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A Charles Splints Case: Mask

By Dan Leicht

It was three in the morning when there was a knock at the door. Charles Splints, private investigator, rolled his head up from the couch and waited for another knock — when it came, he went back to sleep.

Five hours later as Splints poured his first cup of coffee there was a similar knock at the door. Wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a neck-tie he opened the door and took a sip.

“Nice getup, kid,” said Splints, taking the mug away from his lips. “You supposed to be dressed up as something?”

“My mask is to hide my identity. I’ve a game for you, Mr. Splints.”

“Looks like you just came from a masquerade ball. Were you the one knocking on my door earlier? There’s a curfew around here you know. And what time is it anyway? The work day hasn’t even started yet. Come back in a few hours.”

Splints went to shut the door but his guest placed his foot in the way.

“I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation, Mr. Splints. My game is a serious one.”

“Yeah, yeah, an apple falls so something must be pulling it down. I heard about all that years ago. I don’t need your take on it too.”

The man pushed his way into the apartment.

“This place is pathetic,” said the man, “do you really live like this?”

“My maid went on vacation some years ago. She should be back any minute.”

“With all the talk of your exploits I assumed you’d be living a more lavish lifestyle.”

“You try living lavishly with the cost of rent in this city. Brooksend, more like Brokesend.” Splints chuckled at his own joke. He finished the rest of his coffee and walked over to the kitchen. “Since you’re here and all you may as well take a seat and have some coffee. Take that mask off while you’re at it, it’s not polite to have on while in someone’s home.”

“I’m not here for pleasantries I’m afraid. I’m here to tell you that I’ve murdered someone. I’ve written a set of clues for you to follow. If you find out who I am and who I’ve killed I’ll turn myself in to the police.”

“Hmm.” Splints sipped from his fresh cup of coffee. “That’s a real humdinger you just threw my way, kid. Give me a moment to process this one.” He walked around the room for a bit. “Mind if I change into some clothes? It’ll help me think.”

“Please do, but no funny business. I’m here to test your prowess as a detective.”

“Of course, of course. I love a good test every once in a while. You’re a real gem to have walked in here today.”

Splints walked into his bedroom and closed the door just enough so the mystery man couldn’t see inside. He got dressed and tucked a small .32 into the pocket of his coat. He walked out of the bedroom and sat at the kitchen table to tie his shoes.

“What’s this list of yours look like?” asked Splints.

“Here,” replied the mystery man, removing the list from his jacket’s inner pocket. He placed the list on the kitchen table. “So you’ll take my challenge?”

“Something like that.”

“I don’t think I understand.”

Splints pulled the .32 from his coat and put it on the table. The man reached for his jacket but Splints shook his head.

“Sit down,” said Splints. “You’re in some kind of trouble. Maybe this list leads me somewhere, maybe it doesn’t. I don’t have time for games. So if you’ve done something you’re going to spill it here and now.” He motioned with the pistol for the man to take a seat at the table. The man obeyed and took a seat, weaving his fingers together as he nervously twitched.

“Take the mask off,” said Splints.

“This is for my own protection, Sir.”

“Don’t care. Take the mask off.”

The man removed his mask and placed it on the table.

“I really thought you’d be more willing to play my game, Mr. Splints. With the way you’re described in the papers it seemed like you’d jump at the chance for a case like this. Think of the chase. I’m right here in front of you and yet so far away.”

“No thanks,” replied Splints. He took his phone from his pocket and dialed a friend at the station. “Hey, Dave. I’ve got a live one here. Yup, walked right into my place and told me he’s a killer. He doesn’t seem to want any coffee. Eh, probably never been in a bar fight. Uh-huh. Yeah, tried to give me a list of clues leading his to victim. Sounds good.” He hung up and placed the phone on the table. “My pal is on his way.”

“Is this really how this all ends? I thought so highly of you. This is most disappointing, Mr. Splints.”

“Next time just slide the list under the door. Much more subtle that way.”

“It wouldn’t have had the same nuance that way.”

“Yeah, but the ending would’ve been different.”

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