By Steven Sidor
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2005 Steven Sidor
All rights reserved.
DEAD GIRL SCOUT
The man said he was a sailor. He wore a Navy peacoat, unbuttoned, and a white, V-necked T-shirt underneath. Blue slacks, shiny black shoes, but no sailor's hat. Gia guessed he could be a sailor like he said. The snow fell heavier. It blew down the front of the Hotel Hippolyte in icy bursts.
"Let's go around the corner."
They walked around the corner of the building for some protection from the weather and curious eyes. He showed her he had money. He bounced the bill roll in his outstretched palm. He wore bike gloves. The man who said he was a sailor paused under a bright light overhanging the back door to a bar. Gia noticed acne scars on his face. His eyes were green and didn't look real, but people wore colored contact lenses and Gia guessed he was one of those.
"You ain't a cop, sailor man?"
"Me? No, I'm no cop. Are you?"
"Nah-uh. I'm Gia."
"Hi, Gia. You have a place we can go? A room?"
Gia decided she didn't like his smile. Straight white teeth and Gia could tell he had a face that changed with how he felt. Or how he wanted you to feel. An animated face. Gia had one too. But the sailor gave off a bad vibe and Gia said no to the idea of her room. This sailor was going to be quick and outside in the alley. She wasn't spending too much time with him. She wasn't taking him into the hotel either.
"We do it right here. Down where that doorway goes into the brick wall. See? We do it there or nowhere."
"It's so cold."
"Not with Gia it isn't. C'mon. What you want tonight? I bet I know."
The man stuffed his hands into his pockets. Gia watched the money disappear.
"Hey, it'll be good, sailor. Gia satisfies."
"We have to be in a room. Not out here in the snowstorm."
"You ain't cold, sailor. Coat's all open. And look." She brushed her fingers on his cheek. "You warm. Gia's getting warm too. The doorway's nice and dark. Nobody looks in there."
They held hands as Gia led him to the narrow gap where a brown steel door was chained shut and empty wine bottles stood in paper sacks. The man looked up and down the alley.
Snowflakes were sticking in the man's blond buzz cut. Gia could see his pink scalp and veins like pipe cleaners twisted at his temples. He was chewing gum. Gia smelled mint when he laughed. A pretend laugh like a salesman uses.
"Gia, Gia. Today's your lucky day."
The man turned and walked back to the street. Through the falling snow Gia saw him go north half a block, and she continued to watch until the storm erased him, finally, from her view.
Girl Scout Beach
"Who found the body?"
"A jogger. Lady's over there."
Detective Eliza Ochoa followed the patrolman's gloved finger to a slim-hipped redhead wearing fluorescent lime sweats. She was talking to another uniformed cop. They were about twenty yards uphill, out of the wind, huddled inside the opening of a tunnel. The tunnel connected the city park to the trails along Figg's Pond and the river. Eliza turned and started walking. The patrolman frowned when the detective angled away from the witness.
Eliza wanted to take a look at the playground first.
Tornado slide. Two swing sets. Red, white, and blue jungle bars shaped like a rocket. Between the rocket and the river, a pair of gold-jacketed men moved together, then apart, pulling a tape measure.
The Booth City crime techs had finished taking their first set of photos in the dim morning twilight. They had to hang an extra spotlight on the rocket's nose. Its brilliance fanned into the soft gray murk. Eliza stepped over a half-dozen pale blue extension cords snaking along to the curbside and the Crime Scene van. The techs were busy recording distances around the body, how far it came to rest from the street, the water, and the trail.
Dr. Lu, the Medical Examiner, did her work from the morgue and rarely made an appearance at a crime scene. The detectives would need a good reason to bring her to the river.
A body's length from the foot of the rocket, on a gentle slope curving down to the water, knelt Tom Gandy, the assistant ME. His black bag gaped next to him like a mouth he had to feed. He looked happy. Eliza knew it was Gandy's game face, always smiling over the dead, and it meant nothing about the circumstances. He motioned for her to come closer. The spotlight neutralized colors, pushed them into camps of black and white. Gandy had wax hands. A strip of mud guarding the river behind him shined like congealed grease. Eliza's eyes locked on the dark mound he huddled over.
"Morning, Detective Ochoa."
She took the pair of gloves he offered. Gandy pulled aside the rubber cloth he'd placed over the victim.
Eliza's partner, Detective Ike Horner, walked out of the gloom, ducking under one of the swing sets and swallowing the last of his gas-station coffee. He had arrived earlier but waited for Eliza before going over the scene. The patrolmen who were first to respond ran down the basics for him. He went for a quick look at the body. When Gandy pulled up in the ME wagon, Ike pointed him in the right direction. After standing around watching the crime techs shoot their film, he climbed back into his car to warm up.
Eliza could smell the menthol cough drop in Ike's mouth. She heard him cracking it between his back teeth. His nose was running, and he dabbed at it with a handkerchief. He put the handkerchief back in his pocket and started drumming his fingers against the bottom of the empty paper cup he was still holding in his other hand.
"We got a polar bear?" he said.
Eliza and Gandy were studying the victim.
Facedown. Nude. Shoulder-length brunette hair. Lividity marks discoloring the left side. The body had been moved at least once.
"Okay?" Gandy asked, white teeth flashing.
Eliza said, "Sure. Go ahead."
Gandy rolled the body onto its side. They saw it was a naked woman.
"She's really cold. I can't give you a time until we get her back under the lights."
"Don't know how those people take a swim when it's freezing like this," Ike said, continuing the thought he'd been having when he walked up.
"You skinny-dip with a hole in your chest this big?" Gandy asked.
Ike leaned over the assistant ME's shoulder. "Guess I'd sink pretty quick."
"Wonder if she got her money's worth." Eliza nodded at the dead woman's obviously enhanced breasts, which had remained firm despite the circumstances. The detective pressed her latex-covered fingertip against a small tattoo, a black unicorn, printed above the victim's left nipple. No smudging. At least her ink was real.
Ike clucked his tongue. "Why would a young woman want to go and do that?"
"Equal opportunity," Eliza said. "Everybody's got a tattoo these days."
"No, her ... ah, augmentation." Ike sucked in another cough drop, stuffed his naked hands into his leather jacket.
"You don't get the tit job?" Gandy asked, incredulous.
"Evidently, I don't."
"Really?" Gandy grinned like he was enjoying a joke Ike had missed.
"I'm serious. Always looks like Frankenstein's bride. Word implant gives me chills. More science fiction than medicine."
"Yeah, well, other men get chills too," Eliza said.
Gandy continued to inspect the body. "Ligature marks on the arms and ankles. Take a look at her lower back. What would you say those were?" He kept the victim on her side. It was easy because the dead woman was skeletally thin.
Wind grabbed the frigid mist churning over the Rood River's #4 Dam and shoved it right into their faces. Higher up the beach, past the playground, nearer the dunes and in the grasses, the sand was still soft, but under the victim it was as hard-packed as cement. Twisting the body left no impressions.
"Those scars? Somebody's been cuttin' on her pretty good," Ike said. He rubbed two knuckles along his chin. Water droplets sparkled in the day-old, salt-and-pepper stubble. Normally, he kept himself meticulously groomed. Clean-shaven from the neck up, his head too, the only exception was a trim military mustache. But vanity went to the wayside when his beeper chirped predawn and running an electric razor meant waking the whole house. Short on sleep and not enough time for a long, soapy wet shave. He wasn't sure he trusted his hands this morning either, after he looked at them.
Gandy nodded. "I'd say a small pocketknife maybe, or like a fruit knife. Short blade, probably. Or a long blade and he used only the tip. But she would've had to hold pretty still for that. I count five distinct groupings." He pointed with his elbow. "Couple fresh ones down there on her hip. See?"
Ike searched along his collar until he found the lanyard attached to his glasses.
The hip bones were pointed, stretching against the pale skin even in death. On the fleshier side, above the mottled left buttocks, Ike saw the wounds. Like a row of crusty black caterpillars — four slices, roughly vertical and a thumbnail apart. A thicker slash cut diagonally through the bunch, making a crude tally of five. The older scars were like that too. Notches.
Gandy turned the body back on the sand. "Could be those are self-inflicted, given they're superficial and clustered. The stages of healing differ. But they're in weird spots." Gandy pulled his arm around his back. "An itch you can't scratch."
Eliza crouched down level with the dead woman's waist. "How about this? She's a real mess down here. That a knife too?"
"Same as the chest, maybe. Torn up. Probably looking at the forced insertion of a sharp object. We gotta ask Lu to take a peek. But figure the victim didn't do that to herself. And I'd be surprised if she wasn't sexually assaulted prior to the trauma. We'll run a kit for smears. But the river ..."
"Where's all the blood?" Ike asked. He took a pen from his pocket and jabbed it into the sand.
The pen made a shallow scrape.
"Maybe the cutting was postmortem," Eliza offered.
Ike shook his head. "She didn't tie herself up. Why tie up a dead girl? Unless you're tying her to something, a cinder block or what have you, guarantee she stays on the bottom. If that were the case we'd have some rope here. Where's the rope?" He seemed satisfied when no one answered. "You tie her up so you can do what you will." He considered that thought for a moment, then asked, "She didn't drown?"
Gandy raised his shoulders. "We'll check her lungs, but it doesn't look like a drowning. That chest wound is destructive enough to be fatal. Same deal with the amount of bleeding related to the genital area. There's a cut artery in her thigh, not even considering what's internal, so ... I mean either one or a combo would do it."
"Could somebody have carved her up after she washed in?" Eliza wasn't ready to let go of the idea that the woman had been dead before her flesh was desecrated. Wishful thinking, she told herself. But she also wanted to rule out the possibility of two sources for the injuries.
Gandy said, "My feeling is no, the mutilation was proximate to her death. She's practically bled out. Blood loss happened at some other location. Maybe in the river."
Ike squatted and brushed the point of his pen into the victim's black hair. "She hasn't been in the river at all. Hair would be frozen. I don't see a towel. Crime techs pick anything up?"
"Box of pretzels, some cigarette butts. Found a needle in the bushes. Nothing she might've dried her hair with," Gandy said. The corners of his eyes crinkled. "The needle was old, been on the ground for a while. Not promising."
"It's a dump then?" Ike asked.
"Looks like," Gandy said. He shut his bag.
Eliza nodded in agreement. "I don't see any drag marks. He was strong enough to carry her. We'll need to be careful about footprints. But there's nothing nearby except ours. So he swept after himself. He's thinking about us, at least."
Ike said, "I'm with you all on that aspect of the situation."
The side of Eliza's mouth turned downward in mild amusement. "Your approval means so much." She stood up.
"I know. Weight of my experience speaks volumes."
Eliza looked for his smile but didn't find it. Until the last month or two, if someone had asked her, she would've told them her partner was good-tempered and philosophical about his job. But he'd changed. One minute he was cracking jokes, warm and content, the next he'd take your head off at the shoulders. A real bear. Half the time he looked glassy-eyed, like he was verging on a winter slumber. She'd catch him staring off into nothing. Spaced-out. She attributed his grumbling to quitting cigarettes. But he'd kicked at the end of summer. The only difference she noticed then was his clothes smelled better. She couldn't imagine him exercising — but when he lost a few pounds, she was thinking, Okay, good for Ike, he's doing something positive for himself.
But that wasn't it. She was even prepared to blame the bad weather that hit town after the holidays. Ike couldn't let a snowflake go by without complaint. But his moodiness seemed deeper, as if this new outlook might be permanent.
If he was going through a midlife crisis, she wished he'd get through it fast.
So they could move on.
Eliza motioned to the patrol cop. "Okay, Kendicki, tell them to bag her." She snapped off the gloves. Eliza had long elegant fingers; the nails were buffed round and clearpolished. No wedding ring. She was average height, pushing forty. Her caramel skin had an undertone of gold. Her hair was dark, short. On this chilly morning at the riverside, she wore a burgundy wool beret and matching scarf, an overcoat of camel hair. She'd been a detective for twelve years. Ike was the only cop in the department with a more reliable network of snitches. He'd come to Homicide from the Vice Squad. Eliza made her name collaring midlevel street crew managers over in Gang Crimes.
Partnered for a year, they were solid investigators, as good as any in the city.
Nobody bird-dogged their investigations and that certainly helped.
"We talking to the redhead now?" Ike said.
"Why, you need a date?"
"Jamila's always telling me I work too hard. Go get a hobby."
"Like learning how to walk again?"
Ike laughed and turned up his collar. He was reading a bronze city plaque mounted to a tree trunk on his left. "Kendicki, get tape put up along the Girl Scout Beach here. Follow my finger, okay? That willow there, got it? Okay, from there. And right to the edge of this walk. Make sure nobody messes up anything till Crime Scene sweeps it."
"The Brookies called and said they're sending over two squads. Worried about traffic once the morning rush kicks in. That'll free us up."
"Good man. Suppose rich folks gotta get to work too. But the park belongs to us. Just keep the B-town boys up on the cobblestones where they belong."
Eliza was ready to start walking. The temperature, below freezing overnight, was on the rise. But Eliza couldn't feel it. It was just plain cold. Another storm front headed for the city. The forecast predicted rain changing to freezing rain and snow. Heavy snow expected around dinnertime. While Eliza pondered the weather report, cold drops began to fall. She watched them pock a snowdrift blown against the footing of the tornado slide.
Two attendants from the Medical Examiner's Office rolled a stretcher on the curve of pedestrian trail before wheeling around the playground equipment and onto the beach.
One of them, a twiggy man named Lopes, had worked for the ME as long as Eliza had been a detective. He was unzipping a body bag. The other was an American Indian who wore his hair in a net, a loose braid coiled underneath. Eliza didn't know him. She watched the Indian gaze out at the rushing Rood. The open water was moving fast with snowmelt from the hills. Its path snaked south. Downriver, at a distance from the dam, ice closed in and formed a narrowing channel. The latest precipitation flooded the channel, spilling over the midriver ice, eating at it from above and below and staining the thinned layers cloudy green. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Bone Factory by Steven Sidor. Copyright © 2005 Steven Sidor. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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