There was a dead man on the bed.
He was naked, face down. He was white, maybe pushing sixty, quite tall. He was built like a fading pro athlete. Like a coach. He still had decent muscle, but he was growing love handles the way old guys do, however fit they are. He had pale hairless legs. He had old scars. He had wiry gray hair buzzed close to his scalp and cracked weathered skin on the back of his neck. He was a type. Any hundred people could have looked at him and all hundred would have said army officer, for sure.
"He was found like this?" I asked.
"Yes," Stockton said.
Second question: How? A guy takes a room for the night, he expects privacy until the maid comes in the next morning, at the very least.
"How?" I said.
"How was he found? Did he call 911?"
"I paused. I didn't see anything yet."
Did you roll him over?" I said.
"Yes. Then we rolled him back."
"Mind if I take a look?"
"Be my guest."
I stepped over next to the bed and slipped my left hand under the dead guy's armpit and rolled him over. He was cold and a little stiff. Rigor was just setting in. I got him settled flat on his back and saw four things. First, his skin had a distinctive gray pallor. Second, shock and pain were frozen on his face. Third, he had grabbed his left arm with his right hand, up near the bicep. And fourth, he was wearing a condom. His blood pressure had collapsed long ago and his erection had disappeared and the condom was hanging off, mostly empty, like a translucent flap of pale skin. He had died before reaching orgasm. That was clear.
"Heart attack," Stockton said, behind me.
I nodded. The gray skin was a good indicator. So was the evidence of shock and surprise and sudden pain in his upper left arm.
"Massive," I said.
"But before or after penetration?" Stockton said, with a smile in his voice.
I looked at the pillow area. The bed was still completely made. The dead guy was on top of the counterpane and the counterpane was still tight over the pillows. But there was a head-shaped dent, and there were rucks where elbows and heels had scrabbled and pushed lower down.
"She was underneath him when it happened," I said. "That's for sure. She had to wrestle her way out."
"Hell of a way for a man to go."
I turned around. "I can think of worse ways."
Stockton just smiled at me.
"What?" I said.
He didn't answer.
"No sign of the woman?" I said.
"Hide nor hair," he said. "She ran for it."
"The desk guy see her?"
Stockton just smiled again.
I looked at him. Then I understood. A low-rent dive near a highway interchange with a truck stop and a strip bar, thirty miles north of a military base.
"She was a hooker," I said.
From The Enemy by Lee Child. Copyright Lee Child 2004. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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