To Kim’s despair, the newly-found body matched the mysterious scenes they’d come to expect. By the time she, Kenj, and Marie arrived at the swanky townhouse, it was clear that the latest dead body had been more than a domestic squabble. The sophomoric cracks and laughter by the department’s first responders ended the second Detective Marie McDonald crossed the threshold. The silence, cold and awkward, made Kim and her new partner fidget.
“Well, don’t stop the party on my account.” Marie’s eyes locked on each and every person in the room. “I assume, you know, since you’re all having such a great time that you have the killer locked up and a full confession on file, right? Line up the shots; first round is on me, guys. Oh … what’s that? We still have no clue who’s responsible. Then what in the bloody hell are you all laughing about?
Workers scattered. Even those who had been working diligently avoided making eye contact. Marie sighed, took a huge gulp of her lukewarm coffee, and then pulled on a pair of latex gloves. Kim and Kenj had donned their protective gear before they crouched beside the body across from a pair of EMTs.
“What have got?” Kim asked as she took a clipboard from the uniformed officer beside her.
“We responded to a domestic disturbance call. The neighbor said they’d been screaming over there for a while and they ignored her when she pounded on the walls. By the time we got here, the front window was busted out and we could see signs of a struggle. No one answered when we knocked but I heard a noise coming from inside. I shouted through the window but I didn’t hear anything else. So, my partner and I entered and that’s when we found the victim, Candace Malone. It appears that whoever did this probably escaped through the back door in the basement.”
Kim nodded and pulled the sheet back on the victim. She handed the clipboard to Kenj and she rattled off Ms. Malone’s details.
“Let’s see,” Kenj muttered. “Candace Christine Malone, age: thirty-one. According to her neighbor, she recently separated from her fiancée, Jordan Greenberg.”
“That’s one nosy neighbor,” Kim commented with an eye roll. “Did she mention if Candace was seeing someone new?”
“Funny you should ask,” a nearby officer interjected. “We asked her the same thing and she was offended. Said, quote, ‘I don’t meddle in other people’s affairs.’ Can you believe that?”
A ripple effect of stifled chuckles spread through the room. While Kim waited for Kenj to take more crime scene photos, she jotted initial impressions down on her notebook. Subject found face down, arms outstretched. Fingers bloody and nails recently torn from thumb, forefinger, and middle finger on right hand (that manicure looks too expensive for her to have left it like that.) Looks like she was struggling with her attacker check for blood or tissue of the attacker under her nails. Repeated blows to the head, blood matted in her hair. Left strap of camisole top was cut, the material isn’t frayed on the ends to indicate a tear. Incision through left Achilles tendon— someone didn’t want her to be able to run. Clean line, definitely a very sharp knife, or even a scalpel.
“I’m all finished, Ms. Miller. Should we roll her over,” Kenj asked.
“Oh God! I know I haven’t been getting much sleep lately but please tell me I don’t look that old. Please, call me Kim.”
With Detective McDonald’s help, they rolled the body over. A collective gasp permeated the room. Candace Malone’s face was a riot of lacerations, hash-marked into her face. The severed tip of her nose wobbled on the floor beside her like a broken dreidel. Her once-perfect smile had been shattered. The pictures of her, smiling back through the many frames in the living room, bore proof of extensive orthodontics as a child. Chips and splinters were all that remained of those thousands of dollars in dental work.
“Oh my God, what’s that?”Kenj asked then pointed to the bloody symbol carved above Candace’s heart.
“Yeah, I meant to ask you about that,” Kim replied. “Seth, I mean, the male victim from yesterday had that same mark and yet you didn’t note it on any of the intake forms.”
“I swear there was nothing there,” Kenj gasped. “There’s no way I could miss something like that!”
“Well, I’ve got a body back at the morgue that says differently.”
Kenj’s face paled to the color of skim milk, doubt in her ability had already seized her heart. Her pulse thudded in her ears and she gulped.
“She’s telling the truth, Kim,” Det. Marie McDonald confirmed. “I checked those bodies and there was nothing like this on them.”
Kim’s forehead knitted together as her mouth pursed. Even if I doubted the new girl, there is no way I’d dream of second-guessing Marie.
“Well, Detective, why don’t you ride back with us to the morgue to see the body? I’ve got photos and he’s bearing the same mark.”
They allowed the EMTs to transport Candace Malone to the morgue while Kim, Marie, and Kenj, went ahead. Once there, Kim pulled Seth’s body from the drawer and uncovered the left side of his chest. The fresh, bloody, symbol that had been there just a few hours earlier had morphed into a sealed brand.
“What the hell?” Kim gasped and pointed at the mark. “This looked just like Candace Malone’s before Kenj showed up and now it looks like someone branded him years ago.”
The other two stared at her, unsure how to respond. Kim ripped off her glove and booted up her computer. She clacked on the keyboard for a moment then called her colleagues over to join her.
“Here, this is the video feed. Surveillance cameras are always on in here. Look, there’s the time stamp and everything.”
The three women gaped at the video in wonderment, baffled by what their eyes had seen.
“I have a suggestion,” Marie said, finally breaking the silence. “It might go against procedure but what if you gather all of the external information today but leave the rest of the autopsy and extraction of internal organs until tomorrow? Is there any way you can leave the body in full view of the camera? Then we can see if anything happens to Candace Malone’s wound.”
Kim nodded, words seemed to elude her as her brain still tried to wrap itself around what had happened to Seth’s body. She looked down at her old friend through a shrink-wrap of unshed tears. With a sigh, Kim averted her eyes and blinked until the moisture redistributed. I’ve got too much work to mourn now but … An alert on Kim’s phone interrupted her thoughts, followed by another, and another.
“I’m sorry. Excuse me for just a sec,” Kim announced.
She pulled her phone from her pocket. Her old friends, Angela, Gillian, Billy, and John had all responded. Wow, that was quick! She thought, silently. They’ll all be here, tomorrow. She responded en masse, Can’t thank you enough! I’ll meet you at Joe’s Bar & Grille at the corner of 5th and Vine tomorrow at 6pm. I’ll explain everything then. P.S. the 1st round is on me.
While she and Kenj worked, Detective McDonald asked questions. The three bounced ideas off of each other until Marie was called to another crime scene. After she left, Kim started packing up and wiping down the room. Wringing her hands, she looked at her new colleague.
“I’m sorry about earlier. I-I shouldn’t have accused you like that—”
“Please, don’t give it a second thought,” Kenj interrupted. “Given what you’d seen, I can’t blame you. To show you there’s no hard feelings, what do you say we go grab a drink … or several?”
Kim laughed. “I would love to, thanks.”
Together they rode to a newer establishment across town, at Kenj’s recommendation. Behind the bar, one of the EMTs supplementing his income, smiled and waved.
“Well, holy shit! The angels of death actually have a social life. Who would’ve thought? Let me guess … two Bloody Marys?”
“Cute,” Kim laughed. “How about something a little less … healthy? I’m not in the mood for tomato juice.”
“Fear not,” he replied. “I have something perfect for you. My treat.” He busied himself mixing then brought the two cocktails over, personally. The tall glasses were filled to the brim with a dark, almost black, liquid. His chest puffed out as he placed them in front of the ladies. “Just for you, it’s called Black Death.”
Kim rolled her eyes and Kenj groaned. “Do we even want to know what’s in it?”
After the second refill, Kenj felt they’d bonded enough to ask. “That man, Seth, you knew him, didn’t you?”
Kim nodded and tried to choke back the tears once again.
“I won’t say anything, I promise. I’ll just follow your lead. If you want me to work on him, or if you want me to stay away from him, it’s your call. Same goes for if you want to talk about it. I won’t bring it up again but I’m here if you need someone to talk to.”
“I appreciate that, Kenj, more than you know. I do have one favor to ask. Tomorrow, some of our friends … people Seth and I hung around with will be coming into town. I’d like to duck out a little early tomorrow if you don’t mind holding down the fort.”
“No problem. I’m glad to help”
The next day, the wound on Candace Malone closed on its own and resembled a brand instead of a fresh injury. The case had gone from frustrating to mind-boggling. With no clue how such a phenomenon was possible and no leads, time seemed to come to a standstill. Kim kept one eye on the clock, both excited and saddened that she’d see her old friends soon.
“Why don’t you go ahead and call it a day, Kim? I can handle things here for now and I already left a message with Detective McDonald’s office that I was on call tonight if anything should happen.
Relieved, Kim accepted her offer and bolted out the door. While she showered and changed, she tried to figure out how to break the bad news to her friends. Though they’d all seemed to drift apart as they entered the world of grownups, they’d been so close in college. Losing Seth would be devastating for all of them.
She reached Joe’s by five-thirty and reserved a table for five. I wonder how much they’ve changed in the past eight years. Will I still recognize them? She glanced at her reflection in the window and tried to determine how much she’d changed in appearance too.
The hostess seated her at a corner table with a clear view of the main entrance. Kim’s foot tapped along to the song blasting through the old jukebox. Her friends entered moments later and waved. Upon escorting the four remaining in the party to Kim’s table, the hostess took their drink orders and promised that their waitress would be there momentarily.
“I’m so glad you all are here, and so quickly too. It’s been too long.” Kim said as she hugged her friends.
“Shouldn’t we wait for Seth,” Billy asked. “I guess some things never change. I swear; that guy will be late to his own funeral.”
The table erupted into laughter, all except Kim.
“Kim? Sweetie, are you okay? You look like you just saw a ghost,” Angela asked as she grasped Kim’s hand.
“Yeah, I’m okay.” Kim lied as she forced a wan smile to tug at her lips. “Seth is actually the reason I asked you to come. He’s …” Against her will, her voice broke. She took a deep breath and tried again. A single tear slid down her cheek. “H-He’s gone. They found his body last night and … I didn’t even know he’d moved back here. When I saw him there, I had to let you know but I didn’t want to do it in an email or over the phone.”
The earlier laughter died and the table stared at her with wide eyes and gaping mouths forming a perfect O. The shock left them all speechless.
“So, can I start anyone off with some appetizers,” the waitress sing-songed, oblivious to the collective anguish of the table. “We have some happy hour specials if you order now.”
*** Please return, Tuesday, March 17th for the next installment of Specter of Death***