Case 1: one BaD Day after another
The crowd of police uniforms in the hallway parted as I came up the stairs. A body lay across the threshold, half-in and half-out of my office. From the amount of blood and the fact that no one seemed worried about him, I figured he was dead. A difficult assessment on only one cup of coffee, I know, but I am a detective, after all.
Double-parked cop cars, with their red and blue overheads flashing, sat in a disorganized mess on Bank Street in front of my office. I’d arrived, late, at half past eight in the morning. Crap. The day already resembled a disaster, despite the warm May weather. Case Closed Investigations operates out of the third floor of a red brick building above a diner. The aroma of bacon, pancakes, Quebec maple syrup, and hash browns hit me when I opened the door, and my stomach growled to remind me that, once again, I’d rushed out without breakfast.
A buzz of voices came from upstairs just as my mobile rang with its old-fashioned phone tone.
“Baker Somerset,” I’d answered.
The burred voice on the other end of the mobile matched one from upstairs. “Where are you, lass?” Angus MacIntyre calls me ‘lass’ quite often. His voice is like a barometer. I can always tell his mood by the way he says it. Today it sounded as cold as one of our Canadian winters.
“On the stairs. Coming up!”
His grey head had appeared over the wrought-iron banister as he yelled at me. “Where in blue-blazes have you been? Why are you so late?” He tossed down a package containing a Tyvek suit. “Suit up. Your friend, Mr. Manning, already contaminated the area. Why don’t you remind your friends not to trample through the scene of a crime?”
The voice inside my head said, Uh-oh, Joe had committed cardinal sin number one in Angus’ book. And, why had he been up here with the body?
Taking the oak stairs two at a time, my shoes echoed in the stairwell. At the top, I slipped the booties over my shoes and said, “I stopped to get my morning coffee. I presume you’re here because of this body in my doorway since you no longer go to crime scenes, what with being an inspector and all that high-powered stuff.”
Angus sounded testy this morning. Most days, in public, he treats me with professional respect because of the time we’d worked together at Scotland Yard. I sensed the shooting in my office upset him because he moonlights as my godfather. As a result, he tends to get over-protective.
A tall, lean, young man in his late twenties lay on the floor. Both his eyes and his mouth were wide open in surprise. In one quick moment he’d realized he was about to die. Bodily fluids joined the blood spatter on the door, the doorframe, the wall, and soaked the beige carpet of my office, creating a disgusting mess. Crap. Cleanup will cost me a bundle.
“Who’s that? And how the hell did he get into my office?”
“That’s what I’m waiting for you to tell me, Ms. Somerset,” he snapped. “And back to my question, where were you all morning?”
All morning? What time did he start work? Half past eight is late?
“I already said. Getting my caffeine fix. My coffee pot broke this morning, so I made a stop at Collette’s Café. Maybe we talked for a while, too. Any more questions?”
“I’m presuming you have a witness. Of course you do. Why do I even ask?”
The cheerfulness of Collette’s sparkling red and white pastry shop evaporated. “Of course, I do.” I promised to come to headquarters to sign a statement about my morning activities. Then, I bent down to get a close-up look at the body. “I’ve never seen him before, and I have no idea how he got into my office.”
Angus looked me squarely in the eye. “You locked up last night, right?”
“For heaven’s sake. Of course I did.”
“Keep your red-headed temper under control. I don’t need more aggravation this morning.”
It hit me. My late arrival may have kept me from wearing a bullet hole myself. Goosebumps broke out on my arms, and the bottom fell out of my stomach. Bullets, if they don’t kill you outright, hurt like hell. I know, firsthand.
The coroner and his forensic crew arrived, interrupting Angus’ rant. He examined the body and took its temperature while his crew photographed, dusted the door and office for fingerprints, and took samples of various unmentionable body fluids.
A young, female constable walked over to us and removed her facemask. She handed Angus a paper evidence bag and said, “Inspector, here’s the contents of his pockets.” Angus kept his facemask on as he examined the contents and then passed the bag to me. His displeasure showed in the growing scowl on his face.
The dead man had travelled light. The bag contained only three items—all smeared with blood—a big wad of money, a lock pick set, and a business card from Case Closed Investigations. Blimey, where did he get that?
“Let me guess. He opened my door himself, and robbery doesn’t seem like the motive. Come to think of it, why are you here before me?”
He signed a paper for someone as he spoke. “We received a nine-one-one call this morning at five to eight from Manning downstairs. He said he heard shots fired up here. Poor Joe. He must be pacing the floor. “We took his statement already. I’m here before you because I didn’t waste time, stopping for coffee.”
I ran my eyes over the body. I didn’t need my years of experience seeing corpses to know the cause of death. “Looks like he took two rounds in the back with a large calibre weapon and bled out.”
“No kidding, Sherlock.”
As a mini-apology for his gruffness he said, “One of the officers can get whatever you need out of there.”
My notebook, fountain pen, trusty Swiss Army knife, torch, mobile, and other real essentials like latex gloves and a baggie full of dog biscuits were in the tote on my shoulder. Taking Angus up on his offer, I asked for my phone messages and a few items from the bottom drawer of my desk: a bag of chocolate covered pretzels, a paperback thriller, and a pair of high heels in case someone asked me out somewhere fancy. They say hope springs eternal. A female constable marked each one down, in case my pretzels turned out to be an important clue. There were three phone calls. All hang-ups.
The coroner came over, pulled down his facemask, and removed his gloves. Then he informed Angus that it appeared death by gunshots in the back occurred in the past thirty to ninety minutes. However, an official statement depended on the pathologist’s autopsy. Angus, not in the mood to put up with obvious statements, retorted that five to eight and two bullets in the back worked for him.
While Angus talked to some of his men, I used my mobile to snap pictures of the dead guy before the morgue crew bagged him. There was nothing else to learn here, so I gave them back their fancy suit, and said good-bye.
“You stay out of this, Baker!” Angus yelled at my back as I departed.
I gave him an “as if that’s going to happen” wave and headed down the stairs. Someone shot that young man at my door, for heaven’s sake. Of course I would investigate. Besides, it irks me when he calls me “Baker.” He knows I hate it. Who but my parents would name a daughter that? What if I wanted to be a chef? Most people just call me Somerset.
Memories overwhelmed me. The pain of multiple bullets tearing through my muscles, nicking organs, and shattering bone. Screaming; terrible inhuman screams. Silence descending around me as I hit the floor. No adrenaline rushed in to blot out the pain. Knowledge rushed in—the knowledge that if I could die, the pain would end.
Memories are different from experiencing the pain, but they also hurt. I went into the living room and put a CD on. I’m not what you would call religious, but the chanting of the Benedictine Monks soothes and mends me. I sat in the brown leather armchair, pulled my thick, faux grizzly-bear blanket over me, leaned back, and put my feet up on the ottoman. I closed my eyes, concentrating on the chanting, and waited for the dark memories in my head to fade and go back where they came from.
It takes less time, now, to keep those memories at bay, but surprises like this one can put me right back into my nightmare.
When I’d opened the file folder, my memories of the Chaffee case had rushed in and made the blood in my veins feel like ice water. I needed to examine the papers. As I calmed, curiosity surged. A million questions raced through my mind. I got up and returned to the table.