By Susan E. Rogers
He yanked the pillow down over his head and jammed the sides up against his ears. The noise still leaked through.
Rrruhrrr… Rrruhrrrr… Rrrruuuuuhhhrrrr… Rrruhrrr… Rrrruuuuuhhhrrrr…
He jumped out of bed and ran to the open window.
“Stop! Stop! Just stop!” Of course, no one heard him over the roar of the leaf blower that had blared constantly for the past half hour since seven o’clock. “For the love of God, just stop that infernal noise.” He cursed as he crumpled to the floor with his head in his hands.
# # #
“Hey, Nick! Ever see this before?” Detective Tyler Nolan yelled to his partner. “Huh! Death by leaf blower,” he mumbled to himself.
“No way!” Detective Nicholas Angelini yelled back. He ran his fingers through his thick black hair and bent his lithe six foot seven frame almost in half to get a closer look at the dead man in the beach lounge chair.
Nolan, in the meantime, examined the leaf blower. He reached into his pocket for a vinyl glove. A block of wood was wedged tight between the throttle trigger and the casing which kept the blower operating at full blast. His fingers settled into a talon-like grip. It took a couple of minutes of tugging and wiggling, but he managed to dislodge the wood and the leaf blower went abruptly silent.
“Whew! That’s better,” Angelini said. “Now I can hear myself think.”
Nolan took a step backward to join his partner in front of the body. Feet apart, he stood with his right hand resting in his left elbow and his left fist against his chin. Angelini straightened up and stood next to Nolan with his hands on his hips. With his ginger hair and freckles, the five foot eight, muscular Nolan looked like a gnome next to his giant of a partner. Side by side, the two studied the body for another minute.
“I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like,” Angelini said. “How long do you figure it took to do him in, Ty?”
“I don’t think it would take too long,” Nolan said as he rubbed his chin. “Hell of a lot of air going in but no way for it to come out.”
Three bungie cords secured the slouched body to the half-reclined lounger, one around the forehead, one over the chest and one across the knees. A folding table straddled the hips with the leaf blower in the center held in place by two more bungie cords. The chute was in direct line with the victim’s face, the opening about six inches from the mouth and nose. A rictus of horror and fear was frozen on the face, lips stretched back in ruffled waves to reveal the full structure of gums and teeth. The tongue was visible in the gaping mouth, thrown back against the throat.
“Poor bastard.” Angelini shook his head.
Nolan surveyed the inside of the tidy single bay garage. The lounger was in the center, where the car, now parked in the driveway, would fit. A doorway on the right led into the house. Lawn and garden tools hung neatly from hooks on the opposite wall next to the door leading outside which had been wide open when the responding officers arrived on the scene. A vacant hook identified where the leaf blower had hung. Along the back wall, a storage cabinet stood in the corner next to a workbench, the top of which was clear except for a vice clamp attached to one end and a cardboard to-go cup of coffee near the middle.
Nolan took a step toward the back of the garage as a uniformed officer ushered the medical examiner through the outside door.
“Hey, Doc.” Nolan greeted the M.E. as he moved aside to make room for him to stand next to the body.
“Ty. Nick.” Dr. Jim Davis nodded at the two detectives. “What have we got?” He looked down at the body in the recliner. “Oh, my.”
“All we’ve got so far is the DMV and county tax records.” Angelini looked down at this notes. “Laurence Stickney, 68. Owned this house with a Barbara Stickney since 1993. Taxes always paid on time. No liens, no fines. No motor vehicle violations.”
Dr. Davis walked around to the other side of the recliner. “Was the leaf blower running when you got here?”
Nolan pointed to the block of wood he had placed on the arm of the lounge chair. “Yeah. This was wedged against the throttle to keep it open.”
“Ah-hah.” Davis bent over closer to the face. “Forensics been here yet?”
“Should be here any minute,” Angelini said. “Ambulance, too.”
“Good. I’ll pronounce now and they can move him out to the lab for the autopsy. Then the forensics guys can get to work.”
“This is the one who called it in as a complaint,” Angelini said to his partner as they walked to the front door of the neat white cottage across the street. “Man by the name of Fred Mitchell. Said the leaf blower had been running for an hour and a half straight and making his cats nervous.”
He reached out and pushed the button on the doorbell. The device whirred as a camera lens zoomed in on the two detectives. They both held out their badges. The device clicked and spit out a second of static just before the door opened.
“Good morning, sir,” Angelini said and nodded toward the chubby, bald man who stood in the doorway. “I’m Detective Angelini and this is my partner Detective Nolan from the Mannington Police. We’re here about the complaint you called in.”
“Well, it’s about time,” the man said as he fingered the full mustache that covered his whole upper lip. “It’s all over now. Shut off a few minutes ago.”
“Yes, sir.” Nolan bowed his head. “We heard it. We’d like to ask you a few questions if we could.”
“I expected that. Come on in.” Mitchell pushed backwards against the door to open it wide and waved his hand at the detectives to enter. He ushered them into the living room and shooed two cats off the sofa before he gestured for the detectives to take a seat.
“Would you like some coffee, gentlemen?” He stood with his hands on his hips. “It’s a special dark-roast blend.”
“No, th…,” Angelini started.
“Yes, that would be great,” Nolan interrupted.
“Won’t take me a minute,” Mitchell said as he walked toward the doorway. “Make yourselves comfortable.”
Angelini scowled at his partner. “Coffee? Really?”
“Humor me.” Nolan winked.
Mitchell returned with three mugs on a tray with a sugar bowl and creamer. Nolan fixed himself a cup as Angelini began the interview.
“So, can you tell us why you called in the complaint, Mr. Mitchell?”
“Certainly.” Mitchell sat in a wing-back chair facing the detectives and crossed his legs. “That damn leaf blower was running straight for over an hour. The noise is aggravating, to say the least, and the cats hate it. Stresses them out. Since Barb died, Larry runs it around his yard every day, but usually only for a few minutes.” He uncrossed his legs, leaned forward and pointed his index finger at the pair. “Today was just ridiculous.”
“I see,” said Angelini. “Barb—was that Mrs. Stickney?”
“Yes. She died a month ago. I guess Larry’s been bored without her around.” Mitchell sat back in the chair.
“Are you friends with Mr. Stickney?” Angelini asked as he shook his leg to chase away the white cat that rubbed against his trousers.
“Well, I guess I’d have to say no, not really friends. Just neighbors.”
“Did you ever speak to Mr. Stickney about the noise from the leaf blower?”
“No, I decided against that.” The man crossed his legs again and made a steeple with his fingers. “It wasn’t worth getting him upset. The fifteen minutes or so of noise is usually tolerable.”
“Does Mr. Stickney get upset easily?”
“Sometimes. He’s been known to fly off the handle for no reason.” Mitchell stroked the gray tabby that jumped up in his lap.
“Did he ever get upset or angry with you?” Angelini asked as he nudged away a fluffy gold and white kitten that was sniffing at his elbow.
“Um. Well, yes. A couple of times.” Mitchell uncrossed his legs and crossed them again the opposite way. “But I’m not the only one. He’s gotten into it with all the neighbors at one time or another.”
“Would you describe your incidents with him, please?”
Mitchell sighed. “Well, once in a while one of my cats gets in his yard.” He cleared his throat. “He has a few plants they love, so naturally they go straight for his garden. I’ve tried to explain that to him, but he doesn’t want to hear it.”
“This is when he gets upset?” Angelini continued when Mitchell nodded. “What does he do?”
Mitchell leaned forward. “He gets very angry. His face turns red and his eyes bulge out. Waves his arms around, yells and stamps his feet like he’s having a fit. It’s rather threatening.”
“When was the last time Stickney got upset with you?”
“Um… Yesterday.” Mitchell pointed to a black and white spotted cat licking its paws on the floor in front of him. “I went over there because he kicked Maizie. I heard her scream all the way from my back yard. Larry was already fuming when I got there, but I gave him a piece of my mind. He screamed at me to get off his property or he’d kick me instead of the cat.” He sat up straight in the chair, shook his head and shrugged. “So I left and came back here. Luckily, Maizie wasn’t hurt.” He reached over and tickled the cat’s ears.
“What time did you approach Mr. Stickney?”
“Exactly seven-twenty. I know that because on my way across the street to Larry’s I saw Mike Bannion next door going in his house and I checked the time. He works nights and always gets home at six-thirty, so he was late.”
Nolan had been quiet, letting Angelini handle the questions, but he spoke up now. “Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. We appreciate the information.” He stood up and motioned for Angelini to do the same. “Oh, by the way, do you have a disposable cup so I can take the rest of this coffee with me? It’s very good.”
“Uh, yes I do. Let me get it for you.” Mitchell reached out for Nolan’s mug. “I’ll be right back.” He put the mug on the tray and headed for the hallway.
“What are you doing?” Angelini whispered as soon as Mitchell left the room.
“Just have to check something out.”
Mitchell was back in a minute. “Here you are, Detective.” He held out a cardboard to-go cup with an outlined sketch of a coffee mug and steam-looking swirls around the cup, all printed in beige on a white background. It was identical to the one that had been on the workbench in Stickney’s garage.
“Thank you,” said Nolan as he took the cup. “By the way, you won’t have to worry about Stickney’s leaf blower anymore, or anything else he does for that matter. Your neighbor is dead.”
Mitchell staggered backwards, his mouth gaping and his eyes wide.
“Thanks for your time, Mr. Mitchell.” Angelini nodded. “We’ll see ourselves out.”
“So what was that all about?” Angelini asked his partner as the two men walked back across the street toward the Stickney garage.
“There was a take-out coffee on Stickney’s workbench,” Nolan said. “The cup Mitchell gave me was an exact match.”
“You think Mitchell’s the killer?”
“I don’t know, but it’s something to keep in mind.” Nolan snapped his fingers. “Let’s go see what Forensics is up to.”
Two police cruisers were parked in front of the Stickney house and a uniformed officer was directing a line of cars around the scene. An ambulance was backed into the driveway with the bay doors open. Next to the ambulance, the state lab mobile van was parked partially on the lawn. As the two detectives approached, a tall forty-something woman shut the back hatch of a jeep and stepped into the driveway, carrying a black case in one hand and a tablet in the other.
“Hey, guys! How’s it going?” She greeted Angelini and Nolan.
“Hey, Nia,” Nolan said to the woman. “Wait ’til you see this one.”
“I heard something about a leaf blower, but that’s all I got.”
Nolan gestured for her to go first and they all entered the garage. The room was busy. The body was still strapped to the lounger and the M.E. stood nearby talking with two paramedics. An officer was standing in front of the wall of tools, making notes on a tablet and another was looking through the storage cabinet. One forensics tech snapped photos of the leaf blower while a second dusted the chair for fingerprints.
“He was killed with that?” Nia Jackson was the first black female head of the Forensics Bureau for the Mannington Police Department, a position she’d held for only two years. However, twenty years of forensics experience in Greenwich and a ton of common sense made her a favorite in the Department in a short time.
“It looks that way,” Dr. Davis said. “Good to see you, Nia.”
“You, too, Doc.” Jackson put her case down on the floor near the wall, then walked around the body. “Have you finished with the leaf blower?” she asked the tech who was taking the prints.
“Just about,” he replied.
“Good.” She ran her hand over her close-cropped bleached hair and turned to the detectives. “Anything in particular you want me to look at right now?”
“Yeah,” said Nolan. “Can you check out the coffee over there on the workbench?”
Jackson glanced over at the cup and put on a pair of gloves before she walked to the bench. She studied the disposable cup before she picked it up and swirled the liquid around. Her nose wrinkled when she sniffed the coffee. “Smells like somnalapem.” She dipped her gloved finger in the liquid and tasted. “Oh yeah, definitely. It’s a commercial sedative, sold as a sleeping aid. Pretty fast-acting.”
“Well, that explains how the killer was able to get the guy secured to the lounger without a fight,” Angelini said.
“You can take this one, too,” Nolan said, holding the cup from Mitchell’s house out to Jackson. “Got it from the neighbor’s. Any way you can tell if this is the same coffee?”
“Probably,” Jackson replied. “Depends whether it’s a generic or name brand. Most of the coffee companies have their own recipe blends with different ingredients.”
The leaf blower, now in a large plastic evidence bag, was being carried outside by one of the techs. Dr. Davis removed the bungie cords and two paramedics stood ready with a gurney to take the body away.
“We’re going to take a look around inside the house before your guys need to get in there,” Nolan said to Jackson.
“Okay, thanks.” She held up the two coffee cups, each in a separate bag. “I’ll take these to the van and see if there’s any more they can tell us. I’ll be in touch when we have some final results.”
The door opened into the kitchen of the standard ranch style house with an open living space and three bedrooms off a hallway. Nolan and Angelini split up and gave all the rooms a quick look. Neither of them found anything of interest that might provide a clue to the identity of Stickney’s killer or a motive. They also didn’t find any of the sleeping pills that Jackson had detected in the coffee. The techs were coming into the kitchen with their equipment as the detectives finished their tour.
“I guess it’s time to talk to some more neighbors,” Nolan said.
Another ranch, the mirror image of Stickney’s, sat in the center of the lot next door to the north. Although the features were identical, despite being on opposite sides, the two homes could not be more different. Where Stickney’s lawn and shrubbery were neatly trimmed, the neighboring house sat in a field of weedy grass and unruly bushes. The Stickney house was clean and well-maintained. Paint was peeling from the trim on the other house and the siding was in need of a good power wash.
The button was missing from the doorbell so Angelini knocked on the front door. After a few seconds, the detectives heard faint noises inside. Angelini knocked again.
“Hello. Mannington Police Department. Open the door, please.”
A dead bolt clicked and the door opened just wide enough for a man’s face to peek through. His chin was covered in stubble and his thick black hair was tousled. He wore a pair of stained gray sweatpants and a ripped Budweiser t-shirt.
“Yeah?” The voice was thick and gravelly and the man cleared his throat.
“Sorry to bother you, sir. Detectives Angelini and Nolan from Mannington Police.” The two held up their badges. “We’d like to speak with you briefly about a complaint filed against your neighbor, Lawrence Stickney.”
The man considered for a minute and then opened the door wide. “Uh, yeah, okay. I guess so, if it’s quick. Um, I gotta get some sleep. Larry kept me awake with that damn leaf blower of his.”
Nolan and Angelini walked into a living room as neglected as the outside of the house. A thin layer of dust coated the surface of the furniture and clothing lay wherever it fell when taken off. A stack of newspapers sat on the floor next to the sofa. Nolan peeked around into the open kitchen where dirty dishes cluttered the sink and an open box of Cheerios lay on its side, spilling cereal onto the counter.
“Don’t mind the mess.” The man moved a pile of laundry from the sofa and threw it on a chair in the corner. “Have a seat. I work nights and sleep days so I don’t have much time for housework.”
“Can you tell us your full name, please?” Nolan asked as Angelini swiped at the cleared spot on the sofa.
“Michael John Bannion.” He perched on the arm of a chair.
“What do you do for work?” Nolan inspected his own spot at the end on the sofa before he sat.
“I’m a machine operator at the tool factory over in the industrial park.”
“Do you live here by yourself, Mr. Bannion?”
“I do now.” Bannion slid into the seat of the chair and sat forward with his arms on his thighs and his hands folded. “My wife left me three months ago for some guy in Springfield. Can you believe it?” He cleared his throat again. “We were married ten years.”
“Sorry for your troubles,” Nolan said as he scribbled on his notepad. “Is that a bruise on your face?”
Bannion’s hand sprang to his cheek. “Um, yeah. I… uh… bumped it on a machine at work.”
“Are you acquainted with your neighbor, Lawrence Stickney?”
Bannion snickered. “Everybody in the neighborhood’s acquainted with Larry.”
“Were you and Mr. Stickney friends?”
“Hell no!” He snorted. “Not with that jerk.”
“Have you had any confrontations with Mr. Stickney?”
“Yeah. Him and that damn leaf blower.” Bannion sat back and drummed his fingers on the arm rest of the chair.
“Can you describe what happened and when?” Nolan sat ready to take notes.
“Excuse me, but can I use your bathroom?” Angelini stood and glanced down the hallway.
“Yeah, sure,” Bannion said and pointed. “First door on the left.” He watched as Angelini made his way toward the hall. “Don’t mind the mess.”
“You had a run-in with Stickney?” Nolan prompted.
“Oh, right.” Bannion turned back to face the detective. “So, Larry knows I work nights. I get home at six-thirty and go right to bed. Every single day since his wife died, he starts that damn leaf-blower up at seven o’clock on the dot. He knows I gotta sleep, but he does it anyway.”
“Go on,” Nolan said when Bannion took a deep breath, leaned back and closed his eyes.
Bannion blew out his breath and sat forward. “So yesterday, I had just gotten into bed when he started. Seven on the dot. I had a rough night at work and that was the last straw. I went over there and told him off. We yelled at each other and he ordered me to get off his property. Said he’d knock me out so I wouldn’t have to worry about going to sleep.”
“And what did you do then?”
“I was furious, but I left. Today, the same thing. As soon as I got into bed, he turned that damn blower on. Do you know how irritating that noise is? It just grates on my nerves.” He winced and tapped his foot on the floor. “It finally shut off about a half hour ago. I was just settling down to sleep when you guys knocked on the door.”
“Do you ever use sleeping pills, Mr. Bannion?”
“Nah. I tried that Sleepwell brand they advertise on TV. Made me drowsy, but didn’t put me to sleep.”
Angelini emerged from the bathroom holding a disposable cup by a piece of tissue. “Sorry, I knocked over this coffee in the bathroom. If you’ve got a rag, I can wipe it up.” The cup was identical to the one in the Stickney garage and the one from Fred Mitchell.
“No problem, I’ll get it later.”
“Where’s the trash to throw this out?”
“Right around the corner, under the sink.” Bannion pointed toward the kitchen.
“Thanks.” Angelini ducked behind the short wall dividing the kitchen and living room. He opened and closed the cabinet door, but put the cup into an evidence bag he pulled from his pocket and then hid it under his jacket inside his shirt.
“Your neighbor is dead,” Nolan said as Angelini came back to the living room. “He was found this morning.”
Bannion looked straight at the two detectives and swallowed hard. He stuttered a laugh. “Well, I won’t miss him, that’s for sure.”
“I think that’s all we need for now, Mr. Bannion.” Nolan held out his business card. “Call if you think of anything else we should know.”
The office door slammed behind Nick Angelini as he carried in a cardboard tray with two extra-large coffees and a big brown bag from the sandwich shop next door to the police station.
“Sorry,” he said as he set the tray down on his desk and placed the bag beside it. “Anything back from Forensics yet?”
“Yeah, Nia just called.” Ty Nolan spun his desk chair around to face his partner. “The coffee was the same in all three cups, some specialty brand from a small company in Vermont.”
Nick held out a foam cup. “Huh. Well, don’t get your hopes up. This is Max’s basic hi-test brew—no gourmet blend over there.”
Ty took the cup and snickered. “Right.” He took a sip and wrinkled up his nose. “Yikes, hot.” He cleared his throat. “Nia also confirmed that the sleeping pill in the coffee on the workbench was somnalapem, sold over the counter under the brand name of Sleepwell.”
“That’s the one Bannion said he took.” Nick handed Ty an eighteen inch meatball sub wrapped in paper and unwrapped another sub for himself.
“Right. I thought I’d find it in his bathroom cabinet, but no such luck. I glanced in the bedroom on the way by, but the only thing on the bedside table was an alarm clock.” Ty sniffed the warm sandwich and smiled. “I think old Max got the sauce right today.”
“Yeah, well I hope he got the chicken salad right, too.” He tossed a bag of potato chips to his partner.
“Doc called too.” Ty caught the bag in mid-air with one hand. “He’s doing the autopsy this afternoon, but wanted us to know there was some slight bruising on the knuckles of the right hand. So Stickney must have whacked something—or somebody.” He ripped open the chip bag. “Oh, and he found a couple of cat hairs stuck on Stickney’s face and in his hair.”
“Cat hair, huh? Isn’t that interesting.” He tore off a bite of sandwich and chewed. “Hey, this chicken salad’s not bad.”
The next afternoon when they pulled up, the Stickney house was quiet. Yellow police tape still wound around the perimeter of the yard and deep ruts marked the sides of the driveway. Angelini parked the black unmarked car in front.
“What time is it?” Nolan asked.
“Two minutes before three.”
The two men looked over at the house across the street. On cue, Fred Mitchell appeared around the corner from the side of the house. The black and white Maizie zig-zagged her way around his legs until he picked her up and returned the way he had come. Within seconds, he was back and looked both ways before crossing the street. The detectives got out of the car and stood side-by-side on the sidewalk while they waited for him.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Mitchell,” Nolan said.
“Hello, Detectives.” He reached out to shake hands but dropped his arm when the two didn’t respond. “Um… so why did you want to meet me here? I told you everything I knew about Larry yesterday.”
“Just come with us, please, Mr. Mitchell.”
Nolan led the way as the three men walked up the driveway to the side of the garage. Angelini opened the door and waved Mitchell inside first. He hesitated, looked at Nolan and then at Angelini. He raised his index finger and started to speak, but stopped before any words came out. Finally, he hung his head and entered the garage with a sigh.
The room was dark and Nolan flipped the light switch. The stark illumination from the overhead fluorescent bulbs showed every line and crease on Mitchell’s face. He stood in the center of the room and stared at an oil spot on the floor, chewing on the inside of his cheek. The two detectives faced him side by side.
“Ever been in here before?” Angelini asked Mitchell.
“Yes.” The word squeaked out. Mitchell cleared his throat and tried again. “Yes.”
Angelini walked around behind him. “And when was the last time you were in this garage?”
Mitchell’s hands were shaking. “Uh. I don’t remember.”
“Weren’t you in this garage yesterday morning?” The detective walked around to face him again. “Arguing with your neighbor Larry Stickney about his leaf blower?”
“Yes. Yes, I was here. All right?” Mitchell clasped his hands together in front of his chest. “But I didn’t kill him.” His voice rushed out in an overloud wail. “It was Mike. He did it.”
“Mike?” asked Nolan. “Your neighbor, Michael Bannion?”
“Yes. Yes. It was him.” Mitchell covered his face with his hands.
“So what were you doing here, then?” Nolan asked. Mitchell sucked in a deep breath and slid his palms down his cheeks. “I brought Larry a cup of coffee, hoping we could talk like civilized adults. Before I could get a word out, Mike barged in and started screaming. Then Larry punched Mike and… and… then Mike knocked him out.” His voice was trembling. “I tried to stop Mike but he wouldn’t listen. He tied Larry up and turned on the leaf blower. He did everything and made me watch.”
“You damn little weasel.” Bannion barged through the door. “You throwing me under the bus? I heard what you said and it’s all a lie.”
Mitchell started to whimper and threw his hands up in front of his face. Angelini stepped in front of Bannion and blocked his attempt to grab his neighbor. Nolan nudged Mitchell toward the side of the garage, out of Bannion’s reach.
“You’re very prompt, Mr. Bannion,” Angelini said as he glanced at his watch. “Three-fifteen right on the dot.”
“Yeah, you didn’t tell me this was a set-up.”
“It wasn’t intended as a set-up, Mr. Bannion,” Angelini said. “We got the lab results back and had a few questions for the two of you.” He looked over his shoulder at his partner and Mitchell. “Your neighbor offered his observations from your visit with Stickney.”
“Yeah, well, what he told you isn’t what happened at all.”
“Why don’t you tell us what did happen then?” Angelini maintained his position in front of Bannion.
Bannion stared at the detective for a full minute. “I know my rights and I’m not talking.” He crossed his arms and planted his feet.
“Me either,” Mitchell called from across the room. He stepped behind Nolan when Bannion glared at him.
“Not a problem,” said Angelini. “We’ll just tell you both what the lab came up with.”
Bannion grunted. Nolan tapped Mitchell’s arm and gestured for him to move closer to the other two men. Mitchell hesitated and looked at the detective, shaking his head in rapid motion. Nolan motioned again and tilted his head as he nodded him forward.
“Please do join us, Mr. Mitchell,” Angelini said as he noticed Mitchell’s reluctance. He turned to stare at Bannion. “Mr. Bannion won’t touch you, I promise.”
Mitchell shuffled across the concrete floor toward his neighbor with Nolan behind him, blocking any direct path toward the door and escape.
“Now, then,” Angelini said. “When we arrived yesterday, there was a coffee cup on the workbench. The lab results showed that the coffee in the cup was the same special blend that you served Detective Nolan, Mr. Mitchell.”
Bannion snorted but Angelini ignored him.
“And the same coffee was in the cup in your bathroom, Mr. Bannion.”
“Yeah, he gave me a cup of that slop yesterday morning, too. Tastes like crap.”
Mitchell opened his mouth but Angelini held up his hand. He closed it and pouted.
“So the same coffee was in all three cups,” the tall detective said. “And they all came from you. Is that right, Mr. Mitchell?”
Angelini held up his hand again. “How did you know Mr. Bannion would be here? Why did you bring him a coffee too, when you were coming over to talk to Mr. Stickney?”
Bannion rolled his eyes. “Because he called me and asked me to come over here with him, the little chicken-shit.”
Mitchell clamped his lips shut and folded his arms across this chest.
Angelini sighed. “Mr. Mitchell, we know you were both here. We know you expected Mr. Bannion to be here because you brought three coffees. Did you call and ask him to meet you here?”
“I’m not talking.” Mitchell’s whole head was pink, from his neck to the top of his bald scalp.
“All right.” Angelini sighed. “Detective Nolan, why don’t you take it from here?”
“We also found that the coffee left on the workbench had been laced with the drug somnalapem. Mr. Bannion, I believe you know it better as Sleepwell, the sleeping pill you told us you took.”
“Hey, wait a minute. I didn’t put any pills in that coffee. I don’t even have any of those anymore.” Bannion pointed at Mitchell. “But he does. He’s the one who gave me a few to try in the first place. He said he takes them all the time.”
The detectives turned to face Mitchell. He looked from one to another and took a step backwards.
“I only wanted to teach him a lesson.” Tears welled up in Mitchell’s eyes. “I didn’t mean to kill him.” He sobbed. “I used the pills to slow him down so he wouldn’t put up a fight. I couldn’t do it alone. That’s why I called Mike who said he was glad to help.” He made a face at his neighbor. “We only wanted to scare him.” He looked at Angelini and then at Nolan, his eyes wide and a tremble in his voice. “He was alive when we left. I figured the battery on the leaf blower would run down and he’d be able to get free.”
“It sounded like a good plan at the time,” Bannion said. “But it was all his idea. I was just here for the muscle.” He rubbed his cheek. “Besides, I needed to get even for the sucker punch he gave me the day before.”
A knock sounded on the door and two uniformed officers entered.
“Frederick Mitchell. Michael Bannion. You are both under arrest for the murder of Lawrence Stickney.” Angelini motioned to the officers to take over.
“Pretty crazy,” Nolan said as the officers led the men out in handcuffs.
“Yeah,” Angelini said. “Think I’ll get rid of my leaf blower.”
Bio: Susan E. Rogers lives in St. Pete Beach, Florida, transplanted from Massachusetts, and now pursues her life-long ambition to write. Her other interests include genealogy and psychic spirituality, and she often twists these into her writing. She self-published her first book in 2018 about her own psychic experiences. Starting in 2020, she has had short fiction published in print anthologies, and her work has appeared in New Reader Magazine, The Tampa Bay Times, Bright Flash Literary Review, Cobra Milk Literary Magazine, Bluing the Blade, Luna Station Quarterly, Literary Mama and Lit Sphere (as Honorable Mention in Strands International Flash Fiction Competition). She can be found at her website, susanrogers.com