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for my father on his birthday

There was the bright red of fresh blood spread across the pale nudity of her thighs, two long rents that fluttered wetly in the breeze from the fan. The mattress she was lying on was soaked with blood; the flickering cycle of the animated neon sign on the bowling alley across the way cut through the steam rising into the cool autumn air. Topless Bowling, it said. A grinning cartoon woman with large breasts threw a ball for a strike, over and over again.

It didn’t mean anything to the girl but she threw a sheet over her before she called the police. The girl’s hair was still up, still tidy; the cotton dress hanging from a hook on the back of the door was cheap but it was clean. The whole room was like that, poorly furnished with build-at-home kits held together with plastic pegs, but nothing out of place, nothing askew. A line of paperback thrillers with lurid covers filled the shelf above where her head spread out in sweat-dampened coils.

Donleavy came in with the forensic team. He had the melancholy face of a hound dog underneath tight black curls cropped short. “What were you doing in her room in the first place, that’s what I’d like to know,” he said, “not that we don’t appreciate the tip off, mind you.”

She shrugged. “Trying to do a favor for a friend of mine, is all. Her best man disappeared about a week ago and no one’s seen him since. I told her I’d poke around after the wedding, see what I could dig up. She –” she gestured toward where the crime photographer had peeled back the sheet — “used to run around with him, two, maybe three months ago. Thought maybe she’d heard something.”

“Figure he did it?”

“No, why should he? Just friends, is all.”

“You can never tell.” Donleavy squinted at a fat-bodied moth butting against the yellowed light hanging from the fan. “You can never tell how people’ll behave.”