By Hy Conrad

The rain had ended in the afternoon, leaving a chilly but clear evening for the trick-or-treaters.  As usual, Sherman donned his full Sherlock Holmes regalia and milled among the costumed youngsters on the street. Sherman was at his very happiest on Halloween.

It was growing late and he was just passing a vacant lot when he heard a moan. Nothing moved in the darkened lot, but the observant little man noticed a single set of footprints in the mud. “Hello!” he called out and was answered with another moan.

Sherman followed the prints into the lot, around the trash barrels and trees, until he found a young man collapsed in a corner. He’d been stabbed in the stomach. The wounds were more than superficial. He needed medical attention.

“Some guy in a devil mask,” he groaned. “Chased me with a knife, for no reason. I ran in here, but I fell and he got me.” The wound was still bleeding. “He must’ve thought I was dead.”

“You’ll be all right,” Sherman promised. “I’m going for help.”

Sirens were approaching. As Sherman emerged from the lot, he saw an ambulance and a patrol car a block down the street. Waddling at his top speed, he flagged down the ambulance and told the paramedics the situation.

“Go get the guy in the lot,” a familiar voice shouted from the depths of another nearby alley. “You can’t help this one. She’s dead.”

The ambulance driver and crew did as they were told, leaving Sherman to push his way through the gathering crowd. Sergeant Gunther Wilson, the owner of the voice, stood over the body of a young woman in an angel costume.

“Stabbed?” Sherman asked.

“Hi.” Wilson’s voice lacked its usual gruffness. “Yeah, stabbed in the chest and stomach. Looks like she put up a fight before she died.”

Sherman informed Wilson about the other attack.

“That fits,” Wilson said. “People were mentioning some strange-acting guy in a devil costume.”

The sergeant was interrupted by his two-way radio.

“The guy in the lot’s going to make it,” he told Sherman. “My boys found a devil costume nearby. Also a mask and a knife. Let’s hope this was his last victim.”

Wilson told a patrolman to tape off the site. “And check the crowd. I want to see any adult male not with kids and not wearing a costume.”

The patrolman and his partner returned a few minutes later with two men fitting that rather broad description. The first was a slight man, apparently in his thirties. A closer glance at the lines around the eyes and his jet-black toupee told Sherman that he was at least ten years older. He was dressed in a black sweatshirt, black jeans, and a pair of slippers.

“What were you doing here?” Wilson asked.

“I live here,” the man said, pointing to a red brick house. The windows were dark and the house looked empty. “I don’t hand out candy. I was in my bedroom watching TV and ignoring the doorbell. When I heard the sirens, I came out. Is that a crime?”

“No, sir,” Wilson replied, turning to the second suspect, a man in his early twenties with a scraggly goatee and disheveled hair.

“My car broke down over on the next block,” he answered without having to be asked. “I was just walking up to some house to use their phone when your jack-booted buddy grabbed me.”

The sergeant took Sherman aside. “At least we have a surviving witness, but he may not be much help if the attacker was wearing a mask.”

“Well, if our survivor can’t identify him, I can.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Wilson said with a grin.

Who was the masked attacker?

What clue gave him away?

“I don’t know how you do it,” Wilson said with obvious relief.  “Both alibis are weak. Either one of these guys could have been in that costume.”

“Oh, it wasn’t them,” Sherman chuckled. “It was the suspect you didn’t meet, the guy in the vacant lot.”

“The other victim?” Wilson asked, his bushy eyebrows raised. “But he’s got serious stab wounds. Are you saying he did that to himself?”

“Oh, no. Someone stabbed him. The girl. You said she fought back, correct?”

“You’re saying he stripped off the costume and ran into the lot, pretending to be a victim?” Wilson wasn’t buying it. “No. Why didn’t he just run away? Why draw so much attention to himself?”

“Because he needed medical help. If a man showed up at the hospital tonight with an unexplained stab wound…”

“He’d be a suspect, of course. Do you have any evidence to back up this wild theory?”

“I do. This supposed victim said he’d been chased into the lot, then attacked. Yet I found only one set of footprints going in and no footprints coming out.”

“Maybe you missed seeing them.”

“If someone is chasing you, his footprints are going to be fairly close to yours. No, your forensics team will back me up. That so-called victim is your killer.”