“We need to tell the cops about the guy I saw with a shrimp knife,” said Esmeralda as she and Debbie scurried up the walk to the Senior Center. “Somebody jabbed that shrimp knife into Jacob’s neck, and we know it wasn’t Charlie 8, although they were all wishing it was that easy. Go find the homeless guy who used to be a shrimper. So dumb.”
“Probably half the people we know have shrimp knives, Esmeralda.”
“In Omaha? I don’t think so. You think people are deveining shrimp around here. Deb? Or even know shrimp have veins?”
“So, you’re saying that the guy at the Senior Center that you saw with the shrimp knife, you haven’t even told me who it is, came from someplace else and brought his shrimp knife with him?”
“Yes,” Esmeralda nodded. “That is my theory.”
“And pray tell, what was he doing with the shrimp knife when you saw it?”
“Cleaning his fingernails.”
Up ahead, Esmeralda and Debbie could see that Deputy John had joined the two city cops and Mark O’Leary, the golf course groundskeeper who Debbie used to have a big crush on until she realized what a rambling doofus he was, plus he was married, and she’d sworn off that kind of thing a while ago. So, cloak and dagger. Wearying.
“Officers! We need to tell you something.”
Esmeralda was breathless from hurrying up the walk. As soon as she got there, Mark O’Leary said his goodbyes and rushed down the path toward the golf course. Esmeralda started right in, telling how several weeks ago, when she was helping clean up the meeting room after a session about Medicare alternatives, a man stayed behind, sitting in a straight-backed chair next to the windows overlooking the park. He was cleaning his nails with a shrimp knife. She waited for them all to gasp.
“That’s interesting. And what did this fellow look like?” Deputy John asked.
“Big guy. Dressed all in black. I don’t remember much else. He looked like he put his chair there so he could look out the window all afternoon. It was weird.”
The three cops looked at each other, trying to remember the other time someone had mentioned a man in all black hanging around the Senior Center, hanging around Jacob.
The flute music was barely perceptible at first. Matt cocked is head, then held his finger to his lips telling the others to be quiet. “Hear that?” he asked.
“Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like a flute to me. And I think it’s coming from over there, in those woods.” Deputy John pulled a small pair of binoculars from his belt, the kind that folded up into the size of a pack of cigarettes. He scanned the tree line while Matt and Jovan started walked toward the woods.
“Hey, guys, I see a glint of something. About 3 o’clock. Do you see it?”
Deputy John jammed the tiny binoculars in his pants pocket and started running, clapping the other two on the back and he ran by. “Come on. Over there.”
The three men galloped toward the woods. With every step, the flute music got louder, making them think they were getting close to its source. They heard rustling in the woods and thought it was someone running away from them but couldn’t be sure, the whistling and lilting of the music hazing over the sounds of brush being trampled.
They ran past the path that led to Ace’s encampment and on to a path they’d never gone down before. Matt was in the lead now, followed by Jovan, with Deputy John trailing by several yards, He was still fit for an older guy – 54 in June – but going at an all-out dead run was not something he did very often. He lost sight of the younger guys after going down a hill and around a curve. The path reminded him of a cross-country ski trail he’d taken once called Gut Wrenching – up and down and around trees. He’d crashed on that trail more than once and always because he forgot to look down.
A lesson revisited. Deputy John caught his toe just as he decided to accelerate to catch up to the others. The result was dramatic. He slammed into an old, moss-covered tree truck laying on its side just off the path. His right shoulder hit first, and the crack sent pain down his arm. Dead branches sticking up out of the log ripped at his pants and left a long gash on his right leg. He would be hobbling now, he thought, no way he could catch up to the two boy track stars.
The fall made him more out of breath than the running, so he gathered himself, sitting with his arms around his knees to slow down his pounding heart and look for what he’d tripped on. It was always good to know so he didn’t make the same mistake twice, not that he’d ever be on this path again.
It was a piece of plastic pipe a couple of inches in diameter sticking straight up from the dirt in the middle of the path. He crawled over to touch it and then stood to get better leverage to pull it out of the dirt. Why not make the path safer for the next cop chasing someone in the woods, it was the least he could do for public safety. But the pipe wouldn’t budget. He thought about putting a flag on it, maybe his handkerchief but he didn’t have one on him today, nothing he had on him would do so he decided to leave it and hope for the best, hobbling down the path to catch up to Matt and Jovan.
He found them a quarter mile ahead, looking at their phones. They barely looked up when Deputy John arrived.
“What took you so long, old man?” Matt gave John an elbow. “Pursuing on foot getting to be too much for you? We thought maybe you saw something and took off in a different direction.”
“No. I tripped on a pipe.”