Erupting from the corners of my mind surged a primal scream that almost ripped me from one dimension to the next. My world was being changed forever; I just didn’t know it yet. It was a dark and sinister day with snow and sleet emptying from heavy clouds. A townhouse community loomed to my right. I drove past the icy sidewalks and inhaled the upper-class atmosphere to find the object of my search; the house where two people had been cut down. When it appeared, I swerved my car into its congested driveway.
My heart felt a jab as my eyes surveyed the exterior of the home. Jetting towards the house, I zigzagged between the barbs of hail and swooped through the front door. The interior offered an odd welcome. Glancing around, I noticed enormous rooms decorated with a variety of modern furniture and paintings. A fellow officer greeted me and said, “Hey, Detective O’Leary; it’s a bit of a belly churner. I hope you didn’t eat a big breakfast.” I shrugged, moved past him and landed just outside the room of doom, death and devastation. I took a quick look inside the landscape of the crime.
My stomach tightened. Papers were scattered near one corner next to a wall. A lamp and table had been knocked over and sat lopsided just next to a hutch. I wondered about the circumstances. Was this done by some disgruntled friend or lover? Hosts of possible scenarios slipped into my brain as I unbuttoned my fleece-lined jacket. I put it on a large coat rack that sat near the front door. Drops of water formed puddles on the floor from trench coats and parkas that had been hung there earlier. As I took in the simple scene of liquid expanding towards the baseboards, I felt a spasm of disgust.
This house had been violated by death. A feeling of sadness sank into me as I wondered who had committed the sin that resulted in such a tangled, twisted mess.
I pushed myself through the river of other detectives to inspect each room. Everything seemed to take on a bizarre masque. Suddenly, my boss appeared, and I was jolted by her image. Her name was Katia, and she was like a flickering shaft of light comprised of a sinuous, sexy body. Even her light-green eyes, were fascinating. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought she was attending a film festival. This woman would easily fit into any photo shoot; hell she could have been a screen star if it wasn’t for her aversion to having her photo taken. Katia liked her privacy a little too much. She set a boundary around herself, and only God could help the unlucky person who tried to pull apart her bunker. Twirling my mind back to the moment, I tried to settle myself to get ready for work. Starting my investigation always created a spark of excitement and expectation.
My thoughts, however, were driven elsewhere. I wondered how Katia could look so astonishing after a twelve-hour shift. She appeared as if she had just been peeled off the pages of some sophisticated magazine cover as she shared the crime scene with her subordinates. I, by the way, looked like my usual ragamuffin self. My dark hair was a bit wild and my eyes showed noticeable signs of tiredness. Gee, I thought, I absolutely had to stop comparing myself to her. I had so little ammo that it made me cramp with nausea. Katia’s look was absolutely spellbinding.
Now, if truth be told, I had never thought I was attracted to women. But, she was something exceptional. An odd feeling crept through the valves of my heart whenever I saw her. Try as I might, I could not dismiss it. Whenever I gazed at her, my breath was held rigid and my spirit was magnetically drawn to her. What was this attraction that pulsed through my veins like a runaway locomotive and gnawed at me like a ravenous dog? Was it envy, jealousy, intrigue or something else? I forced my mind back to my investigation.
I began my search of the area, but was not too pleased that my superior was personally on site. Whenever she showed up, she turned out to be a royal pain in the head. Katia was like a rapidly spinning neutron star that siphoned the particulars of the case and thrust them under her microscope. She would pull individuals from our team of detectives and throw questions, concerns and conclusions at them. Her verbal assaults were like the hail of bullets. Since she was our boss; we knew the drill. Each and every one of us tried to stay out of her line of fire during a criminal probe. At times, her critical analysis of every single thing we did and every conclusion we made, was unsettling. We all tried our best to remain secluded from her as we pursued the guilty. Each of us understood that the reason for our Lieutenant’s actions was based on the fact that she wanted to subdue the perpetrator, and put each case to bed quickly. We all shared in that goal; we just didn’t let it consume us like it did her.
The greatest benefit I had going for me was my partner, Leon Quill, who had the rugged good looks of a megastar. His face reflected overwhelming annoyance, and there was a deep scowl unfurling over his handsome features as he looked in Katia’s direction. When he moved towards me, he shook his head. I heard him say, “The bitch is here,” almost to himself. “Let’s just hope she doesn’t get in our way on this,” he whispered. He directed me to one side of the room. Leon peered at Katia and then at me and said, “Let’s try to keep our noses clean and do everything by the book. We don’t want the boss going nuts, got it?” I nodded.
My partner went on to explain that earlier that day a local driver had attempted a delivery, and noticed the door to this house had been left open. When he stepped inside and called out to get a signature for a package, he encountered the gruesome murder scene. Frantic, he phoned the police. Leon said the man, Bill Parks, had already been questioned. A bit of shock may have set into him; there was nothing he could provide that was significant. My colleague said the man could be excused.
Leon appointed me the messenger of the news. I immediately walked outside and asked Bill if he was able to continue with work, or if he needed to be taken to the hospital. His face went blank. I told him he was free to leave. Still, nothing. He seemed to be staring into space, and looked much like a mannequin. When my message finally sank into him, he flamed to life. Bill grabbed his phone, and made a call. Within minutes, he got into his truck and took off. He never murmured a single word in response to anything I said.
Back at the scene of the murder, there was an air of infectious curiosity combined with a hint of nervous energy. Katia stood in the center of the stage in extreme focus. Abruptly she and Leon walked towards the same space, at the same time. As they realized their mistake, they stopped dead in their tracks. The stares they threw at one another were like cement blocks hurtling through the air. I waited for impact, but nothing happened.
I wondered if they had been past partners, friends or even lovers. I quickly refocused my energies on completing my tasks. I had enough of a dilemma just running my own life. I didn’t need to involve myself in the lives of my coworkers.
However, Leon decided to give me the lowdown on his situation with Katia. He walked in my direction, and said, “I guess it’s time to clear the air.” He mentioned that our boss had won the promotion that he had desperately wanted. In his opinion she was unqualified for the job, and he had gone so far as to tell her. The result was their severe dislike for one another. It was hard on his ego when she became his superior. That’s blatantly obvious, I thought. Whenever they got within five feet of one another, their internal temperatures began to soar. Their anger would bubble to the surface like blisters forming on skin after a scorching sunburn.
Leon questioned how Katia had won the desirable position. He felt he was much more experienced, and had earned many awards. Of course, I thought a possibility might have been that she slept her way into the post. It certainly would have made sense for someone in authority to have handed her the job in exchange for some sexual favors. I kept this thought to myself, as I did not want to push my partner over the edge of sanity. His temper was already set to high; it didn’t need to be dialed to microwave!
It felt good, that Leon had shared something so intimate. He usually kept personal feelings locked deep inside. I was happy he expressed himself, and believed his unselfish act would bring us closer. As I continued my review of the premises, I looked for some pattern to emerge. Usually while doing an initial scan of a crime scene, I would mentally list things to be further explored, and make conclusions.
Today’s hunt offered up no particular pattern. Instead of answers, it struck up a list of more concerns. Who were these two people? What was their unique story? When my eyes swallowed the images of blood lying under each of the dead, I moved closer to get a better look. Long legs and slimness of figure; smooth, young skin and long lashes; open eyes that no longer captured images of life. A blade had inflicted so much damage with its power and fury. The aftermath of the attack on the woman was ghastly. The very crust of her lissome body appeared ruptured and wrecked. The scenery looked like it had been pulled from the pages of a horror flick. Regrettably, this carnage was real.
Kneeling close to the female, I noticed a staccato of skin rips starting just above her left eye socket. I followed the path of the cuts; they got deeper until they exposed bone. The rips ended at the tip of her chin. Part of her face had been carved jaggedly, and looked similar to a Halloween jack o’ lantern. It was definitely not a pleasing sight. Entrails were peeking out of her chest cavity where her heart should have been resting. I was saddened by the callous ending to so young a life. There did not appear to be any defensive wounds on her body; just the finality of death from repeated stabs and blood loss. While her flesh had been torn and disgraced, her eyes had been left intact and bore somber witness to the crime. Unfortunately, they could not speak of the terror that befell her. There was a shadowy discoloration on her legs. It did not seem, however, that there had been any attempt at strangulation. We would learn more from our medical examiner.
The first detectives on site, found a wallet and a purse. An involuntary shudder passed through me as Leon gave me a glimpse of the dead. They stared back at me from their glossy drivers’ licenses. The woman was Bella Lincoln, and the man was Tyler Hunter. Both were attractive, even in these photos, which usually did nothing to enhance one’s looks. Mine, which was recently renewed, made me look like a frightened badger caught between the cross hairs of a rifle.
Observing the male victim, I noted strong upper musculature. The rest of his physique revealed a thick neck, six-pack abs and powerful arms, legs and calves. His waist was tapered. No doubt he had spent many hours pumping iron and working out on cardio equipment. It really didn’t matter; fit or fat, he was still dead.
A military-like haircut covered his head. This was offset by strong, manly features. The beginning of a beard tinted his face. No powerful damage was done to any part of him other than to his arms and chest. Those areas had endured an almost animalistic assault. My first thought was that the attack was personal, committed by someone the couple knew. There was no indication of a forced entry into the home. I surveyed the gashes on the underbelly of flesh which rested just below Tyler’s wrists. My thought was that they resulted as the young man had raised his arms in defense from his weapon- wielding opponent. Unhappily the killer won, and Tyler’s lifeless body was stretched across the floor just within reach of his dead girlfriend. Their deaths were drenched in revulsion and catastrophe. I could almost feel the floor shake from its shock.
The couples’ outward flow of blood touched, met and mingled like a final testament to their love. Most of it had congealed by the time I arrived. Two beaming life forces had been obliterated by an untimely end. Forensic scientists, who looked at the scene, said that Bella had probably been assailed first and pulled to the floor. Her screams, the noise of her struggle, and her fall to the ground, had almost certainly alerted, Tyler. When he ran to assist her, he was slaughtered.
Suddenly the words of a former detective, echoed in my mind. Years ago, we had both arrived on the scene of a particularly disgusting murder. While we stepped over rivers of blood to inspect the corpses, he said, “Remember to always study each piece of the crime riddle. Really stare at its scene. Look and listen to what it tells you. If you do a good job, each section will surrender its secrets.” I wondered what I would find at the end of this search.
It felt like a hot poker was jammed into my head. The temperature in the house seemed to rise, and perspiration crept out of my pores and ran down my forehead and under my arms. This criminal was a bully. He was torturing me and my fellow detectives. What contributed to these deaths? Why were these two people murdered? I needed to fight my way through this bloodbath to get answers.
Some killers gain a sense of power from their dark deeds. When questioned, many assassins have exclaimed they felt all-powerful before a kill; their murderous act brought them a sense of supremacy. It set them free. Many revel in their grisly works of art and sit by them afterward to feel the kick of strong emotions. I wondered what reasons soaked the mind of the swine who committed this crime, in his moment of time.
When we finally captured the creator of this morbid portrait, would that rush of energy from the kill explode at us as he recalled the sequence of events that ended in these two fatalities? Was it simply a need to feel the power of an execution that led to these two deaths? Or, was it the result of something blacker and more psychotic? The room reeked of destruction and looked sullied by the gore, the ripped bodies and the objects thrown around. This repulsive site seemed completely out-of-step with the rest of the house, which reflected a clean, orderly appearance.
As I trekked through the home’s interior, the brightness of each room startled me. Absolutely nothing was out of place, and every item took on the luster of polish. There were few clues. I felt a sense of suffocation surround me. But I pressed on with my search, and tried to come to terms with what had happened.
It is my belief, that each of our final days is marked on The Reaper’s calendar and we can’t outrun our unique fates. Death can’t be held back or renegotiated; it stalks each of us daily. Mournfully for these two lovers, their day of demise recently beckoned and stole them away. It was early in the investigation, however, and details should float to the surface soon. I tried hard not to disturb anything.
It seemed the architect, had been careful to ensure that each pocket of the victims’ home held lively rays of light. Nothing seemed muted. Even in the midst of this storm, the rooms held a vibrancy and gleam. There even appeared to be a spark of creativity and impulsiveness in the way in which the colors had been splashed upon the interior walls.
I checked the fridge and was not surprised to find varieties of fruits and veggies. Cooked chicken and turkey pieces sat in marked and dated containers ready to be dropped into salads or eaten on the run. The side shelves were filled with water and juice bottles. Yogurts and skim milk peeked out from various other compartments. There were no drugs, or any alcohol present. This was a tribute to good, healthy lifestyles. Unfortunately, there is no correlation between wholesome living and murder.
I tried to hold fast to my personal routine in the midst of this chaos. My immediate tasks were to find clues and determine the inside track on both victims. Right now, all we knew were their names, but we had no idea what made them tick? On the desk, in the office of their home, sat paperwork. It revealed this house was a rental. I informed Leon, and he reviewed the information with me. Katia would also need to be advised of the situation. She would be the one to decide whether a visit to the property management firm was necessary.
I walked into the living room, where pictures dotted the interior. On one end table, was a portrait of the victims holding hands and smiling. Their faces looked bright and cheerful. Now, they were dead. I felt awful about what had happened to them. I spied my boss. She was surveying the crime scene, and appeared absorbed by the tragedy. I could almost see her brain straining to make sense of this catastrophe. Across the room from me, Leon finished talking to some other detectives and then answered his cell.
As I continued with my study of the home, something hit my eyes. Resting on a table, was an intricate ornament. It looked to be a hand-crafted piece of metal artwork. It was unusual, and displayed a little chapel that housed an interesting cross. I examined it further, and turned it over. I saw the words, “St. James Church.” I wondered about its link to the deceased and tossed the thought into the hollows of my skull.
A rush of air sounded as the front door was pushed open and pulled shut. It was Otto, our coroner. He had a slight accent, which was a carry-over from his early life in Berlin. All business was his agenda. Quickly, he set upon the dead and told us their exterminations occurred approximately ten hours earlier. The deaths were a result of having been on the wrong end of an assailant’s sharp blade. He told us more conclusions would follow as soon as he completed the couples’ official autopsies. I thought our M.E.’s approach was swift and thorough.
There was a heavy-handed way about him; everything he said was forceful and gruff. Detailed and determined were his middle names. Earlier, when he had moved over the dead, he showed no signs of shock, or emotion. Once finished with his exams, he removed his gloves, and put his equipment away. Otto was fussy and careful about everything he did.
My mind buzzed with questions. Did he ever think about the victims, or discuss his cases with his coworkers? Did he chill out with his family or friends when he was not burdened by the horrific nature of his job? Come to think of it, I didn’t remember him ever speaking of any such people. Maybe he was alone. Being a coroner, must be one of the loneliest professions in the world. What did he do to disengage from the bitter aftertaste of his duties? How did he cope with the emotional brunt of autopsies and assassinations without the benefit of family and friends?
Wisps of brown hair fell over his bulbous head. When he spoke, his blue eyes looked too small for his round face and thick lips. One thing he did appear to like was food. You don’t have such a hefty body if you eat like a bird. Yet he was able to carry his weight well, and his heaviness was evenly distributed over his large frame. His size did not seem to take away from his job performance. I thought he managed to maneuver himself with ease.
On his way out, he yanked the front door behind him. As I peered out the window, I could see his large hands and body outlined against the blackness of his vehicle. Tingles usually ran down my spine whenever I walked through a house of death. Today, however, my body relaxed a bit after Otto’s departure.
If I had learned anything at all about working as an investigator, it was to never publicly unmask yourself and let your feelings slide through to expose your human qualities. A stiff upper lip and a sense of detachment were best served. But, it was not always so easy to keep oneself untouched from the ravages of human annihilation. In this particular situation, I thought there would never be enough soap and water to wash away the terror of this crime from my brain. The impact of these murders would be embedded deep inside for a long time. I wasn’t sure that these memories could ever be swept away.