It was the three of them from the beginning. One Friday in mid-July, Commander Christie was in the outer office, pacing in a relaxed way, chatting up Artie Dolan, his best detective, who had his feet up on his desk, a stack of papers in his lap. Both were avoiding the grunt of paperwork. Colleen Greer, the rookie on Homicide, sat at her desk trying to do her own reports and form-filling. The others on the evening shift were all away from their desks with one thing or another.
"You talked to James Picarelli lately?" Dolan asked.
"Nah, they retire and they leave us behind. He was tired of it."
"He was tired before he left. He was blowing cases left and right."
"There but for the grace," Christie said. He looked over at Greer. He was her mentor.
"Don't make me nervous," she said. "I have a lot of years before retirement."
"You'll make mistakes," Christie said. "Hopefully not too many of them while I'm your boss." He chuckled.
"Hey, boss," Dolan said, "did you bring in your dinner tonight?"
"No, I have to order something. Marina was going out with some friends. You ordering out?"
"I was thinking maybe Quik-It Chicken."
Fried. Fatty, salty, all the causes for indigestion, to which Christie was prone. Artie's stomach was a steel drum. Christie needed takeout like what Greer had in front of her. Looked like a salad of some sort, pretty much finished.
"Or," Dolan hefted the stack of papers onto his desk, looking hopeful, "we could go out?"
"We could," Christie said distractedly. "Hey, Greer, I ever tell you about the serial killer we had? Accountant from Zelienople?"
"Oh, that's a good one," Dolan said.
"A true legitimate cannibal. Cooked and ate his victims."
"Yeah way. You think it's only in the movies, but he did it. FinallyI was wondering this all alongsomebody finally asked him what human beings tasted like."
"Know what he said?"
Christie shook his head. "No joke, that's what he said. Chicken."
Greer shook her head.
"He was the most ordinary guy. Had everything going for him. Crazy, huh?"
"So you don't want Quik-It," Dolan murmured.
"Ah! I don't know. I'm going to try to do something," Christie said, heading back to his office. He sat, imitating Dolan, put his feet up and stacked the files he needed to brush up on for court on his lap. He felt sleepy from the afternoon delight he and Marina had indulged in.
The case he needed to brush up on for Wednesday was kids, everybody lying, bullets, illegal guns, one poor slob very dead of the mess. Only three motives for crime, they always said at the station. It was going to be love or money or revenge, and sometimes on a good day, two or even all three at once. Little lesson to pass on to Greer.
And brains maybe helped a little, but the real secret of solving crimes was luck, nine times out of ten. Mostly the police didn't advertise that fact.
He was bored with the case he was boning up on.
After ten minutes of studyah, a detective had to cram at the last minute anyway, right, like a student?he tossed the papers onto his desk and went back out to where Dolan was now chatting up Greer. Dolan was telling the one about the two dumb guys he'd interrogated who told him how they planned to rob a nice old couple and of course didn't want to be identified as the robbers so they decided to kill the old folks, as a by-the-way.
"Did they kill them?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah. It never occurred to the idiots to use masks, stockings, hats, something," Dolan chuckled. "When I was questioning them, I asked them straight out, 'Why didn't you guys use masks?' They looked surprised, like, what a good idea."
Christie, who wasn't a particularly apt actor, joined in, put the heel of his hand to his head. "Oops, didn't think of that."
Dolan chuckled. "They were keeping it simple."
"Jeez," Greer said appreciatively.
"Hey, let's go out," Christie said to Dolan. "I'll go if we can sit down someplace."
"Okay, then how about Atria's?" Dolan suggested.
"I don't think they have fried chicken."
"No game tonight?"
"Pirates're in Cincy."
Colleen Greer went back to her paperwork, looking for all the world as if she wanted to be one of the boys and didn't want toequally. Christie liked her. She worked hard. She was pretty, took care of herself. Sometimes, when she wasn't so worried about being professional, she was fun. And she had that edge of uncertainty that made her sweet. Dolan liked her too.
"Hey, Greer, come with us."
She suddenly looked super-happy about dropping the pencils and papers.
They went in one car over to Federal, near the new ballpark, several blocks away from Headquarters. The detectives had had their favorite restaurants over in East Liberty, and they still went across town sometimes for a Tessaro's fix, but now that the offices had been moved to the North Side, they'd had to pick a whole new series of favorites. Christie secretly missed the old offices. He'd been used to the dirt and grime and squalor of them. Now he came to work and felt he was entering the front offices of NASA or an airport or something.
It was a short hop over to Atria's, a matter of twelve, fifteen blocks, past the park, around the Post Office, and they were there. They even lucked out and found street parking. The place was jumping with Friday night after-work gatherings. All the outside tables were taken. They decided air-conditioning was going to feel better anyway, and, in spite of the fact that the inside was crowded, too, they snagged a table.
Christie ordered only iced tea to drink. Dolan got a beer and Greer got herself a glass of wine. They ordered. When the chop with mashed, a chicken blackened, and the salmon were put before them the two guys were telling Greer of some of the wildest cases, watching to see if she blanched, but she started on her blackened chicken, no problem. No, they weren't the usual ticket, people who went into police work. More like the young doctors on that TV show who always wanted to be at the most grisly surgeries. Show me the brain, show me the blood, show me the disease. I want to see the worst you can give me. I want to put my hands around the tumor, pluck out the enlarged heart, claw through some fat guy's guts.
Christie's phone rang. "Yeah?" he said into it, swallowing down a bite of the salmon.
He heard the trill of anxiety in the voice of the patrol cop they put on the line with him. The cop asked for a detective car, said it was definitely a murder and it was very very messy. Messy was also usually interesting. "We got what sounds like a good one," Christie told the others. "Regent Square." Raised his eyebrows. "Boyfriend called it in."
* * *
The three detectives tumbled out of their unmarked car. There were already neighbors scattered on the private road, a cruiser with lights on, rolling out the amber signals, a cop stringing out yellow tape.
"You touched anything?"
"Body's in the kitchen?"
"You went past the kitchen?"
"You think anybody's in there?"
"I don't think so, but there's all kinds of rooms, like basement and upstairs to check."
"Point of entry? You see anything?"
"You checked the back yard?"
"I checked the back yard going around from the front. Nothing. I mean nobody."
"What door did the boyfriend use?"
So, the three detectives ducked under the yellow tape to get the first look at the victim and to do the walk through. Greer looked at her heeled sandals and winced. Christie didn't say anything. No booties at the scene yet. Well, he hated booties anyway. He and Dolan never used them. Got blood on things when they had to, washed it off, ruined certain pieces of clothing and footwear from time to time. As they entered the house through the front door, they drew their guns. The living room showed no evidence of violence. Christie swung back to take a quick look at the front door. Right, no signs of a break-in. The dining room looked clean. But the kitchen. Something else. There was blood everywhere, on the kitchen cabinets, the table, the floor, the slatted blinds, the dishcloth, potholders, hanging frying pans, loaf of bread on the counter.
On the floor, twisted in her last attempt to fight someone, was a woman, slender, with wavy brown hair. She wore a conservative pair of pants, some kind of linen blend, dark brown, and what had been a white shirt, sandals with small heels. Her clothes were of a good quality. She'd put a little makeup on. And she was truly, absolutely dead. Her throat was severed and she had what looked like six, seven stab wounds.
Greer gasped and turned away for a second. Ha, still green, Christie thought.
First, they needed to make sure there was nobody hiding in the house, so they started the walk-through. "Move. Nice and easy. Make sure we check points of entry and exit, windows, that stuff." Mostly he was talking for Greer even though she'd been trained well, passed the tests, interviewed well.
She tried the back door. "Locked," she said. She wasn't looking at the body, he noticed. She'd been a counselor before this, just a master's degree counselor, though some of the guys teased her and called a shrink.
They passed back through the dining room and living room into the hallway. Then down the hall, up the steps, bedroom, spare room, bathroomclosets, under beds. Windows. All still. They went back down the stairs to another set of stairs to the basement. The light was dim, but they covered the corners, checked the basement door. Locked. Nobody in the house. Most everything seemed untouched outside the kitchen where the murder clearly took place.
"Somebody she knew," Dolan said. "Somebody she let in."
"What do you think?" he asked Greer.
They stood in the kitchen doing an intense study of the scene.
The woman had really fought.
Good. Better to go down fighting.
They studied the position of the body, the amount of blood, the apparent orderliness of the kitchen before the blood. There was a partial print of something, a glass, no two glasses on the table, but no glasses in sight. That meant, or seemed to mean, somebody had removed them. Greer was stooping and studying the woman's face.
"Better hear what that boyfriend has to say," Dolan nudged.
Christie was eager to hear it, too. As they trooped out front, Forensics called saying they were still trying to round people up. "We need blood, fingerprints, shoes," Christie said into the phone as he listened to Dolan tell Greer, "Friday night, they're going to try to crimp or combine."
She smiled indulgently. "In the old days one person did everything."
"In small towns they still do," Dolan admitted, "but we have experts and in a case like this, we want 'em."
Christie stopped on the front sidewalk and beckoned over the patrol cop. About twenty neighbors had gathered in roughly three clumps. He gave them a slight nod of acknowledgement. He was going to need them soon enough. Sitting in the cruiser in the driveway was the boyfriend. Even looking past the driver's seat to the passenger seat where the man sat, it was clear he was sobbing.
"You suspect him?" Christie asked.
Patrol cop shook his head. "The guy is falling apart."
"What's his story?"
"Came here because he couldn't get an answer on the phone. Thought they were supposed to go to dinner together and a movie later. Couldn't get an answer. Came over. Found this."
"Set me up in the garage. Let me talk to him."
The garage was clearly a new one, clean, no blood that he could see, good lights, even some heating elements along the floor though they wouldn't want them in this season. In moments, with the help of several patrol cops, they brought a couple of outdoor chairs into the garage.
Dolan was looking for blood spots on his dapper, perfect clothes, a nice light suit and shirt, all in shades of khaki.
"Artie, would you talk to those people who are watching us, see if anyone wants to come forward with anything. And when Forensics gets here, call me. Greer, help me question this guy." But she was clearly distracted, looking back toward the house.
"We can interview in there," he said to Greer.
"Boss. I think I might know something."
* * *
There were people standing around. Colleen realized the spot they were looking at was the one she had seen earlier on her run, the place that made her think a homeless woman had been sleeping in the park. Had someone killed the woman before or after she ran by? She passed through the crowd, saying, "Excuse me, please. Police." Unfortunately she didn't have anything with her to identify her. She was still wearing shorts and carrying part of her breakfast and had only her phone, a set of keys to John's place, and a twenty dollar bill in her pocket.
Christie waved her through. "Thank you," he said. "The victim is a young girl. You may know if you've seen her around the park." Christie moved aside.
Colleen saw the legs, the feet. A child practically. A very young person. Her heart plummeted. What if she could have helped?
She said, "When I ran this morning, I saw her here. I thought it was just another person sleeping in the park. There are maybe ten, twelve others. On any morning. I wasn't close. I didn't run close by."
"Okay. I understand."
Was there a criticism in his tone?
Christie pulled the bush out of the way so Colleen could take a look at the victim's face. She stooped down to look closely, freezing at what she saw. Then she stood, backed up, holding her arms around herself. She hated it that her knees went weak. She said, "I knew her."
"Who is she?"
"Jamilla Washington. She and her family came to the center when I worked there." Memory flooded Colleen as she looked more closely at the beautiful young face. She had adored this child. Everyone had. The parents were like movie stars, they were so beautiful. And they drank, oh yes, Colleen remembered that perfectly well. Parents who drank and who left their kids alone, well, that hit home for her, she'd been there. She kept looking at the girl.
"You're sure?" Christie asked.
"It's Jamilla. She was memorable. Some people are simply special and this one was. I could almost say" She began to cry. She blinked away her tears and paused before finishing her sentence. "Angelic."
Even in death the child commanded something. Nobody moved away. The people in the crowd murmured among themselves or just stood there, patiently waiting for the body to be taken away. The vigil for Jamilla Washington had begun.
© Kathleen George
A WEEK IN SUMMER, a short story by the author on Amazon Shorts for new story material featuring Colleen Greer, the new detective of AFTERIMAGE