Looking back, I'm not really sure what moronic reason I had to start investigating the murders. A bit of abstract guilt, I suppose, coupled with a sense of morbid fascination. Having long been a fan of classic detectives like Holmes, Poirot, and Wolfe, I had always wondered if I would be able to, as Poirot would say, “use my little gray cells” to solve a crime should I have the opportunity. Now it seemed I had one. Any great detective's first step is to gather as much information as possible, so I set about learning what I could about the murders.
The first victim's name was Tommy Green, and he had lived in downtown Santa Barbara on De la Vina. His roommate Steven (never Steve) looked at me a bit oddly when he opened the door and wasn't inclined to let me in at first, but after a few minutes of convincing (and some not-so-subtle implications that I was working with the police) he relented. The screen door squeaked loudly as I entered. He told me that he had been watching TV with Tommy, and had gone into the bedroom to take a phone call from work. When Steven came out about 10 minutes later, Tommy was gone. A day later his body was found in a dumpster behind a Mexican restaurant a few blocks away.
“Have you cleaned the apartment since then?”
“No,” he replied, “With everything that happened, I just...I've been kinda out of it.” That made sense, but piqued my curiosity. The apartment was quite neat, with nothing broken or noticeably scuffed or dented. No signs of a struggle. No blood on the carpet, which considering how messy a slash to the femoral artery is, almost certainly meant he had not been killed here. But then, Steven hadn't heard anything unusual while he was on the phone, either. The couch faced both the door and the only window at an angle, so it was unlikely that anyone could have come in without Tommy seeing them. Filing this information away in my head, I looked around the living room carefully, in a Holmesian attempt to observe every detail. One chair sat at a right angle to the couch, making a squared off area in front of the TV. A coffee table sat in the middle of the room, with a couple newspapers and a coaster on it. In the corner next to the TV sat a guitar stand with three guitars, and next to that stood a bookshelf. I glanced briefly at the books in it, noting that the top two shelves were primarily science fiction, while the bottom three were a mix of historical novels and crime fiction. One book on the lowest shelf, oddly enough, was reversed so that the pages were showing rather than the spine. I reached to correct it, but was interrupted by Steven, who had been watching me with a certain fascination.
“So are you some kind of private detective, or what?” He looked positively fascinated by the idea.
“I guess you could say that. How soundproof is the door to the bedroom?” I was still trying to work out how the killer had managed to get Tommy out of the apartment without causing some kind of commotion.
Steven grimaced. “Not very. Tommy's sort of a player, and when I crash out here I can hear everything pretty clearly. The shit that guy would say in the sack, man, you would not believe...” He seemed to suddenly remember that the man he was talking about was now dead. “I mean...shit, man, I know that probably sounded pretty callous but-”
“Don't worry about it. It still hasn't quite sunk in. I understand.”
He looked grateful. “Do you want to look at the bedroom? The police did, even though I told them Tommy wasn't in there.”
“I don't think so. Could I have your phone number in case I think of anything I need to ask you later?”
“Sure man, whatever you need.” He told me his number and I put it in my cell phone. Then I walked back out to the street, pausing for a moment to consider what I'd seen. No matter how hard I thought about it, I could not come up with a way to enter the apartment without being noticed by someone on the couch. Even if Tommy had gotten up to go into the fridge and grab something to drink, the sound of the screen door opening should have alerted him immediately that someone was there. For that matter, if the door was as thin as I'd been told, Steven should have heard the screen door too. But he'd been on the phone, so it was possible that he'd simply not noticed it.