Johnny Fluke lurked in the shadows while his target finished some business at a corner liquor store. The garishly-garbed man had spent the last two days pounding the streets in his alternate identity trying to gather information.
48 hours ago, a neighbor had discovered the family of Sammy “The Pumpkin” Hanes dead in their apartment. Of the heavy-set, low-level criminal accountant, there was no trace. As Wilson Travis, he had done his due diligence, but no one in the neighborhood was talking, especially not to a nosey beat cop. With time wasting and no leads through official channels, Fluke had donned his brightly-colored patchwork suit, custom-made fedora and Venetian mask and set out to get answers in a more effective manner.
Finally, the local snitch left the booze distributors with a bottle not-so-discretely hidden in a paper sack. His attention focused on opening his prize, the informer nearly walked directly into the masked vigilante as he turned the corner to cut through the alley.
“What do you know, Joe?”
The wiry man nearly dropped his bag and stuttered. “Noth – nothing Mr. Fluke. I’m just trying to get home. You know, before curfew.”
Fluke’s mocking laugh echoed against the brick walls and he lifted his prey off the ground with one hand. “Tell me another story, Jimmy. Make this one about a pumpkin.”
The trapped figure’s eyes darted back and forth for a moment, and then, with a resigned sigh, he spoke. “I don’t know much, but I might have heard something.”
Johnny lowered the man slightly, letting his toes touch the ground.
“See, the way I heard it, nobody saw or heard anything.”
The vigilante jerked his hand upward once more.
“No. No. I’m not messing with you. Everyone is talking about how nobody saw anything. No one went into the Hanes’ apartment. Nobody heard any screaming or fighting. I mean, that’s got to be something, right? A whole family dead? There had to be a struggle or something? Am I right?”
The patchwork man lowered the snitch to the ground and made a show of brushing off his prey’s shirt. Jimmy started to scurry away.
“What about after?”
The informant stopped hesitantly and looked back at the masked man. “What do you mean?”
“What about after the murders? Did anyone see the Pumpkin leave?”
“Not that I’ve heard. Can I get home? The patrols….”
“Go.” As the wiry man retreated, Johnny removed his fedora to run his fingers through his unruly hair. Spotting a feral cat peering at him from behind a pile of trash, he asked, “Hanes is too big to sneak out without anyone noticing, so where is he?” With a quick bow to the feline, he re-donned his hat and leapt up to a waiting fire escape.
A short time later, the manager of the apartment building where the Hanes family had lived and died had a very colorful visitor. Waking from a television-induced nap, he found himself staring into a Venetian mask. “What? Who? You … you ain’t real. You’re a bad dream.” Johnny Fluke stepped back with a mocking flourish as the man tried to wake himself. “You’re just a story kids tell … one of those urban legends they show on the tube.” He gestured to the appliance as if by way of explanation.
“I should think you would want to keep that from my tailor. He would be ever so disappointed.” Suddenly, the patch-work clad man stepped forward, forcing the unkempt landlord to retreat back into his recliner. “Tell me about the rooms you rented to the Pumpkin.”
“I ain’t done nothing wrong. I already showed the police to the Hanes’ flat.”
“I’m not with the police.” Fluke twirled quickly. “As you can see, the uniform is all wrong. But more importantly, I’m talking about the OTHER rooms you rented to Sammy. The ones he paid cash for.”
The apartment manager blanched. “How … how did you know?”
Johnny’s eyes sparkled behind his mask. “I didn’t, until just now. I really must thank you for your cooperation.” He started to leave and then turned back. “Just one more favor, if you please. Why don’t you tell me how to find the Mr. Hanes’ secret pumpkin patch?”
The next morning, an anonymous tip led the police to the apartment where Sammy Hanes had been hiding after killing his family. “The Pumpkin” had been hauled away by the time Wilson Travis arrived on the scene. “So Sergeant, any idea why he did it?”
The senior officer looked at Travis with disdain. “Last to arrive again, eh, Wilson? This is why you’ll never get off foot patrol.” He paused to spit on the sidewalk. “But no. Our best guess is that he had been skimming off the top and finally just snapped under the pressure. When we got here, he just kept murmuring ‘He’s coming,’ over and over again. Hanes probably thought there was a hit man after him.”
Officer Travis nodded and started off down the street. After a few steps, he stopped and looked back at the building, “To think he had been hiding inside the whole time, and we missed it. It’s kind of funny really.” Wilson glanced at the old officer in time to notice his disapproval. “Or … maybe not. Have a good day, sir.” With a tip of his hat to his superior, he continued on his way.