At least he had on boxers by now, for the love o’ pete, paired with an open bathrobe. A half hour ago, the elderly man had donned his birthday suit, shuffling back and forth in front of his first-floor apartment window. The call had come into the station from a pearl-clutching neighbor across the street.
Detective Finkman responded. And, although this call didn’t seem it at first, it was one of those that pulled a detective deeper than he’d wanted to go. That’s what flipped his cookie, though: cases that left him wondering where sanity ended and madness began. He wasn’t much of a chickenshit, traffic-ticket-writing cop.
Sitting in his Buick Century–the man had class after all; he wouldn’t be caught dead in a squad car–Detective Finkman watched through the window for a while. He wanted to discern what he could about the old man from afar before knocking on his door. All he saw the guy doing was yammering on, having an argument with no one as he paced.
“Eh, the poor ol’ codger’s probably just another kook,” Finkman said to himself. He took another bite of his drive-thru burrito. A glob of ground beef and sour cream slopped onto his dress shirt. “Aww, nuts.”
After tidying himself up a bit, he rapped on the apartment door with his memo pad; strike him down if he ever gave in to using a tablet and stylus for his note-taking. The door swung open and, upon seeing who it was, the old man tied his robe closed and smoothed down his white hair.
“I’m Detective Finkman. Do you mind if we have a chat?”
“No, sir I don’t mind at all. Please come in. I’m Arthur Hinkman and it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Arthur felt ashamed at the unkempt state of his home. He was a man who had great respect for authority figures. Clearing papers and books off a sofa, he gestured for his guest to sit down.
“Hinkman, was it?” Finkman asked, double checking he’d heard correctly. He figured the loon made it up; the similarity in their last names was too coincidental and he felt silly using it. Best to handle this one with kid gloves, anyway. Earn his trust, then run his ID and other procedural hogwash. “How’s about I call you Artie? Whaddaya say?”
“I like that.”
“Good.” Finkman licked his pencil before jotting the date, time, and address at the top of his memo pad. “Can you tell me what you’ve been up to today, Artie? Your neighbors been concerned about you. Said they heard ya screaming.” Finkman went over to the drapes and pulled them closed. No sense in feeding further nosiness. He had things under control.
“Well, I can tell you everything, Detective Finkman; I’ve no mind to lie to anyone, especially you. It’s just…”
“Go ahead, Artie. I’m listening.”
“You’re gonna look at me funny after I do. Everyone always does. I’ve seen it. The tender smiles with the furrowed brows.”
“You can tell me anything.”
“Okay…You see Detective, it’s just that she didn’t give me one. Forgot about me. I wasn’t asking anything more from her than what every other person gets–”
“Woah, woah. Slow down, Artie. Who forgot what?”
“Lachesis didn’t assign me an allotted amount of time.”
“You’re gonna have to refresh this old dog, Artie. I wasn’t exactly top of my English class back in Telabesia Valley High School. Are we talking Greek mythology here?”
“Yes, sir. The three Fates: Clotho gives life, Atropos decides the manner of death, and Lachesis determines the length of life.”
“So you’re saying…you’re never gonna die?”
“Yes! I’m surprised you understand my predicament so quickly,” Artie said and clapped his hands together.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Artie. How can you be so sure about all this?” Detective Finkman wanted to add a, “do you realize how insane that sounds,” but he didn’t.
“I’m sure I shoulda been dead by now. Today is my 123rd birthday.” Artie Hinkman’s words were getting frantic. “The Fates came down from Mt. Olympus earlier, confused as to why I’d lived this long. I raved at Lachesis for doing this to me. I demanded she pick my final date but she insisted there was no correcting the error now. And I ain’t about to off myself if that’s what you’re thinking. No, sir. That’s a big-time sin.” After examining his listener’s blank expression, Artie went on. “You don’t believe me…They came through the portal. It’s the mirror above my bedroom dresser! I can show you, Detective!”
“Sure, Artie. We’ll look at it. Just do me a favor first.” Finkman reminded himself to remain gentle in the midst of his this-guy’s-off-his-rocker thoughts. He knew he needed to diffuse the old man’s agitation, then get to the business of figuring out if he’d any family who could care for him, maybe see if he could get him a bed at Telabesia Valley Hospital. “Have a seat for me here, alright?” Artie obliged and Finkman continued.
“I understand what you’re going through. So, maybe you watched your wife go. Outlived your buddies one by one. Now you’re wondering why wasn’t it you first. Am I right?” Artie didn’t respond. “That’s no reason not to go on livin’. Lot’s to do in the community, ya know? You just gotta get out there more, see a ball game or something. Everything’s gonna be just fine.”
“I overheard her, you know,” Artie whispered.
“Atropos. She let slip what manner of death she’d chosen for me: necrotizing fasciitis,” Artie said, leaning closer to Finkman as if it was a delicate secret.
Finkman watched a patch of blackness creep across the skin on Arthur Hinkman’s jawline. Part of it drooped and detached from his face.
“It hurts, Detective.”
The blackness spread to Artie’s shoulder and his arm snapped off and thudded to the carpet.
“Help me, Detective! Help me! My gahd it burns!”
“Mr. Finkman?” a young man asked. From his bedroom window, he’d spotted his elderly neighbor wandering the sidewalk in his bathrobe and came outside right away. “Mr. Finkman, are you alright buddy?” Mr. Finkman didn’t respond. He only muttered to himself.
“Artie!” a young woman shouted, also rushing over to Mr. Finkman’s side. “We can certainly take a nice walk around the neighborhood but you really need to get dressed first, Artie.” The woman turned to the young man. “Hi, I’m Lacey, Mr. Finkman’s in-home caretaker. I’m here three days a week with him.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Derick.” The two helped guide Arthur Finkman back towards his apartment. “He was saying something about a Detective and that something hurt him just a few minutes ago. I don’t know. I couldn’t understand him.”
“I guess he’s having one of his bad days. Maybe his worst one by the looks of it,” Lacey said.
“Poor guy. He was fine just last night. Caught me in the corridor when he saw me carrying my Mythology 101 textbook. He invited me in for tea and told me everything he knows on the subject. He knew a lot more than my professor does, that’s for sure, and he’s not as boring.”
“He is a great man, probably my favorite patient,” Lacey replied, checking Finkman’s mail slot for him. “Thanks so much for your help. I can take it from here.” Lacey then noticed an odd black patch on the side of Arthur’s face. “Artie, is this dirt on you here?” She wiped at it with a tissue, even with a little elbow grease, but it just wouldn’t come off.