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Death Lives Across the Hall: A Joe Davis Mystery

Death Lives Across the Hall: A Joe Davis Mystery

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Death Lives Across the Hall: A Joe Davis Mystery

274 pagine
4 ore
Aug 26, 2016


Joe Davis, humor blogger and Twin Cities’ D-List celebrity, tries to prove his best friend didn't murder a hated neighbor. Can Joe do it in time to save his team's chances in the All-City Touch Football Tournament?
Aug 26, 2016

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Death Lives Across the Hall - Randall J. Funk



Ninety-nine percent of all unnecessary conflict will, at some point, involve the words, It’s the principle of the thing.

This can apply to any number of situations, be they territorial ("Sure, the whole island’s nothing but rocks and lizards, but we can’t let this other country just take it,") religious (Yes, we pray to the same God and have the same code of conduct, but your prophet says To-may-to and our savior says To-mah-to) or personal (I know I never wanted Mom’s collection of antique tea cozies and Margerie always did, but I’m the oldest child.) Our everyday lives are a constant battle between the principled and the pragmatic. The difference, of course, is that the pragmatic side knows the fight is a waste of time.

My name’s Joe Davis. I get paid to write stuff like that.

This crosses my mind because I’m about to deal with my friend Mike, a man who has figuratively and literally had his nose bloodied while fighting for certain principles. The fact he’s generally one of the most unprincipled men on the planet is an irony that’s lost on him.

One word I would not use to describe Mike, though, is clairvoyant. And yet here he is, whipping open the door to his apartment before I can even knock. His bulldog head swivels as he looks up and down the hallway.

Good, he says, a malevolent gleam in his brown eyes, I need a lookout.

A lookout? For what?

I’m going to break into my neighbor’s place. I need you to watch the hall.

He steps toward the door directly across the hall. I grab him by the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

Why are you going to break—?

Joe, don’t hassle me. All right? Nobody likes a noodge as a lookout. Mike gives me a push toward the end of the hall.

I take my position and try to look inconspicuous. Not easy, since Mike’s building doesn’t tend to welcome loiterers. The beige walls do their best to calm me, but Madame Matisse is staring at me from a nearby print. It’s not helping my anxiety level. I try to play it casual, sliding my hands into my pockets before remembering my sweat pants don’t have pockets. Meantime, Mike goes to work on his neighbor’s lock. A few seconds later, he disappears into the apartment.

Much as I hate to say it, Mike isn’t new to this break-in thing. Back in college, his hobby was cat burglary. That sounds bad, but it’s not like he was a one-man crime wave. Mike swiped small ticket items whenever his financial aid ran low and he couldn’t hit up his parents. I have no idea if he’s used those skills in the ten or so years since we graduated. I’m kind of afraid to ask.

A series of high-pitched yips emanate from the neighbor’s apartment. Apparently, her dog has taken notice of Mike. Behind me, a door cracks open. I drop to one knee and pretend to tie a shoe. A rheumy eye peers out from the crack.

Who the hell are you? a gravelly voice asks.

I’m, uh, I’m Joe Davis. I’m a friend of Mike Griffin’s.

He lives down the hall. What the hell are you doing here?

I’m just waiting for him.

Then why don’t you wait in that asshole’s apartment instead of skulking around here?

Before I can say anything else, the door slams shut. Great. Joe Davis: Neighborhood Menace.

A second later, Mike, the actual neighborhood menace, emerges from the neighbor’s apartment, empty-handed. He frantically waves me back toward him (as if it’s my idea to be skulking around) and we slip into his place.

Mike stations himself at the peephole, one foot nervously tapping the carpeted floor. I pull an old t-shirt off the thrift store Barcalounger stationed beneath the framed Friends Don’t Let Friends Date Fat Chicks poster and grab a seat. For the last several weeks, Mike has been complaining—vaguely but insistently—about his asshole neighbor. I should have known things would reach a crisis point, but I have a policy of burying my head in the sand until such a point is reached. Looks like we’re there now. And all of this going down ninety minutes before we play our next game in the All-City Touch Football Tournament. Bad scene, man.

So, Potsy, I say, Anything you want to share with me?

I’ve got a meeting with my neighbor and the building manager. She’s trying to get me thrown out.

And why is she doing that?

Mike waves off the question. I don’t have time to get into it.

Okay. You have time to tell me why you broke into your neighbor’s apartment? I mean, I’m kind of an accomplice, so I’d like to know what you took.

I didn’t take anything. For crying out loud, this isn’t college. I just planted some drugs.

Uh-huh. And why are you doing that?

Did you not hear me say the self-centered little bitch wants me thrown out of here? Let’s see how much credibility she has after management finds a bag of ganja in her fruit bowl. He straightens up suddenly and steps back from the peephole. Okay, quiet. They’re here. He runs a hand through the short black hair that covers his enormous cranium. There’s a knock at the door and Mike smoothly flips it open. How you doing, Larry?

Larry, the building manager, is a tweedy dude with reading glasses perched on a receding hairline. Looks like the sort of guy who’d screw you on an insurance settlement. Theresa and I are here for the meeting, he says, his voice just an octave below whiny, If you have a second.

Mike, Mr. Accommodating himself, throws an arm around Larry’s shoulder. Absolutely. Glad to do it. Joe, I’ll be right back. Larry has the decency not to comment on Mike’s sweatshirt, which hasn’t been washed since the beginning of the tournament and smells like someone using cumin to cover the stench of a dead sea lion.

My growing headache and I are left to ourselves. This sort of thing has been par for the course the entire time I’ve known Mike. I was there to witness his turn to the dark side. See, Mike grew up as the only child in a military family. Once he got to college and realized he was no longer under his parents’ thumb, he not only embraced his freedom, he tied it to the bed and did unspeakable things to it. I’m not sure he’s recovered yet.

Not that I’m complaining. Mike’s a great source of material. I’m a thrice-weekly columnist for The Daily Bugle, an indie rag that realized it could save costs by scrapping the rag portion and simply doing its business online. My column (Cup o’ Joe) covers all things humorous, from movies to politics to human behavior. The same stuff that’s bored many an ex-girlfriend and now (barely) pays my bills.

Mike returns from the meeting just a few minutes later. The second he closes the door, he punches the air and then follows up with a kick. After a quick cleansing breath, he snatches up his keys from the warped end table.

Let’s go to the game, he says.

What happened at the meeting?

Nothing. There was a lot of talk. Most of it unfriendly.

What about the bag of pot? Did Larry find it?

No. Her dog found it. And the little shit ate it.

I wait for him to say he’s kidding, but that declaration is not forthcoming. Her dog ate the pot?

Little bastard found the ganja before Larry did.

Is the dog going to be okay?

Mike scoffs. He’ll be fine. It’ll be the first time in his whole nervous, pissy life he’s been mellow. And I’m going to miss it.

You sure it isn’t fatal?

You think I have that kind of luck?


The variety of touch football played in the All-City Touch Football Tournament most closely resembles the offspring of a tawdry affair between a rugby match and a tub of live bait. It’s razzle-dazzle, two-hand touch with unlimited forward passes; a slightly more organized version of the old game of Smear The Homophobic Slur that we used to play at recess. The tournament features about a hundred teams from across the Twin Cities, all of them weekend warriors like us. Our team, The Pigs, have participated in the tournament for the last three years. Today, we advanced past the round of sixteen and are now starting to entertain fantasies about winning the whole thing.

And naturally, in this moment of triumph, Mike is completely miserable.

This is for shit, he says, Everything we do in this life. Just a fucking waste of time.

Such an attitude on such a beautiful day. The Tav, our usual hangout, is enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon. A mix of blue collar joes and young artist types lounge about, saving energy for the evening’s activities. Sunbeams slant through a picture window that affords a view of Selby Avenue, the main artery of St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill. We’re at a high top table, enjoying a couple of well-earned craft beers. But all Mike can do is chew his goatee and stare miserably into the pint of India Pale Ale. This is like hanging out with Hamlet on one of his off days.

I tap the table in front of him. You did good work. Robbie wouldn’t have scored that last touchdown if you hadn’t knocked the defender silly.

He doesn’t look up. Yeah.

We keep playing like this—and T.J.’s shoulder holds up— we could go all the way.

Good for us.

This is very disconcerting. Mike’s the most important player on our team. While he doesn’t score a lot, his complete lack of scruples creates a lot of opportunities for the other guys. He probably leads the tournament in Nut Punches and Cowardly Blind Side Hits. Today, he played with particularly murderous gusto. But how much of a distraction is this apartment thing? If Mike’s head isn’t in the game, what hope is there for The Pigs?

I set aside my pint of Oktoberfest. All right, so what happened when you met with the neighbor?

I told you. I’m going to get thrown out.


Mike vigorously runs a hand over his face and head. A bunch of stuff. It’s been building since Theresa moved in. She cranks her fucking stereo at any hour of the day or night. She has her loud-mouthed friends over constantly. She has parties without even giving her neighbors a heads-up. And that fucking dog of hers that barks every time the wind changes direction. And then, well, there was, um, there was an incident.

Oh, crap. Incident is Mike’s favorite euphemism, covering everything from shouting matches to fistfights to death threats. The mere mention of the word jacks up some latent parental feeling in me; a sense that the kid did something heinous, I’m just hoping it wasn’t too heinous.

What happened? I ask.

I kicked her door in.

I draw a breath through my nose and slowly ask, Why did you kick her door in?

I didn’t do it on purpose! I was trying to get her attention and the damn thing collapsed. Cheap building material, if you ask me.

Why didn’t you just knock?

I didn’t think that would work. Her music was loud as hell.

So she turned it off when you kicked the door in?

No. That didn’t happen until I threw her dog at the stereo.

And there it is. The cockroach laying at the bottom of the turd sundae. If this is the sort of thing you go through when you have a kid, I’ll die old and alone, thank you very much.

Why did you throw the dog at the stereo? I ask.

He was coming after me! I’m supposed to stand there and let the yappy little thing gnaw off my leg?

I haven’t actually met the dog in question. But if its size matches its bark, I seriously doubt the damn thing could gnaw off Mike’s leg without exploding like the fat guy in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

So the issues with you and the neighbor, I say, It’s mainly the door-kicking and the dog-chucking?

Yeah. Well, I might have threatened to kill her during the dog-chucking argument. I don’t remember. I was raving pretty good.

And that’s what today’s meeting was all about?

Yeah. She said she wanted Larry to see the damage I’d supposedly caused.

And Larry said you were getting thrown out?

Mike bobs his head. Not exactly. He pulled me aside after the meeting and said he could probably make the whole thing go away if I just apologize to Theresa.

Suddenly, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, accompanied by the exceeding annoyance that we’re in the tunnel in the first place.

Wait, so that’s it? I say, You’re fine?

Mike’s eyes go dark. "Are you kidding me? I’m not apologizing to that woman. She drives me to the brink of insanity and when I get there, it’s my fault? Fuck that. I’m not giving her the satisfaction."

Yeah, but—

Your home should be a sanctuary. Like Superman and the Fortress of Solitude. But I don’t get that kind of peace. Why? Because I’ve got the worst fucking neighbor in recorded history. No way. No apology. It’s the principle of the thing.

You see what I mean about the principle of a thing?

I look up at the TV over our table. It’s running a political ad for a guy named Brad Kess, a city councilman vowing to become mayor and make St. Paul a better place. Maybe he should mediate this thing with Mike and his neighbor.

A female voice floats in. I’m guessing the game didn’t go well?

And a pretty brunette joins us at the table. Pretty brunettes don’t generally walk up and sit with us (not that I’d object to that sort of thing.) This particular brunette is our friend, Carol, fulfilling her promise to join us after the game.

No, we won, I say, We’re going to the quarter-finals.

So why does it look like somebody’s dog died?

Mike cracks his knuckles. If only.

I nod toward our morose friend. Potsy here has trouble on the home front.

Carol aims her penetrating blue eyes at Mike. What did you do now?

He starts waving his hands. I didn’t do anything! If my neighbor across the hall refuses to live by the rules that bind a decent, functioning society, that’s not my fault.

Carol places a hand in her thick, shoulder length hair and listens, stone-faced, as Mike runs down the litany of ridiculous conflicts that have brought him to this bitter end. I rock a bit in my chair, anticipating Carol laying the verbal smackdown on Mike. Instead, she takes a delicate sip of her Cosmo.

I guess that’s how it goes, she says.

I believe gobsmacked is the British term for what I’m feeling. (Frankly, I’d rather be shocked. Gobsmacked sounds disgusting.) Surely, Carol must have more ammunition in the chamber. But all she does is wrinkle her nose at the smell of Mike’s sweat-stained clothing.

That’s it? I say, That’s all you’ve got?

Mike’s a big boy. He’ll live with the consequences.

Mike taps the table with his pint. There. You see? Even Carol agrees with me.

I ignore him. I can’t believe you’re just going to sit there and let Mike twist in the wind and—Oh my God, this is because of the boyfriend, isn’t it?

Carol gives me a dopey smile. Sometimes happiness in your life lends a certain perspective.

Well, that would explain Mike’s complete lack of perspective. Judging by the scowl twisting his goatee, news of Carol’s boyfriend doesn’t make him any happier. Mike and Carol dated once upon a time. They’ve been broken up for a while now, but no one can figure out why they split. And by no one, I mean Mike.

Ah yes, the boyfriend, I say, Johnny, right?

Jimmy, she says.

Jimmy. Brothel owner, if I’m not mistaken?

Carol gives that mock applause. He works at a bank. Volunteers once a week at the food shelf. And has a few other attributes prized by the shallow female.

A growling sound starts in Mike’s throat. Carol and I ignore it.

And when do we get to meet this young lad? I ask

Carol waves her hand as if erasing a blackboard. No. No way. Things are going too well.

You think we’d ruin it? Mike asks, Is that what you think?

That’s exactly what Carol thinks. She only brings boyfriends around when she needs to facilitate a break-up and make it look like the guy’s idea. I don’t take this personally since Mike is usually the poison pill.

Carol clears her throat. I just think it would be better to wait. Maybe until, um…

Hell has ice water on tap? I ask.

Around then. She turns to Mike, probably anxious to get off this topic. Joe’s right, you know. If you’ve got a way out of this, you should use it.

Mike’s fist clenches (fortunately, it’s not the one attached to his pint glass). "That is not an option."

It’s a second’s worth of pain, Carol says, And then—

Exactly! Mike smacks the table, "And then! And then what? She’s fucking insufferable now. What’s she going to be like when she gets an apology? She’s going to act with impunity. Forget it. I’ve got to take a stand. Getting thrown out would be a small price to pay."

I pat Mike on the forearm. You’re right. A room at the Salvation Army is a small price to pay. And getting all of your worldly possessions stolen by a drug addict is an even smaller price. And getting knifed? Well, that’s practically free.

Mike glares at me, but he’s clearly torn. Yes, there’s the tempting fruit of defiance, but on the other hand, Mike’s attached to his stuff, crappy as most of it is. He lets out a long sigh.

All right, fine, he says, I’ll give the lousy inconsiderate self-centered bitch her precious goddamned worthless fucking apology.

I sip my beer. Well, as long as your heart’s in it…


My advice to Mike notwithstanding, the most useless thing in the world is an apology. I’m sorry, but that’s just how I feel.

The trouble with an apology, ultimately, is that nobody wants the damn thing. Yes, you hear it all time: If so-and-so had just apologized… But the Offended Party didn’t really want so-and-so to apologize, did they? The Offended Party wanted so-and-so to go through the same degree of anger and pain they did. Simply saying I’m sorry or I apologize is a Get Out Of Jail Free card. If anything, the Offended Party wants the equation to work the other way. They want So-and-So to go through a ritual humiliation that makes the original transgression look like a minor annoyance (which in all likelihood, it was.) They want So-and-So to walk around with a scarlet letter projecting a holographic display outlining in great detail what a horse’s ass So-and-So has been, is now and will be in times to come. They want So-and-So hung by the thumbs while small children deliver groin punches at regular intervals. They want So-and-So lowered into a pit of scorpions while ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends pelt them with rotten fruit.

But since the Offended Party probably won’t get that, they’ll just settle for an apology.

Mike spends the whole drive to his building clenching and unclenching his fists. An apology is the absolute last thing he wants to give his neighbor. Venereal disease would be the first thing.

I want this in your column, he says, wagging a finger at me, You’ve made enough snide remarks about me over the years. You could mention my good deeds for once.

I’m sure apologizing to someone whose dog you tossed through a stereo will clean the slate with my readers.

Mike’s building is in Lowertown, a warehouse district-cum-artist’s haven. The big parking lot across the street hosts a farmer’s market on Sundays and there are coffee shops and tap rooms scattered about. CHS Field, the new home to the St.

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