be chaste, as you and Milo claim. He rejected you because of the kind of man you are. I know I’m right.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr. Leahy.”

“I see you looking at the door, the window, your drawer. What’s in the drawer?”

There’s nothing in the drawer, asshole.

“You’re a very prejudiced man like all cops, aren’t you, Mr. Leahy?”

“Actually, we are integrated, Mr. Obi, and don’t call me a racist or a bigot again. What’s that on the wall? A microscope?”

“My most prized possession.”

“Don’t put me under one. Tell me the truth.

“Don’t put me under one either.”

“You’re small enough to fit.”

“Get out.”

“Gladly.”

Inspector Leahy’s cell phone rang.

“Yes. But...Captain Dempsey...no...I’m just doing what I think is best...hold on a minute. Mr. Obi, step outside and let me finish the call.”

“No. This is my office. You step outside.”

“Fine.”

Finneas checked every drawer while Inspector Leahy was outside. Looking for them. Toothpicks. His hands slid up and down the dusty, inky drawer bottoms, making a tremendous noise. Fearful Leahy would hear, he slowed his hunt and started to put on his lab coat when Leahy walked in.

“Mr. Leahy, I have important work to do.”

“So do I. Be available for questioning, here or at home. Good-bye.”

I wish I could talk to that Dempsey and find out what’s going on. I could spit in Leahy’s eye.

Finneas started to think about Marlowe.

He didn’t like it when I spit in his mouth. It was a tiny amount of spittle. I tried to get him to loosen up and have some fun, but….

Finneas called for his lab assistant and together they entered the lab, properly attired, and began the day’s work.

Not more than half an hour later, his cell phone rang.

“Hello.”

“Mr. Obi?”

It’s him again.

“What is it? I told you I have a busy schedule today.”

“Marlowe’s autopsy report revealed that Botulinum neurotoxins were present. So, I asked to see your boss. He told me you have access to the drug because you’ve been doing cancer research ...NOT research on a COVID-19 vaccine. An inventory check on Botulinum neurotoxin will be completed by noon today. I’ve already retrieved video from the camera in the room where the drug is locked up. Do you want to tell me now what you did or wait for your theft to be discovered?”

“I’m right in the middle of an experiment. Can I call you back in 30 minutes? That’s all the time I need. Then I’ll talk.”

“Fine. I will be in the lobby waiting.”

Finneas hung up, ran into his office, grabbed his carrying case, flew out the door without saying a word to his assistant or removing his lab coat, ripped his black Armani suit pants on the chair trying to grab the carrying case, a long rip he didn’t see right away, headed for the rear employee-only exit, and jumped in his Grand Cherokee.

He sped on 101, exited 6th Street, raced recklessly up Taylor and then up and over the Coolbrith hummock, and made a half-wheelie turn at Lombard, and nearly all of it in one breath. Moving so quickly, he fell over the dirt bike in his apartment hallway and cursed it. The kitchen table seemed the best place to write. A pen seemed to drift out of his carrying case.

Lightheaded and depressed he began his narrative, no tears, determined.

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