Serial: "The Cold Slope Incident" - Part 1

Here's something. I'll post a short story in serialized segments about once a week. Just a first draft with a quick edit to polish it up some. It'll be a detective story. Sort of.

January 29th, 2013

"The Cold Slope Incident"

by Charles Ll. Hoehnen


Woodson came back to his second-story apartment above Faster's Department Store just before midnight and set his gun and the crisp manila envelope on the stereo receiver. It was Thursday, January 29th, almost the 30th. The rain had really started now. He turned on the radio and went to the porch without taking off his coat.

He wedged the bronze bust of R- under the screen door and looked down on the empty street. He smoked cigarettes and drank beer in bottles from a case that he'd stored beneath the iron rocking chair. He planned to get drunk. He stood at the railing as the rain pounded in a petulant display all around him; drumming and rhythmic on the pavement, whining coldly as it washed under the tires of the rare truck from the paper mill cranking its way through the town square, erratic overhead on the shingles. The radio was totally drowned by this racket. Once every few cigarettes he heard the crunch and sploosh as snow broke from the gutters of one of the roofs in old downtown, only to be obliterated by the storm and carried into winter choked sewers. He hadn't taken off his hat. He felt something coming.

It was too warm for January, just like it had been too cold for December. All last year the story had been drought, but the snow and rain came in alternating deluges that winter, like a compulsive who twisted the hot and cold knobs of a faucet hoping to get something else. Hoping for anything else. The rain came in sideways and started to fill his ashcan almost as fast as he added his degraded cigarettes.

A light came on in the apartment across the street. Y- Gonzalez' place. She lived there with her daughter and her husband, and it they were the ones he saw through the gauzy purple shades. They were just muddled black shadows through the rain, but he turned away and felt the rain begin to seep into his jacket. It was already 2 AM. His throat was sore. 
The envelope was where he'd left it on the stereo. Laid flat but bulging at the bottom. It blended with the yellow light against the stucco. The gun was more distinct. His hand still burned. He picked up another bottle and turned around again, spitting over the side as the rain pelted his neck and the brim of his hat. A movement in light made him turn his gaze up. Y- Gonzalez' daughter had come to the window. She was naked. Her body came out of the shadow into the aura cast from the street light outside. She had moved to pull the drapes over the see-through lace of the curtains - something was happening inside, her husband pulling off his shirt behind her - but she stopped with her arm aloft near the rod and her ribs pressed against the pane. She must have seen him. He had time to watch the glass blow gray with her heat, and drip and freeze in a cracking pattern until the dark cloth came over and he sucked on his cigarette. His fingers holding the bottle had gone numb.

He pulled the brim of his hat low over his eyes and exhaled harsh smoke, a wheeze audible through his jaw and his quivering cheeks. He never wanted to look in the envelope again. What he'd read already he wished he could unread. Pictures that the instant the figures within came into focus he had flipped over. The notes on the back had been just as bad. Peter's. All in his brother's hand. In fact he swore he'd never even re-enter the room where the envelope lay innocuous on silver aluminum. Swore this to himself as he upturned the last bottle. All twelve were gone and it was 3 AM. The rain obliterated the world around him. He was frozen to death. At four the phone rang and he forced himself back inside. 
"Detective." It was Birkman. His boss. He was an old man but his voice was heavy and clear and certain and broke through the fog. "I see I didn't wake you. Is the storm keeping you up?" 

"That's right."

"I'm sorry to hear that." He wasn't. "I am glad you were able to take care of our little trespasser problem yesterday without a hitch. It wouldn't do any good to have the new designs leaked before we begin production. Can't let our competitors get a leg up," he said. Woodson believed that incontrovertibly. Nothing meant more to Birkman than his designs. 
"It's not a problem Mister Birkman. Listen-"

"No, it's all right. I'll get to the point." His voice landed like a blow, but Woodson could tell he was anxious. "The rain has caused something of a catastrophe out by the Slope. Our storage lot might be compromised. I need someone to check it out."


"Yes. Flooding under the old mine has caused a bit of a rock-slide."

"That sounds dangerous."

"It's nothing you can't handle."

Woodson leaned his forehead against the refrigerator, the receiver hanging limp in his hand close to his sweaty ear.

"Of course. I'm headed there now."

Birkman was thanking him, telling him he was the only one he could trust not to screw it up, but Woodson had stopped listening. He mumbled goodbye and returned to the stereo. Sometime during their conversation the radio had gone to static. I whispered and popped as Woodson moved, and he shut it off with a flick of his finger. He put his gun in his shoulder holster and picked up the envelope again. A movement outside made him turn. It was the drapes in Gonzalez' apartment being thrown open. The brick of the building had shed its black glower from the night rain. Dawn was coming slowly from under the weight of the storm. He closed the screen door and left. The silver chain of a necklace had slipped out of the mouth of the envelope where he'd dropped it on the stereo.


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