Detective Nita Black spotted her brother as soon as she got out of the car. Even past midnight with multicolor neon reflecting off the rain-slick street, the big white “Coroner” spelled out across the back of his jacket was a dead giveaway.
“I really appreciate you calling me,” her new partner said as she got out of the other side of the car. “I know this is an off-duty thing and you didn’t have to-”
“I’d had too much to drink to drive,” Nita said, frowning at the scene.
Morgan was bent over a body in the front seat of a car; but Witherspoon was also standing over a body, the bald one in front of Hell, Vinnie Moran’s club, a good fifty feet away. Bald probably meant it was Vinnie. Wonder who he pissed off this time.
“Is that a dead body?” Chloe said, looking over at Witherspoon.
“The one on the ground is,” Nita said. “The one standing up is Detective Witherspoon. Go see what he wants. Check for a pulse. I’m going to go talk to my brother.”
“That’s the coroner, isn’t it?” Chloe said, but Nita was already heading for Morgan and the crashed car.
“Who’s the cute little blonde?” Morgan said, his head still inside the car when she reached him.
“Chloe Button, my new partner. What is all this?”
Morgan pulled his head out and looked down at her, nonplused. “There’s a homicide detective named Chloe Button?”
“What. Is. All. This.”
“Right.” Morgan stepped aside so she could look through the window. “This is Ralph Denton. At approximately 12:30, he drove by Hell–” Morgan gestured to the bar, clearly identified by the burning letters over the pitchforked door. “—and sprayed bullets into Joey Murdock.”
“Vinnie’s bouncer?” Nita said. “I thought it was Vinnie. Why would anybody shoot Joey?”
“Then Ralph here kept going and hit this lamppost. His airbag did not deploy.”
“So this is a crash victim, not a homicide.”
“And this is where it gets weird.”
“Oh, good,” Nita said.
“Well, why else would Witherspoon call you?”
“Give me the weird.”
“According to four different witnesses, all of whom I overheard talking at the same time while I was counting the bullet holes in Joey—seventeen, if you’re interested—Joey was shoving some guy out of the bar in front of him when Ralph did his drive-by.”
“So we got three bodies.”
“Two. The third body is inside having a drink with Vinnie.”
“So he was behind Joey–”
“Not according to the witnesses. Front and center.”
“He was wearing a vest.”
“Nice of Ralph to group his shots that close. No. But then as Ralph drove on, the third body waved his hand, and Ralph’s car sped up and crashed into the pole.”
Nita tilted her head at her brother and with many years practice gave him the fish eye.
“Swear to god it’s true,” Morgan said. “At least, that’s what the witnesses said. They were babbling a little.”
“Surprised,” Morgan said. “So Witherspoon asked where you were–”
“And you told him,” Nita said, exasperated.
“Under the circumstances, yes.” Morgan waved his assistant over to the car, gestured to Ralph, and said, “Pry him out of there and take him in.” Then he turned back to her. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.”
“There always is,” Nita said.
“And I’m equally sure that Witherspoon is not going to find it.”
“Excellent point.” Nita looked over to where the senior detective appeared to be chatting up Chloe, his darkly handsome head bent down close to her fluffy little blonde one. “He’s a good detective on the obvious stuff. He’s careful. He covers the bases.”
“He strikes out when it comes to the weird,” Morgan said. “No imagination. It’s a design flaw. Are you going to talk to the third guy? Can I come along?”
“I want to see him drinking. I’m picturing the booze coming out of the bullet holes.”
Nita frowned at him. “Two people are dead, Morgan.”
Morgan nodded, cheerful as ever. “I just want to know why it’s not three.”