The Killing Face - Chapter 1
NOTE: This is the next installment of The Killing Arc series, following on the adventures of Rick Killing.
Monday, July 12, 1999 11:51pm
The cop’s belly stretches his uniform tight. White t-shirt peeks through the gaps between buttons. He’s large and round. He uses that mass and the weight of the badge clipped to his breast to stand his ground. It states his name is R. Alberts. I sign my name into the logbook and square myself to him. He doesn’t give any indication of moving aside. “You mind?” I say, not so much as a question. This is my crime scene. My first one. Hostility colors his eyes. The emotion is visible even in the dark. “Or what? You going to lawyer up and cry if I don’t?” There’s no witty or sarcastic reply at the ready on my tongue. Comebacks are not my strong suit and that pisses me off even more. How long before these people get over it? “Hey. Alberts. Stop busting on him maybe, yeah?” Griffin Toms, my partner, appears behind the hostile cop standing watch at my crime scene. “You can’t be a dick everyday, can you? Oh wait, yes you can. It’s your name.” Pulling back the yellow scene tape, Griff waves me through, ignoring the muttered responses from the cop. For good measure, he reaches up and flicks Officer Richard Alberts’ hat off. It lands in the dust with a puff. “Dick,” is all he says and chuckles. I keep silent and follow my partner. He glances over his shoulder as we walk. “You going to let the lifers keep walking over you like that, Detective Thaddeus Archibald White?” “I’ve told you a dozen times, call me Arch.” My legs are longer than his and I pass with ease. “I know, but come on. Young, proud, black detective, named Tad White. You’re just a tad white. Tell me that’s not funny.” Griffin laughs, a high-pitched giggle that sounds odd coming from a mouth just months away from retirement. No one will admit to it, but I’m sure that’s why he got me as a partner. He’s close enough to the end of the tunnel that he doesn’t give a rip any more. As evidenced by Officer Dick Alberts, there are still plenty who do. “Yeah, well…” I reply. “You have two first names.” It sounds lame even to me. Damn. Ahead an orange cone emerges from the darkness. It’s one of those traffic cones used in road construction all over the country. Yellow scene tape is knotted to the top, stretching forward to the next cone. Beyond that one a third sits. This is our path in and out of the crime scene. Someone is holding tight to the book on this one and I wonder why. Griffin pauses next to me. He doesn’t say anything at first, then: “Tell me what you know and what you do.” I take my time, remembering other tips he’s given me since I walked through the station doors last month. We’re at the outer edge of the parking lot for an abandoned factory of some type. Even though it’s almost midnight, the sound of constant highway traffic drifts over us, coming along with the cars on the Stevenson Expressway rolling out of Chicago. The city of Cicero is rarely quiet, whether from traffic, planes on entry to Midway Airport, or the shouts of violence, despair and hopelessness. I’ve never quite seen a place like Cicero, but then again, my life existed mostly in the small towns of South Carolina. That was before all this. Ahead of us two identical buildings are nestled close together, creating an enclosed courtyard between them. A dry fountain - covered in graffiti - stands between the parking lot and courtyard, a forgotten sentry. Halogen lights have been set up in the courtyard, just on the other side of the fountain. In the glare of those lights I can see a single forensic tech moving with care, snapping pictures and making notes. “Single homicide, male, early 50s.” This I got from dispatch on the way out. I snap a glance at my watch. “Scene entry at 11:51. First responder Officer Alberts stationed at front, logbook present, two sign-ins, plus mine.” Griff stays silent, letting me process in my own way. He’s giving me a lot of rope, either because he believes I need it or want it. Or he simply doesn’t care any more. “Marked entry, leading in. Location is between two buildings, site of…” I stop. “What did this place used to be?” “I think Middle Plains Plastics, or something like that. It’s been closed near two decades now.” I nod and something triggers in my brain. “Why is there only one tech? Where’s the rest of his crew?” “You’ll find out in a bit. Keep on here.” Moving towards the fountain with even steps, I continue. “Technician Johnny Nayaki from Evidence Group Services South present. He’s capturing the scene from all compass points. Did he do the separator shot yet?” Griff barks a short laugh. “Dare you to ask him.” By now we’re within earshot of Nayaki. His black hair is streaked with shots of gray, pulled back into a ponytail. Round, silver-framed reading glasses are perched on top of his head. He spares us a quick glance, then digs into his belt pack and removes a single sheet of paper. With efficient movement, he crumples it up and throws it at me. “Your sheet, detective.” I unroll the paper and glance at it. Neat lettering provides dry details about the scene from a forensic standpoint: Time, date, temperature, address and such. The first picture he took should have been this sheet to separate it from others but I’m guessing he uses a new card for each case. “That’s still called a fanny pack, you know,” Griff says, taunting him. Johnny switches out lenses on his camera, flipping us the bird in the process. He doesn’t say anything. A car sits a dozen yards off to our right, a late model Mercedes. The door is hanging open, dome light still glowing. "Vehicle present, VIN and tags will be traced for ownership. I’m thinking the victim’s. He parked here and…” “Don’t speculate,” Griff says, cutting me off. “Observe the scene and note only the facts. Form a theory based on what exists, don’t make what exists fit into a theory you’ve created.” “Gotcha.” I turn my attention to the body. “Victim is African-American, dark suit, lying prone on his side, facing away from us. No visible murder weapon from this angle. Signs of struggle in the dirt. Identity unknown at this time.” I step around, taking care to stay wide of Johnny as he snaps his mid-range shots. My eyes track along the ground surrounding the body, looking for anything that seems out of place. I’ve only held my detective’s shield - my tin - for a month so I’m not really sure what ‘out of place’ would even look like, but I try anyway. My heart is beating so loud I swear the other two guys can hear it and my throat is dry. Stay calm, Arch. Don’t let it show. “Coroner will set time of death,” Johnny notes. “But from early indications, the victim has been dead just a couple of hours. There’s some rigor set into the eyelids and neck, the lips, but the rest of his body is still flaccid.” He points to the ground around the body. “You’ll note the numerous footprints. There was a struggle. Due to this, it will be difficult for good impressions to be made. The dirt is too thin and there are very few whole enough to cast.” It looks to me like any other concrete base that’s been left unattended for years. Dust and dirt coat everything, weeds poke through the cracks, some grown several feet high; more than a few of the slab sections have heaved, small-scale tectonic plates of concrete lifting up above their brethren. I nod in response as Johnny continues speaking and I continue my controlled idle around the near-perimeter. The stark glare of the halogens create knifed shadows, turn the scattered drops of blood black on the ground, etching each forgotten rock on the ground in silhouette. When I get to the front side of the body, my eyes move to his face. It’s cast in false shadow and I move my legs to let more light shine on him. My feet stop with a jerk. His eyes are wide open, staring at me in accusation. The tie is clinched tight to his throat. An empty wallet lies near his stomach. His face is twisted in agony. Blood tracks from cracked lips, a busted nose, swollen cheeks. This man has been beaten, and beaten hard, before being strangled with his own tie. Screw Griff’s advice about theory and evidence. I know a mugging when I see it. I also know something else. “That’s Noah Bell.” I blink, slow and steady. Keep calm, Arch. This makes Johnny stop. He lowers the camera and stares at me over the tops of his silver frames. “Sorry, Detective White.” He steps back a respectable distance and starts to fiddle with his camera controls, but I can tell he’s just buying me time. “You okay?” Griffin asks. “Need a second?” For the first time I notice a cup of coffee in his hand. Some detective I am. The smell wafts over me and I wonder how he can drink that stuff at this time. Maybe he’s girding himself for the long night ahead of us. Now I know why this is being done by the book. I nod. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” “If you want to pull back, I can take this one.” “I said I’ll be fine. Let’s just get to work here.” He doesn’t say anything at first, watching me watching the victim. He sips from his coffee and makes a little hissing sound. It must still be hot. “Tell you what. Johnny’s got a lot of stuff left to do. Let’s leave him to it and come back a little later. There’s something else you need to see.” Without another word, Griff spins and starts walking, heading for the back of the courtyard. He passes out of the circle of halogen and disappears into the dark like he was never there. I don’t follow right away. It took me almost a year to get onto the Chicago squad, a year of stress, bad press and far too many legal briefs. I know I’m young for the job, damn near the youngest who has ever held it in this city. I know I’m also less qualified than many others who applied for the vacant position. That doesn’t intimidate me, it makes me more determined. I’m going to prove to everyone that regardless of the lawsuit I filed to get this tin shield, it’s not a badge wasted; that it was never about the racial claims I made, only about getting me into a place I needed to be. I owe it to everyone who stood behind me and those who stood before me as well. I follow in Griff’s wake, giving a backwards glance at the victim, at Noah Bell, the man who won me my tin.