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The Body Mafia
By Stacy Dittrich
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2010 Stacy Dittrich
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Are you ready for this one, CeeCee?"
My good friend and fellow detective, Jeff Cooper, stuck his head into the doorway of my office. Coop wore his trademark grin, and his blue eyes were sparkling. Married to the boss, Captain Naomi Cooper, Coop was our division comedian. We were all detectives in the Major Crimes Division of the Richland Metropolitan Police Department in Mansfield, Ohio. I, Sergeant CeeCee Gallagher, was working diligently on a rape case when Coop interrupted.
"If it's the one about the retarded guy in the pool, you already told it to me yesterday," I said, referring to Coop's endless jokes.
"No, it's not a joke." He walked into my office and sat down in one of the chairs facing my desk.
"Spit it out. I'm busy on the Taylor rape case."
"You might as well put it aside. You and I are headed down to Bunker Hill Road. A lady was driving south toward State Route 97 and a buzzard dropped a hand on her car."
I stopped shuffling papers and looked at him. "A what?"
I quickly caught on. "Coop, I don't have time for this ..."
"I told you, CeeCee, it's not a joke. The lady was driving and said she saw a couple of buzzards on the road chewing on something. She thought maybe it was a deadpossum. When she got close enough, it scared the birds off the road, and one of them kept the chew toy in his little claws when they flew up. Or are they called talons?" His hands rose up, mimicking claws. "Apparently, the damn thing couldn't hold it very well, because he dropped it right on this woman's windshield, and yes, it was a human hand. Needless to say, she freaked out and wound up smashing into a tree."
"Is she okay?" I asked, knowing I'd have done the same thing.
"Yup, physically, but you can imagine how you'd feel if you just left a shitty day at work and then had a hand dropped on your car."
"Since you haven't mentioned it, I'm assuming the mystery of where the hand came from is still going on?" I couldn't imagine a living person who recently had their hand cut off would leave it lying around for the damn buzzards.
"The uniforms are walking the woods right now, looking for either a body or other parts. We've already called the hospitals to see if someone came in missing a lefty. Maybe from an industrial accident, or a car mechanic-who knows? But none of them have."
He ran his fingers through his thick dark hair. The "uniforms" Coop referred to were the uniformed patrolmen who drove marked cruisers and worked out on the road. In the southern part of Richland County, the woods around the area where this had occurred were very dense. I was sure there had to be at least fifteen to twenty uniforms down there. I started shoving files into my briefcase while Coop stood and waited impatiently, tapping a pen on my desk.
"You should ask your dad about the time someone found an entire arm in the middle of the road. I guess some motorcycle guy was drunk off his ass and wrecked. Tore his arm clean off. He got back on the bike and drove away like that."
"I don't need to ask. Uncle Max probably took a picture of it, and I've probably seen it already." I grabbed my keys, ready to leave.
My father, Mitch Gallagher, and his brothers Max and Mike were old-timers with the department-all lieutenants. Each supervised a different shift of road patrol; my father was in charge of the night shift. I wasn't joking about the picture, either. My uncles, thanks to their morbid sense of humor, had albums full of homicide pictures and body parts that they passed around to my cousins and me during family functions. Needless to say, growing up surrounded by cops made for a less-than-normal childhood. My father's other brother, Matt, was shot on duty in the late 1970s and had to retire early. He lives in North Carolina.
"Yeah, I'm sure you have. God knows I've seen Max's album plenty ... Don't remember an arm in the road, though. Of course, he probably has ten to fifteen different albums of that shit."
I laughed and shook my head as I walked out of my office behind Coop. We were going to ride to the scene in Coop's car, and after I had gotten into the passenger seat, I looked at my watch.
"Damn," I muttered.
"What?" Coop started the car and began pulling out of the parking lot.
"I need to call Michael and tell him I'm going to be late." I pulled my cell phone out of my briefcase.
My husband, Michael Hagerman, was a supervising agent with the FBI in Cleveland. We had met several years ago when we worked together on a case. We didn't have any children together, but my two daughters from my previous marriage, six-year-old Isabelle and thirteen-year-old Selina, would be getting home from school soon. Michael needed to be there to get them off the bus. My ex-husband, Eric Schroeder, a uniformed officer with Richland Metro, and I share custody of the girls. Michael's seven-year-old son, Sean, stays with us every other weekend. It took several rings before Michael answered his phone. I explained the circumstances.
"I'm still up here in Cleveland, Cee. There's no way I'll get home in time."
"All right, I guess I'll have to call Eric and see if he or Jordan can do it. How come you're still up there?"
"I'm up to my ass in this case I've been working. I don't know when I'll be home." He sighed into the phone. "I wouldn't wait up if I were you."
I imagined Michael rubbing his temple with his free hand, which he sometimes did when he was stressed. The thought of not seeing him tonight upset me. I loved him more than I could ever explain, and even regular workdays seemed too long until we saw each other. I imagined his handsome face, which put most famous actors to shame. His thick brown hair, bright green eyes, and dark complexion made even the most masculine of men take a second look. Not to mention his tall, muscular body. I myself was no slouch. I modeled in New York right out of high school and still maintained my tall, athletic body and long, blonde hair. My large chest and green eyes still turned quite a few heads, but I had just as much insecurity as anybody else. To be with a man like Michael upped my daily self-maintenance to an entirely new level. He says I'm nuts, and I say, "Not all of us were born perfect, buddy."
After I finished talking to Michael, I called Eric's house and spoke to his wife, Jordan, who like everyone else is a uniformed officer with the department. On her days off, she had no problem picking the girls up and keeping them at her house until I got home. Crisis solved.
"What's Michael working on?" Coop asked as he drove toward Bunker Hill Road.
"I haven't a clue. Normally he talks about his cases, but not this one. It's some Secret Squirrel, hush-hush investigation. If he doesn't discuss it, I don't bother to ask."
It was another twenty minutes before we pulled into the scene of the crashed car and cutoff hand. By then, most everyone had finished up with their duties and was getting ready to leave. I saw our crime-laboratory van parked by the wrecked car and thought that would be as good a place to start as any. One of the laboratory technicians was loading evidence bags into the back. It was Bob English.
"Whatcha got for me, Bob?" I peered inside the van.
"Hey, CeeCee. Not a lot, but what I do have is freakin' weird. Here, look at this." He pulled out a plastic, Tupperware-looking box and opened the blue lid, exposing the hand.
"Oh my God!" I turned my head away and, for entertainment purposes, made a loud, gagging sound.
The hand looked like a Halloween prop-except for the smell. Most of the flesh had been chewed away by the buzzards and probably other animals. Some flesh was still attached, but the protruding metacarpals were very evident. It was large enough that I took a wild guess and assumed the hand was from a male. The pinky finger was the only digit in decent shape.
"Are you going to be able to print the pinky, Bob?" I held the box up and looked underneath to see if I could see through the plastic.
"I should be able to."
"If you get anything back on it, let me know ASAP. Where's the female that was driving the car?"
"A uniformed sergeant took her home. She was upset as hell, as you can imagine."
"I needed to talk to her!" I started to get angry.
"Relax, CeeCee," Coop interrupted. "I talked to her on the phone, which is how I knew what happened. I told her when she settles down, we'll be over to talk to her more extensively."
"How do we know she isn't some whack-job that cut off her husband's hand and drove around with it? Maybe he's in pieces somewhere else."
"We don't, and the uniforms found nothing, but if you want to start walking the woods looking for her husband's severed penis, be my guest," he quipped. "I do believe I'll pass on that offer."
Once Coop and I had gotten all the necessary information and taken our own photographs, there was little else for us to do until the fingerprint came back from the lab. Or until someone showed up wanting their hand back.
We got the results on the fingerprint back the next day. The pinky print belonged to forty-two-year-old Daniel Huber, address unknown. When Coop and I tracked down family members, we learned that none of them had spoken to Daniel in years. After Daniel had battled a drug addiction that included stealing from his parents, the family gave up on him and he became homeless. And now handless.
It was while Coop and I were sitting in his office pondering our next course of action that our captain, Naomi Cooper, came in. A beautiful woman by most standards, Naomi had transformed her severe businesswoman look over the years. Now, with her dark blonde hair falling loosely on her shoulders, and exchanging dark suits for the khaki pants and light blue blouse, she made Coop's eyes light up. Naomi was a very close friend of mine, but that hadn't always been the case. When we'd both started in major crimes, it was like oil and water: the darkest sides of our personalities continuously clashed. After several close calls on the job (meaning near death), Naomi and I learned to work together and became friends in the process.
"Hey, sweetheart, come over here and give daddy some sugar." Coop puckered out his lips.
Naomi blushed and smiled. "Later at home, knucklehead ..."
"Thank you, Naomi," I interrupted. "If I had to look at his lips for one more second, I believe I might have fainted."
She giggled. "Actually, I just popped in to see what the deal is on the hand. If it amounts to anything, I'll assign your open cases to the other detectives."
I explained to Naomi where we were in the case. She agreed that unless we found the rest of Daniel Huber, there wasn't much more we could do.
This was a short-lived theory, because exactly two days later, the rest of Daniel Huber turned up. It was two o'clock in the morning when Coop called. Michael was still awake, working in his home office, and answered the phone. It took more than several shakes from him to rouse me from the coma I was in. I was only half-awake when he handed me the phone.
"Yeah, it's Gallagher," I whispered, my voice hoarse and scratchy.
"CeeCee, it's Coop. Sorry to call so late, but we found the rest of Daniel Huber."
"I'm assuming, since you're calling me this late, that he's no longer among the living?"
"You assume right. He's got another piece of him missing, too."
"His other hand?" Still lying down, I looked over at the alarm clock on my nightstand.
"Nope ... We think it's his liver."
I sat straight up, now wide-awake. "His liver!"
"Right. Just meet me behind the E&B Market on Fourth Street. That's where he was found about half an hour ago by the garbagemen. I'll fill you in on the details when you get there."
He hung up. I got out of bed and dressed while Michael sat on the bed and watched silently. It was unusual for him to not ask me a million questions when I got called out like this.
"I guess they found the rest of the guy that lost his hand," Michael said. I had given him details of the case earlier.
"It looks like they also took his liver out. Can you believe that?"
"I heard." He stared at the floor.
"Michael? What's the matter with you?" I stopped putting my shoe on and looked at him.
He looked at me with a halfhearted smile. "Nothing. I'm just tired is all."
"Then instead of staying up all night like you have been, why don't you try and get a good night's sleep?"
"Can't." He stood up. "I've got too much work to do."
He walked over and kissed my cheek before heading back downstairs to his office. I merely shook my head. Michael was highly intelligent. He was one of those people whose mind never shuts down, not for a minute. When he was really involved with something, it was hard for him to focus his attention elsewhere. I've learned to live with it, but I had yet to see him as involved as he was now. I didn't bother to say good-bye when I left; he probably wouldn't have heard me anyway.
The E&B Market was on the north side of the city, in the worst neighborhood. The Hot Zone, or THZ, we called it. It was where the Detroit and Chicago drug dealers fought their battles. It was also where we wouldn't be able to find one cooperative witness. In that particular area of town, no one dared to be caught speaking to the police. The ramifications of doing so had in the past proved fatal. Coop had beaten me there and was talking to one of the garbagemen when I arrived.
The entire area behind the market had been cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape, with the county coroner and the crime lab inside the perimeter. The crime lab had erected mobile lights to illuminate the scene. I could see several lab techs hard at work. Some were taking photographs, another was on his hands and knees, and one was carrying evidence bags to the van. One uniformed officer stood just inside the tape. He would be keeping the crime-scene log, documenting every person that went in and out of the crime scene.
Standing on the outside of the tape was a group of uniformed officers, mainly rookies, hoping to get a quick glimpse of blood and gore. There was always a group like this at every homicide scene. We kindly referred to the group as the "pigpen." One rarely saw senior officers in the pigpen. They had seen enough murders and dead bodies in their careers, so they began driving in the opposite direction as soon as a homicide call was put out. I felt their pain.
As each year of my career passed, with each homicide, I consistently found myself saying, "This is it, this is the last one. After this I'm transferring to the traffic division." But I kept plugging away in Major Crimes. Once, after I had investigated a serial child murderer, I went so far as to fill out a transfer form and give it to Naomi. She wadded it up right in front of me, threw it in the garbage, and told me to get back to work.
Walking into the crime scene, I gave the officer in charge of the log my name and rank. The body was a good twenty-five feet away from the entrance. The closer I got, the more I felt my stomach flip. I don't care how many homicides a cop has gone to; if he's human, he'll always react.
Daniel Huber was lying on his back, his face appearing to look directly up at the sky. His eyes were open, and he was completely naked. What drew my attention was the part of his body that was opened up-his right side. Of course, there was also the stump at the end of his left arm where his hand used to be. Whoever had filleted him almost cut him in half. I immediately noticed the lack of blood-not a drop. A cut like his would have bled out a sizeable amount, but the ground was dry. I waited until Coop was finished talking to the garbage man before I waved him over.
"Certainly not the prettiest I've seen." I nodded at the body. "Explain to me how, out of that mess, you could tell his liver was missing."
"One of the first uniforms on the scene was a female who had completed her first year of nursing school before she decided to go to the police academy, Carla Reynolds. Have you heard of her?"
I shook my head.
"Anyway, she told me her opinion when they called. The coroner confirmed it. He doesn't know if anything else is missing, but he said definitely the liver."
"Witnesses?" I looked around at citizens that had gathered in the alley outside of the tape.
"Please. Here in THZ? You know better than that. I've got uniforms knocking on doors trying to get statements, but the majority of people won't even open them." The lines in his face deepened. "Basically, the garbage truck pulled up behind the building, and there was the body. They didn't pass anyone or see any cars. This is going to be one of those 'most difficult' cases, I think."
"I think you're right, Coop."
The next several hours were spent knocking on doors, taking statements, talking to the officers who were first on the scene-including Carla Reynolds-and taking photographs for our own file. Once the autopsy was performed on Daniel Huber, we would know more. Unfortunately, that would take several days, if not a week. The crime lab didn't recover much: cigarette butts next to the body that could've come from anyone and several of the full garbage bags, to name the most important.
Daniel Huber, according to the coroner, had been dead for at least four days. An important bit of information the coroner told me was that whoever removed the liver had pretty decent medical experience-they had to, or they'd have risked damaging the organ. The downside is that we were dealing with a secondary crime scene, merely a "body dump," the site of the actual murder still unknown. Hence the lack of blood.
Excerpted from The Body Mafia by Stacy Dittrich Copyright © 2010 by Stacy Dittrich. Excerpted by permission.
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