A certain Kirchner was killed a few hours ago and I’m staring at what remains of his head as it spills forth from his prone body on the walk just outside his door. Being that I’ve never investigated a murder before, I’m terrified of the damage this will do to my professional reputation, such as it is, should I fail to determine the who of the affair. But I think I’ve in any event worked out the how, likely a short burst at close range from an automatic weapon, indicated by a tight cluster of shell casings in the lawn, apparently suppressed as nobody in the neighborhood heard anything until the scream of the landlady discovering the corpse. It was dark out, with no exterior lights in the rear of the building, so Kirchner would’ve been backlit and effectively blind as he exited his apartment and was shot from no more than two feet away, to judge by the charred and blistered skin covering the right-side pieces of his crushed head and face flecked all over the wall and sidewalk. His brain, most of it, sits like an afterthought flung about a foot away from the body. There is blood everywhere. Something else studded the wall, mingled with the red spray lightly dusted over it; fragments of his teeth, it turns out. There are two security cameras but neither detected any motion.

I step over the blood slick to enter Kirchner’s apartment and find it largely unfurnished, a desk and chair in the living room, a mattress in the corner of the bedroom. Two posters for what I presume is a rock band named Rectal Warlord on the wall, some similarly named records but no record player, and nothing else of any real pertinence. To judge by the volume of Le Creuset cookware, how smeared it is with burnt, splashed oil, which also covers the stove and the side of the refrigerator the stove abuts, he seems to have enjoyed cooking.

Further investigation will later reveal he lived on disability, had few friends, no family attachments, and all things considered didn’t appear to have any enemies who cared enough about him to go so far as to assassinate him. I’m inclined to think he either accidently interrupted an unrelated crime in the courtyard or some fucking sociopath clipped him at random.

I’m about to share these thoughts with the bureau commander when some guy is shouting outside the police tape, yo, was that a dude named Kirchner? Was that a dude named Kirchner?

I motion for the photographer to get some pictures of the guy and for some uniforms to accompany me, then I approach him and ask what he knows. He says he’s never met or even seen Kirchner before but shows me a video he took just hours ago while filming his car for a video ad as it was parked out on the street. A tall, heavyset man is walking out from the back of Kirchner’s building, wearing a trench coat and some sort of stocking as a mask, with it pulled up so his mouth is visible, and two holes cut for the eyes, though they’re covered in shadow. He’s carrying a suppressed MAC-10. He sees the man recording him and asks him if he knew Kirchner, mentioning Kirchner by name. The guy says no and the shooter replies, yelling, laughing, in an accent rich with congestion and not local, that motherfucker’s dead, man. I’m coming back for more. Then he opens the driver’s door of an old Buick LeSabre, I think a 1975, and tosses the gun onto the passenger seat before getting behind the wheel and taking off in a screech. The license plate appears to be Illinois-issue and reads FAGGOT. I ask the guy why he didn’t call the cops and he shrugs.

I discuss this all with the bureau commander, a committed Bears fan who is now on the basis of the likely fake license plate entirely certain the killer is some sort of deranged, vengeful Aaron Rodgers dickrider (his exact words), and he directs me to start working angles I will of course not, but I will shine him on and pretend I did, like canvassing all the sports bars in the area to inquire about any fights related to the Bears-Packers rivalry, any bookies fuming about unpaid debts carried by Packers fans, that sort of thing; I in fact begin to gesture like I’m going to take notes on this investigative strategy but quickly realize I’m neither holding nor even in ownership of a pen or notepad.

For the first time in a career now just long enough that I have no hope of starting a new life if I’m ever fired, the commander says he wants someone in handcuffs soon. I’m terrified I’m going to fuck this up and lose my pension. He says he wants weekly updates and if he gets too many of those, we’ll have to have a real heart-to-heart about my future, something which causes some of the patrolmen to snicker, so I do that thing where you pretend to scratch your head but are flipping people off. There are now news cameras here. I tell the patrolmen to start knocking on doors and I snap my fingers, then put my hands on my hips. This becomes the stock footage of the relentless investigator that will run in every story about this shooting for over a week.

I go to one of the squad cars and in what will be, surprisingly, not the most embarrassing investigative act of my career, or even of this case, use the dash computer to check the ILDOT database to see if such a license plate exists. It of course does not. I check if any DMV/DoT in the entire country has ever issued a plate with that code and discover that, no, of course that has never happened. I also notice both searches have been flagged, something I suspected would happen and the reason I used someone else’s computer.

I walk through his place again and reexamine Kirchner’s small collection of books wedged into the windowsills above his stacks of records. It’s, like the records, all shit I’ve never heard of. At the bottom of one pile of books is a sheaf of paper. I pull it out and discover it’s a manuscript of some kind. Looks like a novel, I think. I guess. I haven’t read one since high school and even that one I didn’t finish. There are fairly recent Post-It notes attached to the title sheet and margin notes scribbled all over every single page, so many and so densely they look like old, gilded picture frames. To my delight, I find the sentence there is no way that is a real license plate. I believe I have discovered a clue. I stuff the manuscript in my jacket and leave the crime scene.


For all installments of “The Ambush,” click here.