Cold Stone Killer
Dave Handel, private investigator, scratched at the scab on his head and worried over the amount of dandruff that seemed to have accumulated in his mop of unruly hair.
"If you don't stop doing that, you'll make it worse," a soft voice said.
Handel glanced in the direction of the owner of the voice. Myckala Memory, his apprentice cum assistant, 24, petite of frame, curvy of body, blonde of hair and blue of eye.
"It itches," he said.
Myckala smiled, and even though it really was a hoary old cliché her smile did light up the office. "The guy put a pox on you," she said. "A never-ending curse that will plague you until the day you die, and then probably into the hereafter and beyond of course it itches, you're lucky you're not disfigured for life."
Handel sighed mournfully. "Terrific, so how long do you think it will last?"
Myckala shrugged. "Who knows? Two weeks, maybe three."
Handel sighed once more.
"Ooh, I almost forgot, your wife called."
"Whatever, she said to remind you that your parents had invited her over to dinner on Sunday so to stay away."
Handel went to scratch his head, thought better of it and groaned instead.
"And there's a message on the answer phone from your mother," Myckala added.
Handel groaned again. No doubt she wanted to tell him about the Sunday dinner date in great detail. Why did his parents insist on inviting Lucy over for dinner? They had been divorced for five years and Lucy hated the sight of him.
His musings may have gone on for a long while but for the sudden ringing of the phone and knocking at the office door.
Myckala snatched up the phone. "David Handel Detective Agency, we handle the cases the others are too scared to touch, how may I help you?"
Handel studied the silhouette of the knockee through the frosted glass of the office door. He could tell a hell of a lot just by studying someone through that door, thanks to a spell placed on it by a grateful client. It was a woman, short, with closely cropped hair, wearing an off the shoulder number and carrying a small dachshund called Gerald.
"Handel," Myckala said. "There's some guy called Androcles who claims to be a client of yours."
Handel frowned. "Who? Oh wait -- I remember him."
"He's on line 2, he claims that the lion has violated an agreement that you drew up for the pair of them, something about emergency treatment of a foot."
Handel waved a dismissive hand. "Tell him I'll call him back later. Come in!"
The door opened and a man walked in, tall, very very tall, with expensive looking clothes and holding nothing. He carried himself with a confident air that marked him out as royalty to an experienced detective like Handel.
I've got to get a new door, Handel mused.
"Good (he checked his watch) evening. You must be Saul King. My name is Dave Handel and this is my assistant Myckala Memory. Please take a seat and tell me how I can be of assistance."
King sat down in the only unoccupied chair in the office, opposite Handel.
"Mr. Handel, there has been an unfortunate incident in my kingdom -- err, I mean my neighbourhood," King said.
Handel raised an eyebrow. "An unfortunate incident?"
King nodded. "I believe that a man has been murdered and I want you to investigate it -- and prove me right."
Straight to the point, Handel thought, I like that. "Don't you think that maybe your local law enforcement agency would be more helpful?"
King gave a snort that suggested just the opposite to this. "The man I suspect of the murder is a big time hero now, a real 'Charlie Big Potatoes'. He thinks just maybe he gets lucky, he can do as he pleases and no one can touch him. I want you to find out what really went on and I don't care how much it costs."
Handel raised an eyebrow in a quizzical manner as all great detectives sometimes do and smiled. The tall man had just said the magic words.
"Perhaps you'd better explain to me right from the beginning," he said.
"Are you sure that you want to wear the trench coat and the fedora?" Myckala asked. "It will be pretty hot in Israel."
Handel gave his young assistant a look that suggested she had just asked a very stupid question.
"Are you okay?" Myckala said. "You look like you have a headache."
"I'm fine, just come on."
Handel turned away from Myckala and approached a second door in the corner of the office. Based on its location, it should have opened on a three-storey drop straight down to a dark and filthy alley, but neither Handel nor Myckala seemed to care.
"Before we go, can we just run over this again?" Myckala said.
"If we must."
"King claims that this David guy actually murdered the giant, and didn't beat him in a fair fight," Myckala said. "He wants us to prove that the death of Goliath was not a justified homicide, am I right?"
Handel nodded. "Nicely summed up, now can we get on with it?"
"I hate this bit," Myckala said.
"So do I," Handel said with a smile. "But the rent is due next week, and I think we both like to eat now and then, so ..."
He threw open the door and they walked through into Southern Israel circular 900 B.C., more precisely Bethlehem. It was midday and the sun was high in the sky. It must have been at least thirty degrees in the shade, if any were to be found.
Handel adjusted his hat and strode off. "I'll find David; you ask around and see what really went down."
"Yeah, I killed him," David said. He was barely in his teens, with long greasy hair, a face full of zits and a whole load of bad attitude. "I ain't saying that I didn't, mister."
"Someone is saying you murdered him," Handel said calmly.
David spat on the floor of the Inn. "Jealous liars, it was a fair fight, he started on me and I had to kill him."
Handel sipped his drink, a foul smelling (and tasting) local brew. "Care to tell me about it?"
David eyed Handel suspiciously. "What newspaper did you say you worked for?"
"I didn't," Handel said. "But it's the Bethlehem Leader."
"Never heard of it."
Handel smiled his number one winning smile. "It's heard of you," he said. "David, saviour of Israel. So for the interested readers of my paper, what's the story?"
David calmed down a little. "There's not much to tell, really," he said. "The Philistine army rolls up into the Valley of Elah and prepares to do battle with King Saul's army. But before it can all kick off, this big geezer, Goliath, comes up and says that if anyone can best him in combat the whole army would up and leave."
Handel considered this highly unlikely, a whole military campaign based on one fight? But he didn't comment and let David go on.
"So like I said we were supposed to have this big fight in front of both armies, but then the guy bumps into me in a local Inn and it kicks off."
Handel consulted the notes he had taken with Saul. "During which you chopped his head clean off? And now that head is missing?"
David took a big swig of his ale. "Yeah, that's right."
"Aren't you a little young to be drinking?" Handel said.
David smiled smugly. "I saved the whole of Israel from being enslaved by the Philistines; I can do whatever the hell I want."
"Including murdering people?"
David took the bait, hook, line and s(t)inker. "Listen pal, if someone didn't kill Goliath that army was going to destroy the whole of this region," he said. "Have you seen that idiot King Saul's army? It's a joke, they would have rolled right over them. This was the only way, of course I regret having to kill the guy, he was fearsome but he was honourable, but in that Inn it was him or me."
Handel wore a face that was skeptical. "Yeah, pal, you look really cut up about it."
"I protected my country," David snapped. "As any real man would have done in my place."
Handel now wore a face that was so-so. "I guess. So what happened to his head?"
David shrugged. "I don't know, maybe one of my fans took it as a souvenir."
Handel 'hmm'd thoughtfully. "I am confused about one thing, though. I was under the impression what you had to be sixteen to join up. What rank did you say you held in the army?"
David looked slightly ill at ease with that question. "I used to deliver the sandwiches to them."
Myckala took a bite from her plain bread roll. It was dry, but at least it was leavened. "So how was David?" she said.
"He's not a nice person," Handel said. "And he's covering up something, what, I don't know. But he's not clean -- I can tell."
He took a sip from the local ale and instantly regretted it. That was the problem with these biblical cases: you could never get a decent drink. And it wasn't like beer had been invented yesterday -- the Egyptians and Sumerians had decent recipes.
"How did you get on with the locals?" he said.
"They all love David, that's for sure. Not one of them had a bad word to say against him," Myckala said.
Handel made a thoughtful face. "They obviously don't know him that well then," he said. "What did they say about Goliath?"
Myckala pulled out her PDA and consulted it briefly. "General consensus was that he was a murdering son of a whore," she said. "And that's a direct quote."
Handel pulled a thoughtful face. "That's strange. David said that he was an honourable man."
Myckala raised an eyebrow. "That's not the general opinion of the rest of the town," she said.
Handel shrugged. "That the kid was lying through his teeth," he said. "I would bet my detective's licence on it. Why shouldn't he lie about that?"
"But why? What would he hope to gain?"
Handel shook his head. "I don't know, but maybe if I have a few more drinks something may come to me."
Myckala frowned. "I thought you said the ale was disgusting?"
Handel smiled. "I know. But I'm hoping that by the time I've had a few more it won't taste so bad."
Myckala stopped by the door. "Look, a note."
Handel pulled the crudely written note from the door in one swift movement, he was a detective and used to doing such things.
He gave the parchment a quick perusal. "It's from someone called Cyrus," he said. "He wants to speak to me about matters pertaining to our case, at midnight on the East side of the Elah valley."
Myckala looked at her watch. "You had better hope that he meant tomorrow night."
Handel looked at his battered watch that had seen far better days. It was 1 AM local time, damn! He screwed up the note and threw it away.
"Why do these people insist on leaving stupid notes all the time?" he said. "What is wrong with just coming up to me and talking?"
"He's probably scared," Myckala said. "Think about it, the whole of Bethlehem considers David to be a hero. Do you think this guy is going to stand up and say 'hold on a minute'? He'd be lynched."
Myckala had a point, Handel mused. He was finding it hard to think straight and was beginning to wish that he hadn't drunk quite so much ale.
Handel flung open the door. "Let's just get some sleep," he said. "It's too late to worry about stupid notes -- who are you, pal?"
There was a man sitting on one of the single beds, grey haired, grubby looking and dressed like a local.
"Mr. Handel?" he asked.
Handel stepped in the room. "I'll ask the questions if you don't mind," he said. "What are you doing in our room?"
The man looked apologetic. "My name is Cyrus, Mr. Handel."
"Why did you leave a note on the door if you were already in here?" Myckala asked.
Cyrus gestured to the open window. "When you didn't turn up for the meeting, I figured that you had not received the note and came here to await your return."
Handel suppressed a belch, barely. "Yes, I was held up I'm afraid. I only just found the note on my way in. Now what can I do for you?"
"I have some information about the death of Goliath," Cyrus said.
Handel remained skeptical. This type of thing happened all the time, nearly every case, and the information was rarely any good.
"How do you know that I would interested in anything about that?"
"I heard around town that someone had been hired to investigate Goliath's death," Cyrus said. "Nobody local would do it, and you're the only strangers in town."
"Aren't you the smarty-pants?" Handel said. Everybody thought they were detectives, or could be. "Come, on let's hear it."
Cyrus called them to him and attempted to form a conspiratous huddle.
"Cut the amateur dramatics," Handel said sharply. "Just tell me you want to say and then let me go to bed."
Cyrus frowned, his big moment denied, but he carried on. "Goliath wasn't well," he said. "He suffered from acromegaly."
Handel frowned. "What's that, some sort of local curse?"
"It's a hormonal disorder that results when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormones, Brainiac," Myckala said. "Makes you big, but screws you up in all sorts of ways."
Cyrus nodded. "Goliath suffered from it."
"So how would this have affected him?"
"Fatigue," Cyrus said. "Weakness, headaches and especially impaired vision. He also had bitemporal hemianopsia; his vision was missing in the outer half of both the right and left visual fields."
Handel looked blank.
"He had tunnel vision," Myckala said.
Handel still looked unimpressed. "That's a very sophisticated diagnosis for 900 B.C."
Cyrus shrugged. "I am the local apothecary and I read a lot. In fact, I believe we have a mutual acquaintance who let me borrow some -- some -- they're like scrolls, but with the parchment cut into squares and joined at one edge? Books! Books he got when he dealt with you. Anyway this fact is well known around these parts, to David at least."
"Is it? How so?" Handel said.
"He asked me about him," Cyrus said. "Just before he killed him."
Myckala frowned. "I didn't think doctors were supposed to discuss their patients."
Cyril shrugged. "I wouldn't know, I'm not a doctor. But look at the facts, David knew that he could never beat Goliath in a fair fight; the guy was nine feet tall for Christ's sake. So what does he do? He accidentally bumps into him at a pub and whacks him before the poor guy can even focus on him."
"Isn't the birth of Christ nine hundred years in the future?" Handel asked. "Or is that in one of the cut-up scrolls you borrowed, too?"
Cyrus frowned. "Do you want to hear what I have to say, or do you want to make smart arse comments?"
Handel sighed. "Get on with it, then."
Cyrus looked slightly crestfallen. "Err, well -- that's about it really."
Handel sighed again. "Myckala, throw this bum out, it's time to go to sleep."
Cyrus looked shocked. "Aren't you going to give me anything for my information?"
"Forget it," Handel said. "I'll do it myself."
It was just after dawn when Handel was awoken by a violent shake from Myckala. She had come over from her own bed, of course; they were sharing a room for safety reasons being strangers in a strange land and all that. There was no funny business going on -- damn it.
Handel opened an eye, threw Myckala a curse and then rolled over.
"Wake up, Handel!" Myckala said urgently. "Get your fat lump out of bed."
Handel let out a fake snore.
"Ouch," he added, rolling back over and glaring at his assistant. "Why did you just kick me?"
"Because you're too heavy to roll out of bed."
Handel moaned some more but managed to sit upright. His head was spinning and thumping at the same time. He made a silent vow to never drink local brew again.
"What's up? What time is it?" he said.
"It's dawn," Myckala said. "Get your coat and come with me."
Handel was about to ask his assistant what the hell was going on, but he caught the look in her eye. Myckala had been working for him for a long time and he knew when she was deadly serious.
"Do I have time for a coffee?" he said.
Myckala raised an eyebrow.
Handel stood up and wished that he hadn't. "All right, but I hope it isn't too far, I feel like a walking dead man."
Handel looked down at the real dead man, a feeling of nausea swept over his body, not because it was a corpse -- he had seen plenty of those (unfortunately) but because of who it was.
Which was pretty obvious really, when you thought about it.
"Oh shit," he said. "Who found him?"
"A kid," Myckala said. "I was out getting some breakfast for us when I heard the scream."
Handel knelt down by the body. "Look at that."
Myckala crouched down, Handel was pointing at a small round wound on the side of Cyrus's head, but more tellingly at a small marble sized stone that lay by his ear.
"Someone threw a stone at him?" she said.
Handel shook his head. "That's a slingshot wound."
Myckala caught the look in his eyes. "David?"
Handel nodded. "It's well known that he's deadly with a slingshot."
"But how could he possibly know that Cyrus that been to see us?"
"Like you said, David is a local hero, everyone knows him," Handel said. "My guess is that someone saw Cyrus going into our rooms and told David."
"I guess that's as likely as anything else," Myckala said.
Handel made a so-so face and stood up. "Where's the kid who found him?"
"I sent him to get help."
Handel wore a grim face, as was befitting the situation. "Then let's get out of here. I want to have another chat with Mr. David Giant Slayer."
David was less than pleased to see Handel again, especially as he was in the middle of a lecture to the heads of the local merchants' guilds.
"What in the name of God's bollocks do you want, Handel?" he said. "And don't give me any of that crap about writing an article for the local paper. I know that bastard King Saul has hired you to screw me, his son told me."
Handel looked from David to the twelve men who were watching him intently; he fought back the urge to declare to them that he suspected the hero of foul play and said quietly. "Can we talk somewhere in private?"
David shook his head. "No chance, I have said all I have to say to you."
Handel smiled nastily. "So be it. I have a few questions I would like to ask you about the murder of a local man who visited me last night," he said loudly.
There was some murmuring amongst the guildsmen but David ignored it.
"Who do you think you are, Handel?" he said. "Who gave you the right to come to our lands and accuse me of murder? Especially since you're admitting you may be the last one to see the victim alive!"
"I don't recall accusing anyone of anything," Handel said hastily. "I need your help."
David thought about this for a few moments and when he spoke again his voice was soft and honey dewed. "Of course, please forgive my sharpness. The loss of any life cuts me to the bone."
He was certainly quick witted, Handel thought, especially for one so young. Shame he was a murdering scumbag.
"Do you know a man named Cyrus?" he asked.
There was only the faintest of flickers of recognition in the boy's eyes, but it was enough for Handel. Gotcha, sucker!
"No," David said. "I don't think so."
Handel pulled the most obviously skeptical face he could manage. "I find that strange," he said. "He seemed to know you quite well, and as he was an apothecary I would have thought most people would know him."
David was poker faced, at least a thousand years before poker had been invented. "I'm not ill often."
Handel nodded. "Ah, that would explain that, then," he said. "He did however have some very interesting information on the health of Goliath. Did you know for instance that Goliath had tunnel vision, and that he would have found it very hard to spot anyone sneaking up on him?"
David shook his head.
"Or that he suffered from an illness that would have made him tire easily?" Handel continued.
"Look, Handel, this is all very interesting, but does it have a point?"
Handel smiled broadly. "Of course it does, David, of course it does. The point is that the local doctor comes to see me with some information about Goliath's death, and then the next morning he is found murdered by a slingshot stone to the head. Don't you find that interesting?"
David shrugged. "This is 900 B.C. Israel," he said. "People are killed. Our Lord moves in mysterious ways."
Handel suppressed the urge to ask how David knew the date relative to something that hadn't happened yet. He'd had clients from this region on several occasions, and he hadn't been too careful about what kind of information those clients picked up from him. The words 'massive temporal paradox' hovered at the back of his mind like a boulder balanced on a cheap wine glass ...
"Although I am sure that He doesn't condone murder," Handel said brightly. "I bet Jarah will find all this fascinating, I'm going to see him at noon. Apparently he knows everything there is to know about slings."
David didn't reply.
Handel turned to walk away and then stopped. "You're pretty handy with a sling, aren't you?" he said.
David gave a noncommittal shrug.
Handel took a step and then stopped. "Just one more thing, does the letter 'H' have any significance to you?"
There was that flash of recognition again. Handel smiled, thanked David for his help and gestured to Myckala that it was time to leave.
"Why did you do that?' Myckala said. "If he suspects that you are on to him he will be even more careful."
Handel shook his head. "I don't think so," he said. "That is a very arrogant kid. He will believe that he can do pretty much what he wants in this place. No one questions the actions of a hero -- I mean, aren't they putting a statue up of him?"
Myckala thought about this for a few moments. "You want him to attack you?"
Handel grinned. There was no denying that his assistant was picking up a few of the standard detective genre tricks. Jack Stoneford had pretty much relied on getting beaten up in every episode of his series, and for good reason.
"I'm counting on it," he said. "However, there is something I need you to do."
Jarah's store was like most of the stores in the area, the domain of a jack of all trades, with every tool imaginable (in 900 B.C.). But word was that he was the main man for dodgy under-the-counter weapons of personal destruction.
The main man wasn't pleased to see Handel. Word had gotten around that someone had hired a detective to prove that Goliath was murdered. Subsequently Mrs. Handel's boy was finding that he was as popular as a mime in -- well, just about anywhere. He was, of course, used to this; to be a private investigator you had to have skin as thick as a rhino.
"I have no comment to make, detective," Jarah said, before the detective's feet had even touched the shop floor. "I do not want to end up like the last person you interviewed."
Handel ignored this and strolled on in. He leaned on the counter, causal.
"Cyrus the apothecary was murdered last night," he said. "I believe that he was murdered by a sling shot."
"Did you not hear what I said?" Jarah said.
Handel held his causal stance but lowered his voice to a hiss. "Did you not hear what I said? A man was killed."
Handel eyeballed the shopkeeper, who started to look a little nervous. The detective waited until Jarah's eyes began to water and then smiled a chummy smile.
"There’s nothing to worry about," he said. "I just want to ask you a few questions about slings."
Jarah didn't look too happy but he didn't argue further. "A lot of people use sling shots," he said.
Handel smiled. "You'd think that, wouldn't you? However, there're not that common. And a head shot, in the dark --"
Jarah pulled an air of affronted dignity. "Mr. Handel, I do not know what you are suggesting. Would you kindly leave my shop?"
Handel didn't move. "Jarah, if we don't find out who killed Cyrus then no one will be safe. Is that want you want? Children playing whilst a murderer is running amok."
Jarah's countenance changed. He looked like he was beginning to waver.
Handel smiled to himself. People were so predictable; they all tried to put on this tough 'I'm not saying nuffin, Copper' act, but push the right buttons and they sang like budgies. In his years he had discovered that everyone relishes the chance to dish a little dirt on their neighbour.
Handel pressed on going for the gold as it were by laying down his ace. A mixed metaphor to be sure, but he knew what he meant.
"I suspect that David isn't being totally honest about the death of Goliath," he said.
"But he's a hero," Jarah said. "He saved us from becoming Philistines."
Handel put a stone on the counter between them.
Jarah didn't touch it -- just stared at it.
"I also believe that he was involved in the murder of Cyrus," Handel said. "I found this stone at the scene; could it have been fired accurately from a sling shot?"
Jarah picked it up and tested the weight. "It looks like it could have been. What is that red stuff on it?"
Handel fixed the shopkeeper with a steely gaze. "What do you think it is?"
Jarah dropped the stone like a -- well, like a stone, and stepped back from the counter. At that moment something whistled past Handel's ear and hit the storekeeper.
Jarah cried out, clutched his shoulder and sank behind the counter.
Handel dived to the floor as two more stones stuck the counter, taking fair sized divots from the hard wood.
Handel pulled out his gun and tried to work out where the shots had come from. There was a large building across the road with plenty of windows that would be perfect for a clear shot. Ah, there it was, a window directly in line. He fired twice and then ran.
He hurtled towards the two-storey building on the opposite side of the street. It was a launderette -- that is, it had stone basins full of water, and stones suitable for pounding clothes. Handel burst through the door, scaring the life out of a handful of women and children, and took the stairs two at a time.
By the time he reached the second floor window the assassin had long gone.
He peered out; the window was in a direct line to Jarah's store and was still open. On the floor were a couple of discarded round stones that must have been used in a sling. I wonder who he was trying to kill? Handel mused. Maybe he couldn't make up his mind and that's why he missed.
He hadn't expected to find his attacker still at the window; if it was David, then he was much smarter than that. What he was looking for was a clue.
It was then that he saw the blood, just a single drop, fresh though.
"I've still got it," he muttered.
Back at the Inn, Handel sat trying to enjoy a late breakfast and pondering the case so far. David was lying. That was obvious. He had cut off Goliath's head, and now that was missing. Why? To cover up the fact that Cyrus was telling the truth and the giant was half blind?
That was as likely as anything.
Then there were the attacks. Slings were very difficult to use and despite what the Good Book says, not every Lot, Saul and Joseph had one. David was good with one, deadly in fact. After the attack Jarah had been a bit more forthcoming with information; according to him, David was the best shot he had ever seen with a sling, and he had purchased one recently.
Of course there was no law against owning a sling. The next step would be up to Myckala.
Handel glanced at his watch. 11.30 AM, where was she? Jarah had said that the mayor was unveiling a statue of David in the market square at noon and he wanted to out him there and then in front of an audience where he wouldn't be able to wriggle out of it. Of course, this depended on Myckala getting back in time.
Cyrus was right, David had murdered Goliath. He had known that he could never beat him in a fair fight, and had taken his chance in the Inn. He had also killed Cyrus and attempted to kill Handel and/or Jarah. But Handel had no solid evidence, and that's where Myckala came in.
Without her the townsfolk wouldn't buy it, they all loved the kid. They were probably all in on it.
The local keepers of the law had been even worse. They had told him to sling his hook. All they cared about was that they wouldn't have to be ruled by the Philistines.
I'll bet they're in on it, too, Handel considered.
He stopped that line of thinking dead; the conspiracy was large enough as it was with the townsfolk. If he carried on like this he would be suspecting the whole of Israel.
By the time he had finished his awful breakfast and coffee, he had decided that Myckala was going to turn up at the last possible minute. He cursed the literary laws that seemingly prevented her return until the most dramatic moment but still decided to go ahead with his original plan of action.
Handel saw the statue before he saw anything else; it towered over the town. Most of the townsfolk were gathered around it. To the left of it, David and Mayor Barnabas were standing on a makeshift podium.
Handel smiled and quickened his pace.
David saw his approach first, and if he hadn't looked happy to see Handel the previous time, he was livid now.
"Are you here to cause trouble again, Handel?" he bellowed.
This caused everyone to turn and stare at Handel, who waved cheerily at them.
"I am here to unmask a liar and a murderer," Handel said, melodramatically.
He smiled to himself as the predicable 'ooh' and 'ahs' rippled through the crowd.
David did neither; he turned to the mayor, his face thunderous. "Barnabas, I want this man arrested," he said. "He is a troublemaker and is stalking me, and I won't even begin to tell you about the slander."
Barnabas looked slightly taken aback at the venom in the lad. David suddenly seemed nothing like the brave teenager who had saved Bethlehem.
"Well?" David snapped. "What are you going to do about him, standing there like a gormless son of a whore won't solve anything."
Barnabas didn't really know what to say. "Err -- I suppose if he is causing a disturbance we could..." His voice trailed off.
Handel realised at this point that he wouldn't have time to wait for Myckala's appearance; he had to act fast. "I have proof that David murdered Goliath," he said quickly. "Goliath wasn’t killed as a result of attacking David at the Inn, but in a premeditated attack."
A deathly silence fell over the crowd.
"And that he is also responsible for the murder of Cyrus, the apothecary, and the attempted murder of Jarah," Handel said.
He didn't mention that the murder attempt might have been against him, as he felt that he would get more of a reaction if the townsfolk thought a local had been the intended victim.
Predictably pandemonium broke loose. David jumped from the stage, his eyes blazing.
"How dare you accuse me of such things," he shouted, eyeballing Handel. "I am a goddamn hero, you can tell that bastard son of a dung beetle, Saul, that I saved his Kingdom, and if it wasn't for me we would all be Philistines now."
Handel stood his ground; he was, after all, a foot taller than the boy and considerably weightier. "I'm unmasking a killer and a fraud," he said loud enough so everyone could hear.
"What?" David almost screamed.
Handel gave that smug smile again. "You knew that you couldn't beat Goliath in a fair fight," he said. "So you went to Cyrus to see if you could get any inside dope. You must have thought you had struck gold when he told you that Goliath suffered from an illness that made him partial blind and susceptible to tiring quickly. You couldn't resist the opportunity to find him and kill him by sneaking up on his blind side and then cutting his head off to hide the evidence. Then when he didn't turn up for the duel the next day you won by default."
"That is ridiculous," David said angrily. "Goliath started the fight, everyone knows that, there were a dozen witnesses there."
"Scared people," Handel said, scanning the crowd. Where was Myckala? "People afraid to speak out against the boy who saved this land, scared that they would end up like Cyrus."
"I don't have to listen to this," David said. "I'm leaving."
The boy turned to go.
Handel was having none of that. He grabbed his shoulder. "Hold on there a minute, boy."
David cried out and clutched his shoulder.
Handel grinned. He had spotted blood beginning to appear on David’s shoulder.
"Been shot have you?" he said, smug as you like. "I'm betting that when we have the wound looked at, there will be a .44 slug in there, fired from my gun as Jarah will testify. Give it up, David you're busted."
"I don't think so, pal."
David pulled out a pre-loaded sling shot and swung it at Handel. The detective was quicker though, and didn't need time for a wind-up: he drew his trusty Smith and Wesson and pulled the trigger.
A surprised look passed across the boy’s features, then he collapsed.
There was another of those deathly silences and then Myckala appeared, smiling.
"Sorry I was a bit held up," she said. "Did I miss anything?"
She saw a crowd of people staring in horror at Handel and David. The detective was holding a smoking gun and the boy hero was lying motionless on the ground.
"Oh," she added.
"Did you get the stones analysed?" Handel asked. "Were David's prints on them?"
Myckala nodded, the scene was too shocking for words.
"Good, then this case is over," Handel said.
"Is he dead?" Myckala managed to squeeze out from her lips.
Handel looked shocked. "Of course not, who do you think I am? I just winged him. He tried to kill me," he added. "Twice."
"But--" Myckala said. "But--"
Handel was about to say something else when a stone hit the side of his head. He turned angrily to see a lot of townsfolk who didn't look very happy that he had solved the case, evidence or not. It was a good job I insisted on upfront payment, he considered.
Another stone was thrown.
The audience, as they say, was turning ugly.
Handel's well-honed detective skills came to the fore. Jack Stoneford himself had found that solving the case wasn't always what the people wanted; this was definitely one of those times. "I think that our work is done here," he said, fending off more thrown stones. "Let's head back home."
He pictured the door leading into his office, and sprinted for the shimmering rectangle that appeared with Myckala close behind.
© 2006 by Craig Cornwell
Bio: Mr. Cornwell says, "I have been writing for as long as I can remember, I have previously contributed to Aphelion (most recently Handel's House of Horrors, December, 2000), as has my wife (Karen Yeo, whose story Meet the Bartletts appeared in the August/September 2006 issue). I help run the Creative Island writers' web-site and am at present finishing the second draft of a novel-length Dave Handel story. I am 39 years old and spend my free time writing and looking after my two sons."
E-mail: Craig Cornwell
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