Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Ch. 01byAdrian Leverkuhn©
I took the call a little after midnight, and yes, it was a dark and stormy night, but I guess in my line of work they usually are -- one way or another. Dispatch called just as I'd found some sleep for the first time in a couple of nights, but the girl on the other end of the line had no way of knowing that. Even if she had there wasn't a damn thing she could have done about it. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw. Some nights you just end up in the wrong place at the right time, and everything goes to hell from there. Not her fault, you know? And not mine, either.
I slid out of my bunk and looked at the stranger in the mirror, threw on some clean pants and ran my belt through the loops, then hooked my badge over the left front pocket and strapped my P-220 into the old, brown leather shoulder holster a wife had given me twenty years and three divorces ago. Funny how some things from marriages last longer than others, even if the joke turns out to be on you. On second thought, maybe it isn't so funny.
I hopped off my boat, another consequence of one wife too many, and walked through the cloud-shrouded marina to the parking lot, checked in-service with dispatch and groaned when the light rain turned heavy. As if losing another night's sleep wasn't enough, I'd forgotten my raincoat. Oh well, it's only water, right? Just like water under the bridge.
The windshield wipers beat like drums in a funeral march; lightning rippled from cloud to cloud and the city streets flashed to the mechanical cadence. My mouth tasted like crud and I felt a sore throat coming on, but that didn't matter: sick or no, it was my call and I had to take it. Mine to make or break or fuck-up. Hell, at least the rain was letting up. Or was it?
The address dispatch had relayed didn't mean a thing to me, neither did the run-down apartment building I parked in front of: both were in a pretty run down area south of downtown -- an area full of docks and warehouses alongside broken dreams and wrecked hearts. Three squad cars were parked out front, their red and blue strobes still pulsing, the frenzied light creating weird shadows on the brick canyon. An ambulance was out front, too, and a couple of firemen sat in the back looking bored. It looked as though they were sitting in an island of intense light, and that kind of clarity looked out-of-place here in the lightning and the rain; this part of the world is a land of shadows, and clarity isn't really welcome in the shadowlands. Truth is a painful subject to the down-and-out, a reminder of all the wrong turns they'd made along the way.
A medical examiner's van, dull blue with official looking white letters on it, pulled up behind my old Ford right as I got out of the car; Mary-Jo something-or-other was behind the wheel writing on a clipboard but she looked up and waved at me as I walked by. I nodded and wished I'd worn a hat; they never warned me that cold rain on a head with three hairs left on top could be such all-consuming fun.
Anyway. She and her assistant got out and followed along behind me; they made it to the elevator before the door closed and squeezed in.
"Messy night," her assistant said. "Gonna rain for a week."
"No shit. Welcome to Seattle."
"Hey, Woody, you still on the boat?" Mary-Jo asked.
I'd known Mary-Jo through work for a few years; she was cute in a thirty-something kind of way but the work had taken a heavy toll on her. She'd filled-out a little too much and like everyone on the MEs staff she had dark circles under her eyes and an unnaturally buoyant sense of humor. Working around dead people sucks. It sucks the humanity from the marrow of your bones and leaves you pale and hollow. Having worked homicide for fourteen years that's a statement I feel I can make with some authority.
And these cheap apartment buildings are all the same, too: rickety old elevators spit you out into dingy, dimly lit hallways, and why the hell are the ceilings so goddamn low in these shitholes? "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here" should be carved in stone over the entry to these hovels, because that's exactly what happens, and it felt that way tonight, too. The walls smelled like this was a place people came to die, even if it took them decades to get around to it. This was a world of frayed carpet, of peeling, cracked linoleum, and of bare light-bulbs hanging from broken fixtures like old men after a trip up the gallows -- if I'd been there to write building code violations I could have made the place into a career. But the truth is: nobody cares. Not about these places, or the people who live in them. That's just the way it is in the shadows.
The doorway to 333 stood open down in the gloom and I saw a flash go off; someone from forensics was already up here and photographing. A patrolman stood outside the door looking bored. Some things never change. A couple of nervous neighbors had gathered down the hall and were hopping around like birds in a cage, but there was no place to run and they knew it. Life had trapped them and now held them fast to their despair.
I walked into the room and stopped dead in my tracks.
The victim was a middle-aged man and he was a shattered wreck; the sight even got to me. The MEs assistant turned away before he barfed; I heard him flee to the safety of the hallway, retching as he went.
"Fuck a duck," Mary Jo said quietly.
"No Ma'am," I said in my best Joe Friday. "No duck did this."
The guy was sprawled out on the living room floor, the worn green carpet under him had been unable to absorb all the blood and pools of it had coagulated under his head and torso. His throat had been cut and he'd been stabbed in the chest and belly too many times to count, and for good measure his penis had been cut off and stuck in his mouth.
"Jealous wife?" Mary-Jo said as she bent down beside the guy.
"Or boyfriend," one of the men from forensics threw in.
I bent down to have a closer look, saw something odd under the blood on the guy's belly.
"Somebody get me a wad of four-by-fours and some saline."
A paramedic brought me the gauze pads and a one liter bottle and I popped the cap and poured a little on the guy's stomach right below his sternum, then I wiped away the coagulated mess and had to shake my head at the sight.
"What does it say?" Mary-Jo asked as she peered over him.
"Love me," I said absently. Whoever had killed the guy had taken something really sharp and carved the two words into his flesh, even taken time to underline them with a neat, bold slash.
"Well, sometimes love hurts, I guess," Mary-Jo chuckled.
See, I told you working around dead people sucks.
Soon Mary-Jo had her tackle box open and was taking samples from under his fingernails; then I saw something in his hair.
"Better take a look here," I said.
She came up, her gloved fingers peeled into his hair: "Semen?"
"Well, I sure ain't gonna smell it! Take a sample and do some of that chemistry shit and you tell me what the fuck it is!"
She chuckled: "Maybe he shot his load all the way up here..."
I rolled my eyes: "Mary-Jo? You need to get laid. Bad."
"You volunteering?" she said as she removed some of the stuff and put it in a vial. "Cause, ya know, I swallow..."
I had to stand and get away from her then. Even the dude from forensics stepped back and looked at me all wide-eyed. I didn't quite know what to say. Neither did he. Mary-Jo just laughed and laughed.
I was in the bedroom poking around, trying to make sense of the crime scene. There were ligature marks on his wrists and ankles, and small cuts inside his thighs -- like the victim had been tortured before he was killed -- but things just weren't adding up to a routine murder. The evidence was contradictory. Tied-up but no signs of a struggle? So had this thing started out consensually? And if so then this had been some kind of sexual encounter. A paid encounter? A hooker? Evidence said that some of the wounds might have been the result of aggressive if consensual foreplay, before things went south anyway: so the guy probably didn't really know his assailant, or did he? Not enough to have trusted her/him with his life. And then there was the explosive nature of the wounds on his chest, the penis in his mouth, the carved words on the guy's gut... that was all pure rage. The murderer, or murderers, were uncontrolled or consumed with blinding rage at this point, wild with hate and probably completely off-the-wall crazy.
So. Woman? Some kind of 'Gay' encounter? Maybe a threesome, some kind of 'bi' thing?
"Yo! Woody!" I heard Mary-Jo call out from the living room. "Better come take a look at this."
What else? I looked at the bed before I returned to the living room.
"What you got?"
"Semen. All over the external anus."
"We'll have to wait until autopsy to sample what's inside."
"Peachy. Can't wait."
"Woody? You ain't going soft on us, are you?"
The woman was merciless, just annoyingly merciless. Hell, it would probably be a month before my poor dick would get up again after seeing this shit.
"If I have to listen to anymore of your shit I'm going to go join an order somewhere. Maybe the Benedictines."
"Yeah, sure thing Woody. You'll get all you want there!"
"You're sick, you know it?"
"Yeah, ain't life grand? But I know you love me."
I looked at the words carved on the guy's belly and shook my head, then walked back into the bedroom with my back to her laughter. "Very punny," I called out as I disappeared around a corner.
I went to the bed and poked around, the pillow was stained and wet with some clear fluid, and obviously not semen from the smell of it. Probably piss. There was a length of discarded rope on the floor, and in the corner a pair of pantyhose: "Johannsen! Did you get these yet?" I called out to the photographer shooting in the bathroom.
"What? The rope and stuff?"
"Yeah. The pantyhose. Did you get those?"
"Yeah. You ready for me to beg 'em?"
"Let the M.E. have 'em, see if they can get some hair or fluid, maybe we'll get some DNA."
"You got something in there for me, Woody?" Mary-Jo said suggestively. There are days when I wish my last name wasn't Woodward. This was one of them. When I heard Johannsen snickering in the bathroom I'd have gladly settled for Smith. I guess I should be grateful my folks didn't name me Richard. Dick Woody. Yeah.
The sun was coming up, the rain had tapered to a drizzle now and paramedics were loading the guy's body in the M.E.'s van; her assistant would have to ride in with the body and get it logged-in. Forensics had a pile of evidence to log-in at Central and I had a headache like I'd just come out of a fucking Hitchcock movie. I rubbed my eyes while Mary-Jo joked with one of the patrolmen, then groaned when I saw her headed my way. I rolled down my window as she walked up.
"You hungry?" she said.
"You're like, kidding, right?"
"No. Seeing a guy's cock stuffed in his mouth always makes me hungry."
"Brings out the man-eater in you, does it?"
"You know it. But Woody, I need to ask you something. Seriously."
"I could do some coffee," I said, nodding. "If you'll just stop with all the creepy-sex joke-shit."
"Right. Pike Place?"
"Sure. Starbucks? The alley? There ought to be a place to park on Pine or Stewart this early in the morning. Oh, and be sure to park that heap in front of a restaurant. Good PR. Know they'll thank you for it."
"Gee, Woody -- nice. And you call me creepy."
I beat her there, made my way to Post Alley and followed the scent of roasting beans and got a table; as the rain had given way to fast-scudding broken clouds the tops of the Olympics across Puget Sound were all aglow in the sunrise. Life was good. Mary-Jo showed up a few minutes later and I got a couple of two-liter espressos. Nothing like a slight buzz to start the day, I always say.
"Geesh, I didn't know they made 'em this big," she said.
"Oh, sure. Breakfast of Champions." She looked nervous, like she didn't know how to say what she had to say. "I find it best to just spit it out, Mary-Jo."
"You said you had a question. Serious, I think you said."
"I got divorced, you know, like a few years back..."
"Well no, I didn't know that. In fact, just to set the record straight, I'm sure I don't even know your last name."
"What? Oh, shit," she said as she laughed. "Right. Kopecki. Maria Josephina Kopecki."
I held out my hand: "Ed Woodward. Nice to meet you."
"I'm sorry," she continued, "I just took it for granted, ya know, having worked around for a couple of years..."
"Well, see, I've been trying to hook up with someone for a while, like, through the internet. Well, see, I did, sort of, but it didn't really work out. Turns out the guy, the last one, was kind of creepy. I mean really creepy."
"Is that, like, 'really, really creepy'?"
"Don't make fun of me, alright?"
"Right, well, see, the problem is, the guy is a cop."
"Uh-huh. Define creepy."
"Well, see, he wanted to meet the first time at this club. A swingers' club."
"Yeah, well, I did, see, and he had already hooked up with another couple by the time I got there. He wanted to go back to their place and I don't know why, but, well, see, I did."
"Really? Like, why?"
She looked down, just shrugged. "I dunno," was all she could say but it looked a little like an act to me.
"So, what's the problem?"
"Well, the guy has shown up a couple of times, like, see, at things where I was."
"Clubs? You mean like..."
"Yeah, swingers' clubs."
"This is, well, see, your thing, then?" I was trying my damndest not to laugh, or even smile for that matter, but the stupidity of young people sometimes leaves me breathless. If she said 'well, see' one more time I was going to have to hurt her.
"I've done it a few times, yeah." She was speaking quietly now, very self-consciously. "It's fun."
"Yeah, well, whatever floats your boat."
"Well, see, I wasn't sure it he was following me, or if it was just coincidence..."
"Well, see, I'm still not seeing the big problem?"
"Well, see, he's got a big tattoo on his chest. 'Love me.' That's what it says."
Now she had my attention. "Uh-huh. What's his name?" I asked as I took a notepad out of my shirt pocket.
"I don't know for sure."
"Well, see, like I only know his internet address and his screen name."
"And how do you know he's a cop?"
"He, like, told me so."
"Uh-huh. Did he like show you a badge or anything?"
"No," she said.
Sometimes I wonder how people so fucking stupid could possibly live long enough to reproduce. Then again, maybe more than a few don't. "Can you describe him?"
"Tall. Six feet, maybe a little more. Not fat but like really buff..."
"Muscular. Like a weight-lifter."
"Late-forties, maybe fifty. Red hair and freckles. You know, like a faint scar on his right cheek."
She was describing Mark Tottenham, one of the department's assistant chiefs; Tottenham was in charge of Internal Affairs. I'd heard rumors he was flaky but this was off the charts.
"Got an internet address?"
She gave it to me.
"When's the last time you saw the guy?"
"Night before last."
I looked over my glasses at her, tried not to judge the kid too unkindly. "I'll see what I can find out. Where can I get in touch?" She gave me a number.
"Thanks, Woody. Maybe I could buy you dinner?"
"Yeah. Maybe." I flipped my notebook over and made a few more notes then put it away. "Well, see, like I got to go now. Do like some cop-type shit. I'll give you a call this afternoon." I made my way to the Ford, felt a little sick to my stomach. I checked in with dispatch, then made my way over to a friend's office.
Richard Tate had been a detective for almost thirty years; now he was doing the PI thing, doing sensitive background checks for corporations and taking photographs of cheating spouses. I wanted him to run down the internet address for me as I didn't want any traces of a search on department computers, or my private one for that matter. I gave him the run-down on what Mary-Jo had told me and he whistled, leaned back in a squeaky leather chair.
"You ain't gonna believe this," he said, "but this ain't the first time Tottenham has been in the shits for something like this. The tattoo thing, the wife-swapping shit; he's been into some pretty flaky shit over the years. He supposedly likes to rough-up girls."
"What about guys?"
"Guys? What do you mean?"
I told him about the murder scene this morning and he whistled again. "No shit, Woody?"
"That's a fact. No shit. Maybe a little piss, however."
"Crap. I can get a friend in Tacoma to run down the IP. Can you get a picture of Tottenham to show to the girl?"
"I dunno. Might be better to get someone outside the department to get one. Maybe a reporter."
"Are you kidding?" he said. "Then what? They'd want some inside angle or some other tit-for-tat, or fuck, they'd get one from something you'd missed and then what hell would you do?!"
"Fuck, I don't know."
"Alright, alright; I'll take care of it." He steepled his hands over his chest and sighed. "Shit, it's probably nothing anyway. No telling how many people have that tattoo."
I nodded. "Yeah. Who knows? It couldn't be that common, could it?"
I drove back to Central and went up to my office in CID, called dispatch, asked them to run-off the NCIC print-outs I'd called in earlier. I wanted to more about the background of our murder victim but turned out I wasn't ready for what came next.
"He's clean, Woody," Trisha Wickham told me. "You wouldn't believe how clean."
"What do you mean?"
"He's FBI. White-collar crime unit, computer crime. Talked to the SAC; he told me. The guy was as clean as they come, too; fifteen year veteran. Wife and two kids."
"Shit. Anyone told the family yet?"
"Nope. SAC wanted to talk to you first."
"Got a number handy?" She read it off to me. "Thanks, Trish. Appreciate it."
"Be careful, alright?"
She hung up before I could ask what she meant.
What the fuck was going on?
Peter Brennan was the Special Agent in Charge of SeaTac FBI; I'd known him for years and he was a straight-shooter, a no nonsense, good-guy kind of cop. He was waiting for my call.
"Woody, what can you tell me? Any suspects?"
I gave him the basics but omitted information about the tattoo. "Hell, Pete, we haven't confirmed anything yet, don't even have the fingerprints processed yet. Was he supposed to come in this morning?"
"Yeah. He's a no show, his wife said he went out early last evening on a call and never came back. She called in about six-thirty this morning."
"Sounds about right."
"Yeah. Anything else you can tell me, Woody?"
"Let me pull the prints and I'll run 'em over in a bit. Got any time this morning?"
"I'll make time."
"Okay, Pete. Seeya in a bit." I hung up, walked down to the locker room and picked-up my mail, then dropped by dispatch to pick up the NCIC and DL print-outs that would have to be attached to my report. Trish was nowhere to be found so I turned and walked back to the elevator. Tottenham walked into to the elevator right after I did.
"Hey Woody, how's it going?"
"Fine, Chief. You?"
"Can't complain. You still livin' on the boat?"
I laughed to avoid the question. "Well, it worked for a while but it got small pretty quick."
"I can imagine. Brennan called me a while ago. You got the case?"
"Not a thing, Chief." The elevator binged and the door opened.
"Well, keep me posted."