"The Red Body."

By

Harry Wolfe

Introduction

If you didn't read "The Dame Who Cried Wolfe," then you have no idea who I am. I'm just some guy with a funny name. But if you have, then you know I'm a P.I. who's in love with a woman who's sister went nuts and tried to kill me. You also know I walk with a limp because I was drafted and sent to Europe in WWII, where a Kraut shell took a chunk outta my leg. I also have a really nice car.

This was my first big case. There were a few before, but they were just insurance cases. I'd just moved to New York and opened a detective agency with Matt Davis, a guy I'd met at the airport when I first got to New York. I had "discovered" a bar, the Piss Water. I'd also found some of my old college buddies, Hank and Joe Fontaine. It was late January in '39. I'd turned twenty-one a week before. It really started when I was in an Italian restaurant. What happened in the restaurant really had nothing to do with the case, but it was still important. I believe I was eating ravioli when it happened….

Chapter 1

"Ravioli and baseball bats."

I like my ravioli. I like it big. I like it covered in sauce. I like Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. But I don't like it when people disturb me while I'm eating my ravioli. Someone sitting down and making conversation doesn't bother me. I like conversation. It's when someone starts making a commotion. Like the tall man who walked into the restaurant with a baseball bat. He paused for a second, then walked over to a man and started taking swings at his knee. So, I got up to stop him. Three reasons. One: that kind of thing is just plain wrong. No man deserves to have his kneecaps demolished. Two: it's wrong for that kind of stuff to happen in public. Three: it pissed me off. I went in there to have a nice, quiet dinner. Then this guy walks in and starts swinging. So I started swinging myself. I decked the guy. Then I picked up his bat and did my best Babe Ruth pose.

"Come on! You want to practice your swing on me? Huh?"

"Now, now. Take it easy. This doesn't concern you."

"My ass! I came in here to eat my ravioli in peace. You disturbed my peace. And if you try anything like this in front of me again, I'm going to disturb your, uh, piece with this bat. Got it? Good. You can get up now."

He got up. Then he started to walk for the door.

"Whoa. Hold on a second. I don't think you're going anywhere. You haven't told me your name, or apologized to this man. Are you all right, sir?"

"Whadya think? I just got my knee bashed in with a baseball bat!"

"Would somebody call this guy an ambulance? As for you, what's your name?"

"I ain't tellin' you nothin'."

"Sure?"

"Hell yeah I'm sure!"

"Well, okay."

Then I took my bat and swung it in a downward arc. Then it started going up again. Up between his legs. I swear to God he hit the floor faster than six cubic foot block of uranium. That's not very impressive, unless you realize that one cubic inch of uranium weighs one pound. That means I'm exaggerating. He would've hit the floor faster than a 187-ton block of uranium. But it makes it easier to visualize.

"Now. What did you say your name was? Oomph?"

"M-Muhlen, Brandon Muhlen."

"Good, good. So what's the deal with the knee? Look at ya the wrong way? Say something nasty about your mother? Childhood bully come back to haunt you?"

"I work for Tom Lacine. He told me to."

"Hmm. Tom Lacine. Let me guess. Pimp? Guy didn't pay his bill?"

"Close. Loan shark. Guy didn't pay his bill."

"Ah. Oh, look. The ambulance is here. And they brought friends."

Muhlen was arrested. The man was taken to the hospital. I had to answer a few billion questions. The next day the guy sent me a thank-you note. The next week I read in the Times that he wasn't pressing charges. I couldn't figure out why. I later found out that he was blaming himself because he'd been stupid enough to borrow money from a loan shark. He figured that he should've been willing to pay the consequences. I guess it makes sense, but not coming from a guy who'd just had his knee bashed in.

Chapter 2

"The new guy."

There was a knock on my door. I figured it was another job interview. I'd put an ad in the paper for someone to be my assistant. If they wanted to be a p.i., they could get some on-the-job training.

"Come in."

It was Brandon Muhlen.

"Well, well, well. Mr. Muhlen. Can I help you?"

"I'm here for the job." I thought so.

"Well, sit down. Now, why do you want this job?"

"Because I want to have a job."

"What about, uh, Tom?"

"I quit."

"Oh. Well, are you qualified?"

"I can tail. That guy didn't know."

"But can you type?"

"Yeah."

"You're hired. Desk's over there. Get to work."

"Wait. How much am I getting' paid?"

"Five an hour."

"Great. What do I do?"

"Brandon, this is Matt Davis." I'd taken Brandon out to lunch with my friends, and some waitresses, if we could catch 'em.

"Hi, Brandon. I see Harry finally got himself a secretary."

"He's not a secretary. He's an assistant. Most secretaries don't pack .45s. Besides, I already interviewed for secretaries. Not one of them could sit on my knee. That's what secretaries are for, you know."

"No, I didn't know. Knee, huh? Next thing you know, she'd be a sex-retary."

"Hmm. I outta put an add in the paper."

"Good idea. Put one in for me, too."

"You can pay for your own ad."

We had a few more laughs, then went back to the office. There was a note on my desk from one of my high school friends, Jeffrey Mann:

Harry,

Just moved to town with Ida, my wife, and wanted to have lunch with a friend. But it seems you're not here, so I'll try you later.

Jeff Mann

I called the operator and got Jeff's number. I called him up and we agreed to meet for dinner that night at the Piss Water. He said he wouldn't have to waste any money on booze; he'd be drunk enough when I picked him up.

I finished some paper work, gave Brandon a little lecture (like you'd get from a college professor, not your father) on how to do some stuff, and gave him some minor work to do on one of my insurance cases. At eight o'clock I said good night to Brandon, told him to lock up when he left, and went down the stairs to my car.

I got to Jeff's apartment at ten after eight. I didn't knock. I just walked in. There were boxes all over the place. Of course, they'd just moved. Jeff appeared to be waiting patiently, because there he was passed out on the floor, drunker than a taste tester for Jack Daniels. He said he'd be waiting. But he'd said nothing about what I saw next. There was Ida Mann lying dead on the floor.

Chapter 4

"The red body."

"Jeff! What happened?"

He didn't answer. He was passed out cold.

"Jeff, wake up!" He finally came around.

"Huh? Whas goinon?"

"Ida's dead."

"Dead? Why?"

"I was hoping you could tell me. When I got here, you were passed out on the floor and she was dead."

"I- I don't remember anything." Of course he wouldn't. He was wasted.

I walked over to the phone and called the police.

They got there within a few minutes. They asked us some questions, then arrested us. We were both suspects. I did notice one thing about Ida's body before I was taken away: the side facing the floor was red. It should've been bluish-purple, like a bruise. That told me one thing: cyanide. She'd been poisoned with cyanide.

We were taken to the station and locked up. We stayed the night there (like we had any choice). In the morning was our preliminary hearing. Our bail was set at some astronomical number (well, it wasn't that much, but you get the idea), and we went back to jail.

I'd been saving my phone call, and I figured now was the time to use it. So I called Matt, explained the situation, and begged him to post our bail. He asked how much. I told him. He swore, then said he had enough for me, but I'd have to pay him back. No prob, I said.

Matt came to pick me up, then took me to my car.

"Matt, unless I find out what happened last night, I'm fucked."

"I'll do everything I can to help you, 'cause if I don't, I'm out of a shitload of money. Whadya have so far?"

"She was poisoned with cyanide."

"How do you know?"

"The front half of her body was red."

"So?"

" It should've been kinda bluish, like your veins."

"Why?"

"Blood is red when it has oxygen in it and bluish when there's no oxygen in it. When the blood settles in a corpse, the part of the body facing the floor is colored like the blood. Since cyanide kills by blocking the body's ability to use oxygen, it keeps the oxygen in the blood, making it red."

"Damn' walking encyclopedia. How the hell do you know all this stuff?"

"I'm just that kinda guy."

We went back to my office. When we got in, I walked over to my phone. I had some calls to make.

Everything was pointing to Jeff. There was a week left till his trial and I'd been doing everything in my power to prove him innocent, but all the evidence had Jeff's name on it. I didn't want to, but I was starting to get some doubts in my mind. What if he did do it? Your best friend being a murderer is like your father being a Russian spy. I hate Russian spies. Would I hate my friend, too?

"Jeff, I'm starting to have some doubts."

"Oh, Harry! You know me! You know I didn't do it!"

"You say I know you, I say I know you, but the evidence says I don't. Right now I'm on your side. But this evidence is pretty strong. If I didn't know you so well, I'd already be pointin' my finger at you."

"I can't believe you, Harry! You're my best friend! How could you think I killed Ida?"

"I don't think you killed Ida. Listen, my trial's almost over. There wasn't much evidence against me and it's looking good for me. When I get out, I'll do everything I can for you. I'll work with your lawyer. Okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Harry."

Sure enough, I was acquitted. There was enough reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds. I had one week to clear Jeff.

I started by going to his lawyer. I asked to see the evidence. I only got to see it because Jeff had told him to let me see it.

There wasn't much. The glass Jeff had been drinking from, the glass Ida had been drinking from, a book of poetry. The coroner's report said cyanide. Of course, I already knew that. I skimmed through the poetry book. Really gloomy. So gloomy I was almost starting to feel suicidal. I closed it and immediately felt better. I couldn't see anything that could help Jeff, yet. In fact, it seemed even more likely that he did it, as bad as it seemed.

Then I decided to go question Jeff about what he remembered.

"I asked Ida to get me a glass of water. She went to the kitchen for a few minutes, then came back with some water. That's all I remember."

"Were you two having any problems?"

"With this moving stuff, yeah. She didn't wanna move."

"Things ever heat up?"

"Yeah. She'd hit me sometimes."

"She hit you? That's something new."
I started to get an idea of what could've happened, and I didn't like it.

Jeff and Ida got into an argument about something, perhaps their new house. Ida hit Jeff. It was the last straw, so Jeff slipped her a permanent Mickey. She drank it and died.

Jeff must've seen the look on my face.

"You think I did it, don't you?"

"Yes. I'm sorry Jeff."

"Don't be. I'm starting to think I did it."

"What?!"

"I told you I didn't remember anything after drinking my water. I may have done it."

I suddenly had an idea. I don't know why.

"Jeff, I just got an idea. Did Ida like poetry?"

` "Yes, why?"

"Oh, just a thought."

I went back to the lawyer and asked to see the poetry book. There was something about it that had stuck in my mind. Unfortunately, it wasn't what I wanted to find. I was hoping to find… I was hoping to find… I don't know what I was hoping to find. But I didn't find it. But there was still something about the book that stuck in my mind. I decided to come back later.

I'd had a rough day, so I went home and started reading a new book: The Hot Door, by Sue Loxe. I found the author's name amusing. It obviously wasn't her real name. You see, I'm from Michigan, and in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) there is a city called Sault (pronounced Soo) Ste. Marie. There is a series of locks connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron. The locks are referred to as the Soo Locks. And not only did I find Sue Loxe funny, I found it familiar. And gloomy. About as gloomy as… the poetry book. I went back and looked at the poetry book. It was by Sue Loxe. Too bad it didn't provide me with any useful information.

Chapter 5

"The undiscovered country."

"It's not looking too good, Jeff."

"No shit, Sherlock. You know, we could've had a fight. It's happened before." He laughed. "I was just remembering. When we got there, guess what the first thing she unpacked was? Not clothes or dishes, no. She got out her stupid typewriter. Her and her damn' stories."

"I didn't know she wrote. Any of 'em get published?"

"Oh, yeah. Lots of 'em."

"Really? I've never seen any."

"She never used her real name. Always used a pen name. Sue something."

"Sue Loxe?"

"Yeah. That's it."

I had an idea. I went to the lawyer and asked to look at the poetry book. After a little searching, I found what I was looking for. Here it is:

"The Undiscovered Country."

I've climbed the mountain, crossed the plain.

The rivers I've bridged are faded from my mind.

I've reached the plateau and look to the horizon.

And now I take myself into the undiscovered country.

The "undiscovered country" comes from Hamlet's soliloquy. When he spoke of the undiscovered country, he was referring to death. This was a suicide note. From Ida Mann. I had another idea. I told the lawyer to have Jeff's glass tested. He called me at lunch the next day.

"Mr. Wolfe?"

"Yeah?"

"We've tested the glass and we found traces of Dramamine."

"Dramamine? That's for motion sickness."

"Yes, but it can also produce drowsiness. If there was enough in the glass, it would've knocked him out."

I explained what I'd found to the lawyer. I heard a few yeahs and ahs and that was it.

Three weeks later the trial was over and I bought Jeff a beer at the Piss Water to celebrate.

Epilogue

Ida Mann wasn't mentally stable. She and Jeff had had differences of opinion about moving. Jeff had asked for a glass of water. Ida had a plan to commit suicide and wanted to frame Jeff for murder. This was the perfect opportunity to do it. She went to the kitchen, got him a glass of water, dissolved some Dramamine in it, and gave it to him. After he passed out, she put some cyanide in her water and drank it, leaving Jeff to take the blame. I cleared him. I did such a good job that all of my friends bought us each a beer.