Gary Extra stood at the mouth of the alley putting on his best Gandalfian ‘you shall not pass’ look for the throng of rubberneckers, looky-loos and slack jawed gawkers who were trying to peek at the commotion behind him. At the front of the crowd a gangly teen reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPhone. Gary turned his frown up a notch and the teen’s hand froze in midair; Gary shook his head slowly and the teen slipped the phone back into his pocket with a grimace.
Gary was giving himself a mental pat on the back when a homeless man in a long trench coat bumbled through the crowd and headed in his direction. He ratcheted up his frown again but it had no effect on the blank-faced wino.
Gary ground his teeth in consternation and flung up an immaculately manicured hand. “Sorry pal, no one is allowed past this point; police business.”
“I’m sorry,” said the tramp rummaging around in his voluminous pockets. “Umm, I’m sure I have it somewhere. Do you mind holding this?”
Without waiting for an answer he hung a filthy handkerchief on Gary’s outstretched arm. It was swiftly followed by a banana peel, a sad bunch of mostly dead flowers and most bizarrely of all, a baby sparrow.
“Umm… I really must ask you to go back…”
“Ah there it is,” the tramp interrupted brandishing a small square of leather with a triumphant grin. Gary looked at the dirty brown wallet with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, sorry,” chuckled the tramp flipping it open to reveal a Los Angeles police detective badge; Gary stared at it in consternation.
“Lieutenant Columbo, I’m with homicide.”
Gary’s mouth fell open but before he could object Columbo had ducked passed him and was ambling down the alley whistling to himself. There was a flash and when Gary looked over the gangly teen had his phone out again, grin like a Cheshire cat.
“Oi, no pictures!” shouted Gary he started forward but by the time he reached the barrier the teen was gone and all Gary could just see was his arm sticking out of the mass of bodies giving him the finger.
At the end of the alley Columbo dug a still smouldering cigar from his pocket and chewed it as he took in the scene. Even from this far away he could tell the body was a mess, his jacket was torn almost to shreds and soaked in blood with only odd patches of the trademark blue that marked him as a New York City postal worker. Arcs of blood covered the walls both left and right and his glasses lay shattered in the pool of blood that filled the alley almost end to end.
“Someone didn’t like him very much,” said the city M.E. as he crouched by the body poking at it with a quilted feather duster; he was a fine M.E. but he was something of a clean freak.
“What have we got Mac?” ask Columbo pointing to the body with his cigar. Mac batted away the falling ash with the duster and a look of absolute horror.
“His name’s Pat and as you can see he is a local postman. It looks like someone tore his throat out then went to town on the body with a sharp four pronged implement like a large fork or a claw of some kind.”
“So you could say they went postal on him,” cracked Columbo with a grin.
Mac shot Columbo a disappointed look but Columbo just grinned wider.
“You get it?”
The moment stretched on for what felt like an eternity until Mac coughed uncomfortably and stood. “An attack like this, it was personal, I’m afraid that’s about all I can tell you until I get him back to the lab for confirmation but I think Detective Murray has a suspect in custody.”
“You see going postal is when…”
“I know Columbo, I know.”
Columbo shot Mac a hurt look then ambled off to where a couple of deputies had the suspects corralled. This was his favourite and the most important step in the investigative process; the all-important snap decision on who was guilty. Columbo eyed them carefully, there was an old chick with short grey hair, a youngish dude with thick rimmed glasses and a tweed jacket and crouching at the back kind of obscured by two cops with guns drawn… a midget in a black and white onesie?
“Well I think this one is pretty cut and dried it’s obviously…” came a voice from behind Columbo making him flinch and drop the hard boiled egg he had just started peeling. He watched it sadly as it rolled end over end until it plopped into the gutter with a splash, and in Columbo’s minds a tiny scream.
“That was my last egg Murray.”
“Sorry boss, I didn’t mean to startle you it’s just I think we have this one in the bag…”
“Hey, hey, hey. I’m the detective here not you Murray.”
“Well actually I’m a fully fledged…”
“Let’s start with that guy over there,” interrupted Columbo. “What do we know?”
“OK,” murrmured Murray his shoulders slumping. “He is Barry Jonas professor down at the local College, sociology I think. He runs the local homeless shelter and he’s the one that called it in so I think we can rule him out.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” replied Columbo scanning Barry with his patented guiltdar. “How about that one?”
“Oh that sweet old lady is Jennie McFarland, or should I say Reverend McFarland? She was down here collecting for the children at her orphanage. She was the last person to see Pat alive aside from the murderer of course, he dropped some cash in her collection then went down the alley and…
“Pow,” interrupted Columbo with a loud clap. “The postman is toast.”
“Lieutenant!” said Murray a look of horror on his face. In the corner Postman Pat’s widow let out a agonised wail, her knees buckled and she was caught by two uniforms who shot Columbo a dirty look and carried her away.
“It’s from Die Hard.”
“I know Sir, it’s just…”
“When the tank thing gets blown up by the bazooka.”
“Yes sir we all get the reference but…”
Columbo shot the grieving widow a frown. “Some people are so sensitive.”
“She just lost her husband in the most brutal of circumstances,” protested Murray.
“It doesn’t mean she can’t have a laugh about it.”
Murray puffed out his cheeks at a loss how to respond.
“The third one Murray…” prompted Columbo taking a long drag on his cigar.
“Oh right, yeah. I’m pretty sure that’s our guy; he hasn’t said anything directly to us but the Rev says his name is Jess. When Officers Brice and Williamson arrived he was still pawing at the body, covered in blood.”
“I’m sure it was him, Columbo was it,” said the good reverend striding purposefully over towards the detectives; Columbo paled and backed away.
“What is she doing,” he hissed. “I haven’t decided who’s guilty yet.” He backed away his arms outstretched trying to fend off the portly reverend, who ignored his terrified look and took his hand giving it a firm shake.
“Please to meet you Detective Columbo.”
“Apologies Lieutenant Columbo. I just wanted to say Detective Murray is correct I saw the fiend attacking poor Mr Pat, screaming about how Pat was always… umm… touching him.”
“That sounds like the kind of thing a guilty person would say, trying to push it on a poor innocent, midget.”
“He’s not a midget he’s a cat, and if you think I’m guilty you’re very much mistaken.”
“I not only think you’re guilty, I’m sure of it,” replied a defiant Columbo.
“But Sir the evidence,” said Murray “It all points to Jess.”
“Yeah but he wasn’t the first person to speak to me so you see the bind I’m in,” whispered Columbo.
“But he clearly did it, and with his bare, umm… paws no less.”
“Yeah but you know how I work Murray, I decide who did it with no evidence then I follow them around and pester them until they confess.”
“Well I’m certainly not going to confess to something I didn’t…” The reverend screamed as Columbo gave her a surreptitious nudge in the back that sent her toppling onto Pat’s body.
“Officers, stop that woman she is going back in for more!” shouted Columbo. The two officers watching the other suspects ran over and hauled her to her feet.
“See caught red handed,” said Columbo waving his cigar at the blood on the reverend’s palms. “Take her away boys.”
“But I’m innocent!” she protested, as the two PCs hauled her away.
“So we’re just going to frame the reverend?” asked Murray
“Frame is such an ugly word, Murray.” replied Columbo. “The main thing is we get someone; you didn’t think my 100% solve ratio happened but itself did you?”