“. . .this large amount of bondage-related pornography strewn found in his locker.” Lawson dropped the stack on the floor, nudged an issue with his brogan: ROPE BOYS. Beneath it: FORCED FUN QUARTERLY. “I’ve seen this before,” he said.
“Why, do you have a subscription?” said the fellow, who suddenly regarded Lawson with cold, hard eyes.
“Look, I’m not saying you did it. You probably didn’t. Suicide’s not a crime. Tampering with a suicide to make it look like an accident - well, we can shrug our shoulders and walk away, and leave you with nothing but the address of the Policeman’s Benevolent Assocation. If you know what I mean.”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” said the fellow. He sat down. He crossed his legs at the ankles and folded his hands in his lap. Suddenly he didn’t look so tough.
“We see it all the time. Guys get a thrill hanging themselves just to the point of seeing stars, and then getting revived. Usually we find them at home in the attic, or something. Wife comes home, hubby’s swinging from a rafter with a copy of a movie magazine that has a feature on a gladiator picture. It’s no good for anyone. Sad business all around. Sometimes they cut ‘em down, prop ‘em in a chair and say they had a heart attack. And these abrasions around the neck, Mrs. Miller? Oh, that’s from his tie. He always tied it too tight. But it’s Saturday, Mrs. Miller; he wore a tie on Saturday? You don’t want to press it. They go all to pieces. It’s like finding out you got cancer and you’re bankrupt on the same day. So. When I look at your pal’s neck, am I going to find neck burns?”
The fellow nodded.
“And you found him here tonight. You come in to close up, as you always do, because you’re the owner and you like to make sure it’s all ship shape at the end of the day. Weights in the right spots, medicine ball in its locker. You see the body. You hear the janitor calling the cops, so you change into your workout clothes real fast. You were going to pretend you’d been helping him climb.”
The fellow nodded again. “I don’t make much money from this place. A bad reputation wouldn’t help.”
Lawson looked down at the dead man. “Friend of yours?”
“Customer. Paid up through next month.”
“Well. You made a profit on this one. Minus the cost of the rope.” He handed the man a card. “Here. Think of the widows and orphans. Give generously. Phil?” A cop on the other side of the room looked up from interviewing the janitor.
“It happened like he said.”
The cop nodded.
“Widows and orphans,” Lance said. He bent down and looked at the frayed ends of the rope, a stout cord now ripped into a hundred loose and useless tendrils. “Widows and orphans,” he whispered.