The Moon Man
The Moon Man in Mesmerized
The Moon Man
by Marlin Williams
Place: Great City
Thirteen floors up, Henry Thomas stood on the narrow ledge of the Frost Building watching the minute hand on the clock tower across the street. It was one minute until midnight. The hour he was going to jump. He didn't want to, but he could not help himself.
A gust of wind came whipping around the corner bricks and almost ripped him off the ledge. Terror filled his heart as he looked down onto the bone-crushing pavement. His gaze flew back to the tower as the clock began to chime.
He nervously fumbled inside his suit-coat pocket and pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper. It was the grocery list that his wife had given him the day before. He found a pencil in the same pocket and quickly scrawled across it. Another gust plucked it from his fingers and sailed it away into the night like a startled bird.
On the tenth stroke, Henry twisted around and quickly scribbled onto the wall. On the twelfth stroke, he turned back around and jumped.
Six hours later, Stephen Thatcher was at the scene kneeling over the dead body.
"Another suicide," said Joe. The lanky officer took a bite of apple and munched loudly.
"Maybe, maybe not." Stephen nodded at the pencil clutched in the dead man's hand. "We should look for a note."
Joe copped a smile that appeared half-cocky. He looked down at the body. "Just look at that suit. The stiff had money, but he probably lost it in the stock market crash. He's not the first to take a dive onto the sidewalk when they lost everything." He sniffed and thoughtfully added, "There sure has been a rash of suicides and crime lately." He shifted his gaze back to Stephen. "What's your take on that?"
There was something odd going on in his city. Good, law-abiding citizens were claiming to be in a trance when they committed acts of crime. Then there were the suicides. Many of those could be explained away by the stress of the weak economy, but everything together was sending up red flags for Stephen. He desperately wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Joe stared at him waiting for an answer.
"I wish I knew," Stephen finally replied.
Joe frowned like he was disappointed.
Stephen riffled the man's wallet out of his pocket and checked the ID. "Henry Thomas." He placed the wallet back in the man's pocket and stood. He skipped a quick glance off the body. "Who found him?"
"Mouse." Joe nodded at the short, wiry-framed guy standing off to the side and fidgeting nervously. "He lives on the banks of the Upper East Side." Then he whispered, "Poorville." He raised his voice back to conversation level. "He comes down here sometimes and guilts money out of the rich dames. They got soft hearts for—" he lowered his voice again, "—the unfortunate. He likes to get an early start, so he found the body and called it in about daybreak."
"Does he know anything about Mister Thomas here?"
Joe shrugged. "Don't know. Mouse ain't much of a talker. Said so himself."
Stephen nodded. "I'll have a word with him."
"Good luck on that one."
He gave Joe a pat on the shoulder and the officer went back to munching his apple. Stephen walked over to Mouse. "Officer Joe told me that you were the one to find the dead man and called it in."
The little man said, "I told that apple-munchin' flatfoot that I ain't talking."
Stephen reached inside his coat and pulled out a pack of gum; got one out for himself, and in a friendly gesture, extended the pack out to Mouse.
"Sure. Spearmint's my favorite." The little man withdrew a stick from the pack, carefully un-wrapped it, plopped the gum in his mouth, and then proceeded to neatly fold the paper and foil into a small square. When he finished, he placed it in his breast pocket and gave it a pat.
"I hear you're from the Upper East Side."
Mouse nodded. "Yeah. So. What about it?"
"When I was a kid, I had a friend who lived there. Best pal a boy could ever have." Stephen thought he caught a hint of a smile, so he continued. "Guy's name was Frank Murdoch. Do you know him?"
Mouse turned his eyes up and to the right like he was thinking hard, then he lowered them and his gaze settled on Stephen's light blue eyes. Mouse nodded, and the faint smile brightened a little. "The guy with the glass eyeball?"
"Yeah, I know him."
"Tell him Stephen Thatcher said hello."
Mouse shook his head. "Can't."
Out of curiosity, the detective cocked his head.
"He got himself outta here. Went to Hollywood and I hear he's doin' real good working for some agency." Mouse went silent.
Before the gap could grow into a chasm of awkwardness, Stephen asked, "Was there anybody suspicious hanging around here when you arrived this morning?"
The little man silently chewed his gum and looked away.
"It was the Moon Man."
"What makes you say that?"
"I seen him," replied Mouse. "He was walkin' away, real fast. That way." He pointed off down the street to his left.
Stephen looked up. "That's a long way off." He looked back down at Mouse. "Maybe it just looked like the Moon Man."
"It was the Moon Man all right. He was wearing that mirrored bubble helmet and black cape."
Stephen knew the man was lying. "So, why didn't you tell Officer Joe what you saw?"
"Who knows what the Moon Man would do to me if he found out that it was me who spilled the beans, he might come after me."
Stephen shook his head. "I don't think you have anything to worry about."
"Can I go now?"
"Sure," said Stephen. "If I need you, I know where to find you." As he watched the vagrant swagger away, Stephen felt a tug on his coat.
He looked down on the grimy little face staring up at him and instinctively felt through his hip pocket for a nickel.
"I seen somethin'"
"Oh yeah, what did you see?"
Immediately, the little derelict looked down at the toes of his worn out sneakers. The detective could tell that the words were on the edge of the little boy's tongue, but didn't seem to want to roll off.
"It's okay," said Stephen. "It's just you and me talking."
Slowly, the kid tilted his head up, but avoided eye contact. His expression looked strained like he was about to snitch on the bully who stole the milk money. "If I tell you, promise you won't laugh?"
"Promise," replied Stephen. He crossed his heart for good measure.
The kid looked away like he didn't want to witness the officer's face when he said, "I seen ol' Mister Reaper." He squeezed his eyes shut and cringed like he was expecting the officer to cuff him upside the head for saying something stupid like that. When it didn't happen, the boy cracked a lid. A bloodshot eye peeked through the narrow slit.
"Are you sure?"
The kid slowly raised his head like a turtle poking its head out of its shell and nodded. "He—was wearing a black robe with the hood over his head and he had this black box with blinking lights all over it." He looked at Stephen. "You believe me, don't cha?"
"Sure kid, but where was he at?"
"He was standin' at the bottom of the clock tower just starin' up at that buildin' across the street. That's when I saw the guy jump."
"Then what did you see?"
"Nothin'. I hunkered down and laid real still. I didn't want the Reaper comin' after me. I guess I just fell asleep, 'cause I woke up when the cops came."
"Where were you?"
"Over there." He aimed a grimy fingernail at the large field across the street overgrown with tall grass and weeds.
"Is that where you live?"
The kid nodded, "Sometimes." Then, he looked frightened. "You're not gonna send me away to one of those work farms, are ya?"
"No." He fished a nickel out of his pocket. "What's your name?"
"This is our little secret, Tommy" He handed the coin to the boy.
A king's fortune.
The kid broke out in a big grin. "Gee, Mister, a whole nickel?"
"I want you to take that five cents and go to the boarding house on Second and Plum. You know the place?"
The boy nodded.
"You give that nickel to Missus Danvers. Tell her that Stephen Thatcher sent you. She'll see that you get something to eat and a place to sleep tonight. Got it?"
The boy nodded again.
"Good. I'll come by and see you. Okay?"
"Sure." At first, the kid looked dazed, but then a smile blazed across his face. "Gee, thanks, Mister."
"Get along then," Stephen told the boy.
The kid shoved the coin in his hip pocket, took off, and went skipping down the street.
Stephen turned and watched a cruiser pull up to the curb. The door opened and LT Gilbert McEwen stepped out and stood leaning against the car in a cloud of cigar smoke.
Look for this story and Ravenwood Stepson of Mystery on Amazon
© 2018 Marlin 55