Ed. note: Welcome to ATL’s first foray into serial fiction. “My Job Is Murder,” a mystery set in a D.C. appellate boutique, will appear one chapter at a time, M-W-F, over the next few weeks. Prior installments appear here; please read them first.
Susanna Dokupil can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Facebook.
“Now, Dick, go back to your office before anyone notices you’re gone. In exactly fifteen minutes, you will leave for a client meeting. You will bring with you anything from your office of value that fits in your briefcase. I will clean up here and meet you out front. We will go to the Colombian embassy, and from there, leave the country for a month. You will explain your absence by telling your secretary that you are checking into rehab — which, by the way, I highly recommend. The other partners are anxious enough for work that they’ll happily cover for you. If the frame sticks, and it is safe to return, we’re back in a month. If not, we’re safe on foreign soil.”
“How will we get into the embassy?”
“Oh, I spent one of my college summers in Colombia working to teach indigenous peoples about sanitation. One of my friends from that is the ambassador now. That’s actually where I learned how to handle poisonous frogs.”
Dick smiled and shook his head admiringly.
“Speaking of which, Dick, I trust you disposed of that little piece of evidence once you missed your chance to plant it in Thrax’s office?”
His smile vanished. His gaze fell.
“Dick, can’t I trust you to do anything?” John sighed impatiently.
Without taking his eyes off the ground, Dick pulled out of his pocket a small plastic container with holes punched in the top, and handed it to John.
“All right, just get the car. And be quick about it.”
“Who was about to be laid off?” asked Katarina. “That might be the motive.”
Thrax’s secretary handed her the list. It had only one name. Tyler’s. She gasped. “Does he know?”
“I don’t think Mr. Thrax had a chance to tell him.”
“Ahem, er, I did,” said the detective. “I didn’t know he didn’t know.”
“How awful!” exclaimed Katarina.
“Even worse if he murdered his boss over it.”
“No, Tyler’s just not the type! I promise.”
“Look, lady, your promise isn’t exactly evidence. Anyone else have it in for Thrax?”
She thought for a moment. “Maybe John Tiburon.”
“That government guy who got outed?”
“The very same.”
“What does he have against Thrax?”
“He used to work here before he went to DOJ. He’s a legend at the firm. But he was unhirable after his resignation, and not even Thrax would bring him back. Tyler said he’s working in a tent on the roof of this building, kind of haunting the place.”
“All right, this I gotta see.”
“From what Tyler said, we have to climb up through the ceiling in the men’s room.”
“Does your friend Tyler use any controlled substances?”
Katarina and the detective found the rope ladder and climbed up to the roof. They opened the trap door, stepped out, and saw. . . the roof of an office building.
“I’m sure we’re in the right place,” Katarina said. “We found the rope ladder.”
“But there’s no sign of anyone here.”
“Wait, look!” said Katarina. She pointed to a small red and black beetle on his jacket. “A melyrid beetle. Maybe the murderer kept the frog up here.”
They began to walk slowly around the roof. Katarina heard a scuffling sound from behind a large exhaust vent. She put her finger to her lips and motioned the detective to follow her. As she got closer, she saw a well-dressed man bending over Tyler’s prone form.
“All you have to do is lick the frog, and I’ll untie you,” John said.
“But then I’ll be dead in about 5 minutes. That frog has poison all over it!”
“Yes, he is a bit agitated — who wouldn’t be, after a long day in Dick’s pocket? — but that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? Knowing the police are onto you, you’re going to commit a quick, painless suicide rather than go to jail. You can’t handle jail. You can barely deal with opposing counsel, much less a big hairy cell mate who stares at you every time you use the can. Admit it. You’re toast. Lick the frog.”
Tyler thought about all the muscle-bound, brain-deprived imbeciles that had made his school days miserable. He thought about John’s academic credentials. He thought about John’s sexual orientation. And he realized that John’s school days probably hadn’t been so different than his own. And as he looked at John’s thin body, he suspected John had not responded with force. So John was bluffing — Tyler had about a 50-50 shot of taking him in a fair fight.
Tyler had never been in a fight. But he was pretty sure John hadn’t either.
John straddled Tyler, frog in hand, inches from his mouth. Tyler brought his knee up sharply, intending to connect with his groin. But he missed, causing John only to lose his balance and fall flat on top of Tyler.
Tyler realized no magic spells or video game tricks could help him now. He reached into the depths of his brain and remembered something from a self-defense seminar in high school about rolling one’s hips back and forth to throw an attacker. “Arr!” he yelled, in his best, most intimidating war cry. He tried to roll one way. Then the other. No avail. “You won’t get away this!” he said as melodramatically as he could.
And John, right on cue, gave his best supervillain laugh — and shoved the frog, back first, into Tyler’s mouth.
Tyler heard the sound of his own muffled scream and the click of a gun cock. Then he passed out.
Susanna Dokupil is a former appellate lawyer who abandoned regular employment in favor of raising four kids. She wishes to emphasize that the resemblance of any character in “My Job Is Murder” to any actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. (Except for the geeky stuff. Appellate lawyers really are that geeky.)
Susanna can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
Earlier: Prior installments of My Job Is Murder