In a little shop in China town an elderly Asian man known as Lenny, with last name possibly of Wong, sat behind his counter thinking about a dead man named Martin Coswell. The dead man had just come running back into his shop, puffing like a steam engine not two minutes after the sound of a gunshot. Lenny’s impeccable customer support did not allow him to be fazed by any of this. Martin was an old and valuable customer and deserved his very best service.
The exit of the late dead Mr. Coswell would usher in a thorough police investigation. Lenny had a very short time to decide if he was going to hit the nuke button. A button that now flashed weakly red on the underside of his counter. To say that Lenny had a few, let us say, less than shady business deals would have been a huge understatement.
Most people in this situation would sweat bullets, but Lenny was not most people. He coolly sat in his chair behind the well-worn counter, stroking one side of his long wispy mustache—waiting for the inevitable.
He heard the sirens before he saw the flashing lights. The screech of tires signaled final arrival, voices, and questions on the street outside his windows, and then finally cold damp air swooshing into his shop accompanied by the jingle of the tiny bells on the inside door handle. A stocky man, dressed in an overcoat over a cheap suit and discordant tie, entered. Certainly a detective, and on his coattails two uniformed police.
If Lenny panicked and nuked, he would lose so much. Years of information. And Information was his business. Some people, namely the police, didn’t appreciate that kind of thing. Didn’t understand what it took to survive as a small business man in this world. There was a demand and he was the supplier, and money was exchanged. It was an honest business. What was done with the information he provided was not his responsibility.
The detective approached the counter with that stereotypical, stoic, not taking any shit, face. “I am detective Stanza with the FriscAngeles police department. I need to ask you a few questions.”
Lenny interpreted that statement. It should mean just what it said, but being who he was, and knowing where he was, he knew different. This short sentence had a multitude of meanings and consequences. It actually meant, you have been implicated somehow or ever with something that has happened, and we are going to scrutinize you until we find something that doesn’t smell right. Here, I have brought my bloodhounds with me and they are going to nose through everything you own until we find that said something.
“Certainly, officer. What can I help you with?” Lenny put on his friendly and most simple smile. He was just an old man, minding his shop in his last years on this earth. A harmless provider of photo identifications, passport services, and vacation packages, a friendly and perfectly legitimate travel agent.
“A man came here in here a few minutes ago. What can you tell us about him?” The detective eyes narrowed and focused sharply on Lenny’s face, scrutinizing for any reactions out of the norm, any telltale nervousness or evasions. The question was half statement of fact; not had a man come in here, but that a man had come in the shop. It was not up for debate.
Lenny did not try to dispute this. “They come in, they want to use the bathroom. I tell them, no! I am not a public bathroom. Go! Go out. No customer, no bathroom. You go. Same with this man.”
“Uh huh. Sir, this man was implicated in a fatal homicide at the business next door, and you’re telling me that he ran in here and asked to use the restroom facilities.”
Oh Martin, what have you gotten yourself into now, Lenny thought. “I do not know such a thing. I only know this man come in. Wet from rain. Drips on my floor.” Lenny gestured down around the detective’s and uniform’s feet at the little puddles they left on his floor. “He asks to take piss. I say no. Now I have to mop this. Not good. I am old. My back hurt. I do not need this.”
The detective glances at one of the uniforms and nods his head to the mop in the corner. The uniform rolls his eyes, but reaches for the mop and proceeds to swipe up the water from the floor.
The detective begins again to get his question answered, “So this man wasn’t a customer? He didn’t purchase anything from you?”
Lenny shook his head negatively. “No, he look like bum. I no like bums. They come, they want to use my bathroom, I tell them go piss in the street. I am not public toilet. I am business man.”
“Right,” the detective smiled coldly. “You are a business man.” He fished a photo from his pocket. “Do you know this man?” The photo was of Martin Coswell, a little younger than the man he’d seen today, but definitely Coswell.
Lenny squinted at the photo on the counter for a few seconds, then dramatically reached for his glasses and adjusted them several times on his nose. The detective must know that it was Coswell that had come to his shop. To deny that, would be a problem, to confirm that might cause Martin some problems, but they already suspected it was him. It was a tough call, but Coswell was a customer, and Lenny took care of his customers.
“I do not think I know this man. Maybe, I see many people. I do not remember them all.”
“But you would remember if he came in here today, say not even thirty minutes ago?”
“Of course, you think this was bum man? No, he did not look like this. He wanted to use toilet. I am not public toilet.”
“Right.” The detective was not convinced, and Lenny knew what was coming next. He hadn’t given them what they wanted, not said what they wanted to hear. Now they would take what they wanted. “You keep records of all your transactions?”
“I am business man, of course.” Lenny eyed the button.
“I would like to see a record of all your transactions today.”
Lenny pushed the button. In the back room the computers whirred into action, data storage drives wiped, the contents of a safe incinerated. Smoke emerged from the back room, a fire had flamed into existence, an alarm sounded and the sprinklers activated, drenching them all.
The detective went into instant action and dashed for the backroom, the uniforms grabbed Lenny from behind the counter and cuffed him. And Lenny smiled. They would find nothing. And he had friends in legal circles. He had some dirty secrets concerning a few judges still tucked away in his brain. He could rebuild. He would rebuild.