This is the Thirteenth round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them unfamiliar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.
The Round 13 Title — The Invisible Man. — was chosen by me (with prodding from someone). This is the last round of the Title Challenge (new stuff for the next challenge).
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same goes if you are not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is my submission.
Here’s the blurb for this story:
Detectives investigate a murder by a seemingly invisible man.
The Invisible Man
Copyright 2023 — E. J. D’Alise
(4,100 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Lewis looked at his partner, then back to the body lying on the bed.
“What is it?”
“It’s not what; it’s who,” Parks replied. “That’s Toma Jovanović, son of Aleksandar Jovanović.”
Lewis didn’t reply. Having just been promoted to Detective and partnered with an old hand, Detective David ‘Dave’ Parks, Lewis had learned to wait before asking for clarification.
Parks walked around the other side of the bed, careful not to step outside the areas cleared by forensics.
“Jovanović is the local head of Naša Stvar,” Parks elaborated. “I don’t expect you to know a whole lot about them. They’re a Serbian-Croatian criminal gang but have ties to the Cartels and the Mob.”
“Drugs?” Lewis asked.
“Some, but also prostitution and gambling,” Parks replied.
Parks leaned over the bed, careful not to touch or disturb the scene.
“It looks like someone twisted his neck,” he said.
“That is correct.”
Both men turned toward the woman entering the room.
“Claire,” Parks said, “this is Detective Leon Lewis, my new partner. Leon, this is our medical examiner, Claire Marsh.”
“Pleasure to meet you, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t shake hands.”
“No problem,” Lewis replied. “You’ve already examined the body, then?”
“Yes,” Claire replied. “There’s another body in the bathroom with a broken neck.”
“Any ID?” Parks asked.
Claire motioned to one of her helpers, who handed Parks an evidence bag with a wallet, credit cards, cash, and a driver’s license.
“This gets better and better,” Parks said as he handed the bag to Lewis. “The ID says Ivan Zorić. He’s an enforcer and doubles as a bodyguard.”
Lewis looked at the picture on the ID and then at the man on the bed.
“These guys aren’t lightweight. What are we thinking here? Multiple attackers?”
Claire pointed back toward the bathroom.
“Ivan was surprised. Almost no struggle at all. Whoever it was got him as he came out of the bathroom.
“But not Toma. He put up a struggle, but not a long one,” Claire said. “By the looks of it, one person, presumably a man.”
“Toma dabbled in Jujitsu and worked as an enforcer coming up through the ranks. His dad wanted him to learn all aspects of the business,” Parks added. “So, no, this wouldn’t have been a cakewalk. This took some skill.”
“Anything else?” Lewis asked, addressing Claire.
“We didn’t find any phones, laptops, or other electronic devices,” she replied. “There’s a DVD player in the living room, and the tray is open, but we didn’t find any DVDs in the apartment.”
“No prints, I presume?”
“You presume correctly,” she replied. “We’ll finish with the crime scene and provide you with a report in the morning.”
“Care to give a guess on the time of death?” Lewis asked.
“We know when they entered the building,” Claire said, “and when they were found. Fortunately, that’s only a two-hour window. I can’t do much better than that until I slab them. The girls who found Toma are in the lobby downstairs.”
Lewis looked at the two girls. Their make-up valiantly tried to make them appear older, but he estimated both to be underage. Parks sat across from them and tried to look friendly. Or what he imagined might come across as friendly. Lewis listened and took notes as Parks questioned them.
They were hesitant about their reasons for being at the apartment, but it eventually became clear they were there to ‘entertain’ the two men. Based on what they said, the murder window narrowed to just one hour. That was how long it took from when they received a call from Toma to when they walked into the apartment.
The apartment door was unlocked, which, apparently, wasn’t unusual. That explained how the killer gained entry and surprised the men. They were less forthcoming about where they ‘worked’ and how to contact them, but eventually relented.
“OK,” Parks said. “We’re done here. We’ll contact you should we have more questions.
“And now I have to ask. Do you girls want any help? Protection? Can we call someone for you?”
Both girls emphatically maintained they were OK and seemed eager to leave, probably afraid of what their handlers might do.
“You’re just going to let them go?” Lewis asked.
“You want me to arrest them?” Parks asked.
“There are no less than four local organizations ready and willing to help any girl or woman that comes forth. We can offer, but we can’t make them get help,” Parks said.
To Lewis’ ears, Park’s tone bordered into being hostile. However, it took only a moment for Lewis to realize how the frustration he felt after only a brief exposure must be magnitudes greater for someone experiencing these situations over many years.
“Where to?” he asked, changing the subject. “The club?”
“Next of kin,” Parks answered. “He probably already knows, but we still have to talk to him.”
“You expect any help?” Lewis asked.
“No. I suspect we’re the ones who are going to be pumped for information.”
As they drove through the upscale neighborhood, Lewis wondered what the neighbors thought about having a known criminal as a neighbor. They probably didn’t mind. This was perhaps one of the safest neighborhoods in the city because not only wouldn’t Aleksandar shit where he eats, as they say, but he would likely take a dim view of anyone trying anything near where he lived.
“Did you notice the muscle?” Lewis asked, referring to a few inconspicuously parked cars monitoring access to the street where Aleksandar lived.
“Yeah,” Parks replied. “I imagine the old man might be a bit on edge. I bet he’s curious and worried about someone with the balls to take out his son and right-hand man.”
After a brief encounter with armed bodyguards, Parks and Lewis were escorted to the patio at the back of the house.
“What do you know?” the man Lewis presumed to be Aleksandar asked even before they got close enough to be offered chairs.
“Mr. Jovanović,” Parks replied, “I’m Detective Dave Parks, and this is Detective Leon Lewis. We are sorry for your loss. Unfortunately, the investigation is still ongoing, and we don’t have much to go on.
“That’s why we’re here,” Parks continued, “to see if you can share any information that might help us solve this case.”
Lewis observed the man, seeing his hard eyes dart between Parks and himself. It lasted only a moment, and then Aleksandar seemed to deflate and appeared like an old man who lost his son as opposed to a high-ranking figure of a ruthless criminal organization.
“Can I offer you drinks?” he asked.
“No, thank you, Mr. Jovanović,” Parks replied. “I understand this must come as a great shock, but time is of the essence, and with your permission, we’d like to ask a few questions.”
The man nodded as he sipped on his drink.
“First, and I know this is somewhat delicate, but was Toma involved in anything that would have precipitated this turn of events?”
Aleksandar looked up, then looked out to the expansive backyard.
“Very delicately put, Detective Parks. Let me be as delicate. Nothing in our current business affairs rises to the level of murder. I’ve worked hard to minimize wasteful conflicts with other parties.
“This… incident is as unexpected as it is tragic. I suspect it is more of a personal nature than anything business-related,” Aleksandar continued.
“Very well,” Parks pressed on. “Can you shed any light on his personal affairs?”
Aleksandar hesitated before answering.
“There was an altercation a few weeks ago involving a woman at the club where Toma used to hang out. Blows were exchanged, as well as threats.”
“Would you happen to know the name of the other party?” Lewis asked.
Aleksandar shifted his attention to Lewis, his stare suddenly as hard as before.
“As it turns out, that same evening, the individual suffered a car crash on the way home from the club. He’s currently still in intensive care and under an induced coma.”
“I see . . . Not a suspect in the current incident, then?” Lewis couldn’t help the automatic response and felt a chill from the old man’s continued hard stare.
“My partner is asking whether you think this man might be involved with what happened to Toma,” Parks interjected.
Aleksandar shifted his gaze, closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he seemed calm and detached.
“I don’t think so. His involvement was nothing more than someone stepping in —foolish as it was — to the aid of a random woman.”
“Do you know who the woman was?” Parks asked.
“We’re making inquiries,” Aleksandar replied.
“Mr. Jovanović,” Parks said, “I would strongly suggest you let us handle the investigation.”
Aleksandar said nothing for a few seconds, then put down his drink and got up.
“You best get on with it, then,” he said, turning and going back inside.
“What do you think?” Lewis asked.
“I think we better find that woman before he does,” Parks replied. “Let’s head to the club.”
The club was closed to the public, but the manager was inside along with a small crew setting up for the coming evening. He remembered the altercation. It had started inside the club, with the woman throwing her drink in Toma’s face before stepping outside, where he caught up with her and grabbed her.
According to the manager, the other man was walking past and intervened.
“If you’re interested, I have videos from inside and outside the building,” he said.
“That would be great,” Lewis replied.
They sat in the back room as the man recalled the digital files from a few weeks prior.
The videos had no sound, but they were state-of-the-art digital recordings, probably for liability purposes. The indoor segment showed Toma targeting a woman who looked like she was waiting for someone. As mentioned, The woman threw her drink at Toma’s face and then stormed out, Toma hot on her heels.
The exterior video showed Toma catching up and grabbing the woman’s arm and her reacting badly, slapping and kicking at Toma. That’s when a man outside the club stepped up and pulled Toma from the woman. Toma attacked the man, but the guy was obviously a better fighter and repeatedly threw Toma to the ground.
That’s when the bodyguard intervened, pointing to the camera and saying something to Toma that calmed him down, and they walked off-screen. The man who had intervened talked for a few moments with the woman, and she shook her head. Then, she appeared to thank him, and they parted ways.
“Can we get copies of the recordings?” Parks asked.
“Sure,” the manager replied. “Frankly, I will miss Toma dropping his money here, but not the trouble he caused.”
“Was that a common occurrence?” Lewis asked.
“It wasn’t rare,” the man said. “Toma had a habit of not caring whether a woman was interested in him. For that matter, whether she was with anyone or not, but that was the first time it escalated. Usually, Ivan intervened before it got out of hand.”
“So, no other incident that came to blows?” Parks asked.
“No. That was the only one.”
“Any idea who that woman is?” Lewis asked.
“No, I’d not seen her before, but I probably got her credit card info if she ran a tab. Might also be she had a reservation for the restaurant,” the manager replied.
Parks waited with the manager while Lewis stepped outside to look at the scene of the altercation. Specifically, he looked for any other cameras that might have shown what happened after the encounter. Then, as he walked up the block, he dropped a few dollar bills into the cups of the few homeless individuals he passed.
There were more each year, and he always made it a point to carry singles and fives.
He returned to the club, walking on the other side of the street, and noticed cameras outside a small grocery store and in the parking lot adjacent to the store. He texted Parks to let him know where he was and went in to speak to the owner. Twenty minutes later, he exited with another set of recordings. Meantime, Parks had drawn a blank with the name as the woman had paid cash.
Back at the station, Lewis and Parks reviewed all the recordings. The ones from across the street showed the car the woman had driven. The video was not as good as the one from the club, but they got the make, model, and a partial on the plates. The video also showed the good Samaritan crossing the street, getting into a car, and leaving. They couldn’t be sure, but it looked like another car made a U-turn and followed.
“That was probably Toma and Ivan,” Lewis said.
“Yeah. Odds are we won’t find that car,” Parks said. “Let’s concentrate on finding the woman. Also, have someone check on car accident victims for that date.”
Lewis stopped his car in front of a home on a quiet street. The houses were modest but well-kept. Stepping out, he saw a few people take an interest in him. Ignoring them, he made his way to the front door. The young woman who answered the door was wary but relented once she examined his badge. She was the neighbor of the man in an induced coma and was watching the couple’s kids while the wife was visiting the hospital.
Lewis learned the man was a veteran currently attending University. The woman handed Lewis a flier for the veteran’s outreach program helping homeless veterans, saying that’s where he volunteered. She also mentioned that the family had just moved here a month before as it was closer to the classes. Lewis thanked her and left his card in case the wife wanted to call him.
That outreach program’s offices were Lewis’ next stop. Hank, as everyone knew him, was well-liked and had helped several homeless veterans find help.
That’s why he was outside the club that evening. Homeless people hung around there, hoping to get a few bucks from the club attendees. Not that the club allowed them to get too close, but the club had no dedicated parking, so many people walked from nearby streets.
Lewis asked about Hank’s service and found out he’d been Ranger qualified, which explained the success of his encounter with Toma.
Back at the station, Parks and Lewis exchanged notes. The DMV had narrowed the list to ten possible cars; of those, one owner was a good match for the woman at the club. Meanwhile, Lewis had reached out to the military, and they didn’t show anyone from Hank’s old unit near this area.
That ruled out possible payback for his ‘accident’ by any of Hank’s mates, which made the woman their primary target.
Late that afternoon, they showed up at her address. A reasonably well-to-do building, complete with a doorman who knew the woman and confirmed she was at home but insisted on notifying them of their visit.
“Ms. Ada Boms? Thank you for seeing us.”
“Ada, please,” she replied as she showed them to the living room. “What’s this about?”
“We’re investigating an incident outside a club a few weeks ago,” Parks said.
“I don’t understand,” Ada said. “I didn’t report that incident, so I’m not sure what you’re investigating.”
“Bear with us, as your incident may be relevant to an ongoing investigation, and it would help us understand what happened,” Parks said.
“OK, ask away,” she said, then added, “can I get you anything?”
“Water, if you have it,” Lewis replied, earning a side glance from Parks.
They then sat and went through the sequence of events matching what they had seen in the videos.
“May we ask why you were at the club?”
“I had a blind date, but he was running late,” Ada replied. “After the incident, I called him, and we rescheduled.”
“Are you seeing him now?” Parks asked.
“As a matter of fact, yes. I assume you’ll want his name?”
“If you would, please.”
“He’s a British National on assignment here with the Embassy’s diplomatic mission. His name is Richie Hales.”
“He’s a diplomat?” Lewis asked.
“No, he’s part of the security personnel at the Embassy.”
“I see,” Parks said. “And, did he know about the encounter?”
“Well, yes, because we had to reschedule.”
“And did he know who had attacked you?” Lewis asked.
Ada stiffened. “What is this about?” she asked.
“Well, the man who attacked you was found dead yesterday, and we’re following all lines of inquiry,” Parks answered.
“And you think Richie might have had something to do with it?!” Ada asked.
“As I said, we’re following all lines of inquiries.”
“That’s insane! I didn’t even know who the man was and I’d not seen him since. Certainly, Richie wouldn’t know what he even looks like!”
“Again, we’re just following leads and eliminating possibilities.”
“What do you make of that?” Lewis asked as they walked out of the building. On the way to the car, Lewis handed out a few more dollars to the homeless they passed as Parks shook his head.
“A waste of money,” Parks said.
“One of my uncles died homeless. None of us knew he had gotten in a bad way until we got notified of his passing,” Lewis replied. “I like to think I’m helping at least a bit.”
“OK, but I still say it’s a waste of money,” Parks said.
“As for the woman, she’s right that she would have no way of knowing who Toma was, and even if she heard his first name, that’s not much to go on. Besides, she left before Hank, likely wanting to get as far as possible from the place and the chance for further incidents.”
“We’re back at square one, then.”
“Let’s call it a day, and we’ll pick it up tomorrow,” Parks said.
“OK, I’ll finish my notes,” Lewis replied.
Twenty minutes later, back at the station and as he was about to leave, Lewis had another thought, remembering the location of Hank’s accident. It was on a toll road, so both cars had to have passed by the automated toll booths and cameras. He shot off an email before leaving and headed home.
“I got an interesting bit of information,” Lewis said when Parks came in the following day.
He pointed at the screen as Parks walked over.
“These stills are from the toll booth a few miles from where Hank had his accident.”
“What am I looking for?”
“Look at this still.”
“That’s . . . Ivan. And he’s alone in the car following Hank,” Parks said.
“So, where’s Toma?” Lewis asked.
“What are you thinking?” Parks asked.
“I’m thinking Toma wasn’t a guy used to being rejected. I think that while Ivan followed Hank, Toma might have followed Ada.”
Parks looked at Lewis.
“I think we need another talk with the doorman and Ada.”
“You lied to us,” Lewis said. “We think Toma followed you and met up with you and Richie after you left the club.”
“I’m sorry,” Ada replied after a slight hesitation. “The man did approach us as we were waiting to get into a restaurant, but I didn’t know his name. He exchanged a few words with Richie, but Richie didn’t back down, and the man left. That was the end of it.”
“The man’s name was Toma,” Parks said. “And you are certain you did not see him again?”
“I never saw him again, but I did report the second incident and had even snapped a photo of the man.”
“You reported it?”
“Yes, Richie insisted, even though I explained it doesn’t work the same here and that nothing would come of it,” Ada said. “And I showed the photo to Adrian, letting him know I didn’t want to see the man.”
“Adrian?” Parks asked.
“Adrian Molski, our doorman.”
“I see,” Parks said. “May we have a copy of the picture you showed him?”
Adrian said he had seen the man in the photo. He’d stopped by, and they had a bit of a shoving match.
“When was this?” Lewis asked.
“Three days ago,” Adrian said.
“That was a day before he was murdered,” Lewis said.
Adrian paled, stammering that he had nothing to do with that. Besides, he said, it was the man who threatened to kill him.
“What do you mean?” Parks said.
“Well, he started showing me trying to get by me, and I warned him that the Army had taught me well and that he best get along,” Adrian said. “That’s when he laughed and said he wasn’t worried and would take care of me like he took care of the other Army guy. So I told him to get lost, and he left.”
“And that was it?” Parks asked.
“No, wait,” Adrian said. “He handed me his business card and told me to make sure Ada gets it.”
“Did you give it to her?” Lewis asked.
“No! I just threw it in the waste can by the side of the building. Besides, the building’s cameras probably recorded the whole thing.”
At the station, Lewis and Parks reviewed what they knew and the results of inquiries they had made after viewing the new videos.
It turned out that Richie and Adrian had alibis at the time of the murder, with video to prove it; Richie was at the Embassy and Adrian in front of the building. Ada, as unlikely a suspect as she might be, also had an alibi at the time of the murders. They had checked her background, and all her relatives were accounted for, and none lived nearby.
No matter where they turned, despite all evidence pointing to Toma and Ivan’s death being connected with the club altercation, they’d hit nothing but walls. They’d run out of suspects, prompting Lewis to say, “It’s as if The Invisible Man had exacted justice on Toma and Ivan.”
Two weeks later, as Lewis and Parks were filling out reports, three detectives from the Office of Internal Affairs came into the room and arrested Parks for taking bribes and collusions with the Naša Stvar criminal organization, including having close ties to Aleksandar Jovanović. Lewis was also questioned, but it was more of a formality, and he was cleared of any involvement.
While avoiding direct meetings with Aleksandar Jovanović, it turned out that Parks had regularly met with Toma and even partied with him.
Parks was unaware that Toma recorded his parties and that the OIA had received the missing DVDs from Toma’s apartment. They showed Parks engaging in sexual activity with underage girls and receiving money envelopes. Parks was eager to cut a deal and testify about Jovanović operations.
Thinking back, Lewis realized there was a familiarity in how Aleksandar had spoken to Parks when they met. Aleksandar had changed his demeanor after Parks introduced Lewis, probably indicating to Aleksandar that Lewis wasn’t on the take.
As he sat there, reviewing all that had happened, he realized something. OIA mentioned they’d been investigating Parks for some time, and Lewis wondered if they might have video surveillance of Toma’s building.
And they did, including from the day of the murder.
Lewis sat and watched the video, complete with notations identifying the people coming in and out of the building. He watched it four times before he noticed something.
He then checked the video from the club and then the video from Ada’s building. He then sat back and smiled.
He smiled because he had been right . . . and wrong.
Not The Invisible Man, but invisible men. Until he realized what to look for, he hadn’t paid any attention to the homeless vet who spoke to Hank after his altercation with Toma. Or the homeless vet who witnessed the fight between Toma and Adrian and who, a bit later, picked through the garbage can, probably retrieving the business card.
Or the homeless vet who, shortly before Toma’s and Ivan’s murders, casually walked into Toma’s building on the heels of a resident intent on looking at their phone. The same homeless vet who later, carrying a small bundle, held the door open for the two girls heading up to Toma’s apartment.
Lewis didn’t see any need to share his discovery with anyone. After all, The Invisible Man was pure fantasy.
If you’ve already read the other two stories, then you’re done.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Perry Broxson submission<<link
R. G. Broxson submission<<link
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