Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday's Chapter featuring Family Honor by Jamie Hill

Family Honor by Jamie Hill

Chapter One

The body was strategically placed in the alley, posed carefully in the same manner as the previous two victims. Knees bent to one side, arms crossed above her head, and her hands clutching a pair of cheap red pom poms. Her uniform skirt and matching vest had once been white and crisp, but were now yellowed from age and blood-soaked. Just like the others.

She might have looked retro chic, like something from the old American Graffiti movie, had it not been for the fact that the woman was fifty if she was a day. That, and the deep slash running from ear to ear, nearly decapitating her. Through the coagulated gore, the faint image of a small red bird was still visible on the vest.

"My high school mascot was a cardinal." Detective Melanie Curtis' gaze took in the scene and surroundings.

Her partner, Henry Stone, snapped pictures in quick succession as he circled the body. "I'll bet you were a cheerleader, too."

"No way. I was a pom pom girl, on the pep squad."

He paused long enough to shoot her a skeptical glance. "And how is that not the same thing?"

Mel shook her head in feigned disgust. "Not the same at all. We did dance routines to music." She saw his eyes light up and before he could spout off something dirty, she shut him down. "Focus, little dude. Get some pictures of her face. My guess is she's a hooker like the last two. We need to show these shots to Skinny Sheila and some of the other girls in Oldtown. If she turned tricks, someone there will recognize her."

"Damn," Stone muttered as he zoomed in on the woman's face. "She's old enough to be my mother. Think she's still hooking?"

"Your mother is, isn't she?" Mel stepped back to avoid the fake punch aimed at her, and grinned. "Just kidding. You know I love your Umma."

"That's right." Stone straightened his shoulders. "Besides, Korean women don't turn tricks." He seemed to rethink his statement and shrugged. "Not since the war ended, anyway. Nowadays they spend their time keeping alive the centuries-old tradition of making kimchee."

Mel screwed up her face. "Fermented cabbage. Remind me not to invite your mom for the holidays again this year."

"She'll be there, and she'll bring kimchee." He studied the body for a moment, then turned to Mel. "Our man is left-handed."

"What?" She blinked, her mind already fast-forwarding to another Christmas of her father bickering with Stone's mother, and celebrating with a bunch of cops that were the closest thing to extended family any of them had. I'm already dreading the holidays that are still months away.

"Left-handed." Stone drew her back to the present. "Our slasher. He's a lefty. See how the mark is deeper on that side of her neck? The knife went like this." He motioned from the right side of her neck to the left.

Mel thought about that as she walked around and stood behind the woman's head. "Unless he cut her from behind." She made the same motion Stone had, using her right hand.

He shook his head. "I don't think so. Write down lefty." He continued to snap photos.

"Whatever." Mel did as he asked. Her partner usually had a keen perception for that kind of stuff, but this time she wasn't so sure.

Commotion behind Stone livened up the sealed-off alley. "Wake up kids, the grown-ups are here."

Mel glanced up to see two crime scene investigators from the Wichita Police Department arrive with their fancy kits. She got along with most everybody in the cop shop, but the CSIs had been hard to live with since the occupation had landed its own television show. "Hey Martin. Hey Zybowski."

The taller of the two investigators towered over height-challenged Stone by nearly a foot. "You know we'll take pictures, Stone," he said derisively.

"I know I'll get my hands on them sooner if I take my own, Zybowski." Stone snapped a few more shots then stepped back. "But have at it. She's all yours."

Zybowski sneered at the woman. "Like we'd want any of that."

"Show some respect," Mel snapped. "Every victim is somebody's daughter. Maybe somebody's mother. Try to remember that."

"Yes, Detective." The investigator's tone remained snide. He knelt and opened his black bag.

She glanced at her watch. Nearly midnight. Too late to do any more tonight. They'd start fresh in the morning. "We'd appreciate your report as soon as you can get it to us tomorrow."

Zybowski snorted.

"Let's go, Stone." Mel turned and walked away, knowing her partner would follow. As an afterthought she looked back and added, "Check the direction of that slash mark, will you? See if you can tell if our guy was left or right-handed."

"How could we possibly tell that?" Martin frowned at her and got to work with his counterpart.

She turned around and kept walking. She rolled her eyes at Stone who had caught up to her. "Think he's that stupid, or just being an ass?"

"Yes to both. Man, if I was six-foot-something I'd give that moron Zybowski a piece of my mind."

She smiled at him. "If you were six-foot-anything you wouldn't be the man we all know and love."

"Says the woman who's nearly that tall herself. You don't remember what it's like to be five-six, do you? You probably passed right by that height in elementary school."

"I'm sure I did. Left it back there with size three clothes. Can't remember that long ago, little dude."

At the end of the alley he lowered the yellow crime scene tape and they stepped over it. "You know you're the only person who gets away with calling me ‘little dude’, right?"

"Right, and I promise not to do it in public unless you piss me off." She nodded to the uniformed officers who were keeping tabs on the alley and stepped up to her sporty black Murano. "You got your car?"

"Yep." He nodded to his small electric Volt.

Mel bit back a comment about the tiny powder-blue vehicle. Stone loved his eco-friendly car and as much as she enjoyed teasing him, she knew her limits. "See you bright and early."

He waved his camera. "We'll download these pictures and get started."

"Really looking forward to it." Mel sighed as she slid onto the leather seat and took a moment to inhale and slowly let it out. Ten years in Homicide had left her jaded, and hard to surprise. But with each dead body there was a moment when she let herself think about them—who they were, what they did, how they felt during their last moments on earth. Then she walled off her emotions and systematically solved the cases, one right after another, leaving more closed than open on the books.

Her father had taught her how to do that. Thirty years on the force gave him license to teach her plenty about the workings of the WPD. When he was injured in the line of duty and retired at the rank of captain, Gene Curtis was much beloved by most in the department. Now he tended bar at the local cop hangout, Morgan's, more to keep in touch with everyone than for the pay. And he never let much time go by without reminding his daughter, "Every victim is somebody's child. Maybe somebody's parent. Try to remember that."

"I remember, Cappie," she said to her father, or more accurately to the windshield as she drove. "I always remember."

It was a short drive to her house, a three-bedroom ranch in a pleasant, older neighborhood with lots of tall trees. Two blocks from her father, who still lived in Mel's childhood home, they lived mere minutes from the cop shop, a feature which appealed to them both. Mel pulled into her narrow garage and pushed the button to lower the door.

Inside the house, she tossed her keys on the buffet and secured her Glock 22 handgun in the top drawer. After leafing through the mail, a mixture of ads and credit card offers, she tossed the stack down and decided to deal with it later. She was suddenly very tired. A long day had become an even longer night. She glanced toward the kitchen where she'd been preparing some casserole meals to freeze into smaller portions for her and her dad when the call came in. She'd already refrigerated the food, everything else could wait. Tired. She headed down the hall.

Mel pulled the ponytail holder from her long, light brown hair and tossed it on the bathroom counter. She took a moment to scrub the light layer of makeup from her face and brush her teeth. She peeled out of her clothes on the way to the bed, grabbing the oversized t-shirt she slept in and slipping it over her head.

The last thing she noticed before turning out the light was the framed photo of her mom and dad on the nightstand. The poor victim's face from the alley flashed through her mind and she thought of her own mother, pictured in the photo as she liked to remember her—pretty and robust with dark brown hair worn in a shoulder-length bob. She'd lost her hair, most of her weight and all her energy when the pancreatic cancer zapped her. Cruel and efficient, the disease spread quickly and Frannie Curtis lived only three months after the initial diagnosis. It'd been a rough time for all of them, and even though it was eight years ago, Mel still thought of her mother daily. She knew her father did too. They talked about her often, and they were good memories now.

Mel yawned and drew the covers up to her neck. 'Night Mama.

* * * *

Shortly before seven-thirty the next morning, Mel entered the WPD building and rode the elevator to the homicide division on the sixth floor. A latte in each hand, she butted the door open and nodded to the receptionist who was chatting with another detective. Not one for small talk and even less for gossip, Mel kept walking. Everyone in the office knew she was barely civilized in the morning until she'd polished off a caffeinated beverage of one type or another. This morning something light seemed in order, and she'd texted Stone, "latte?".

His to the point reply "k" was all she needed. When he texted back "fried roll?" she replied "k." She hadn't heard her text notification buzz again but when she set the cups on her desk and pulled her phone from her pocket she saw the red light flashing. Mel worked the buttons and read the message as someone approached from the side.

"What, were they out of fried rolls?" She asked as she read his latest text message. "Feebs." She glanced up at him questioningly. "What?"

"Feebs are here," he replied in a hushed tone.

Mel pocketed her phone and reached for her drink, taking a sip before answering. "Henry, it's been a short night and I'm slightly sleep deprived. What the hell are you talking about?"

He nodded his head toward their boss's office.

Mel followed his motion and spotted a tall man in a black suit talking to their captain, Hank Reeder. "Feebs?" She raised her eyebrows at Stone.

"F-B-I." He waggled his brows.

She took another sip and set her cup down. "You do realize it took more letters for you to text 'feebs' than had you just entered F-B-I."

Stone reached for the other cup and punched the drinking spout in. "You're totally missing the point here. He's FBI and where there's one, there are sure to be others. You think they've been sent in to help with our cheerleader case?"

Mel wandered over to Stone's desk and pulled a greasy fried roll and a napkin out of the sack she'd spotted there. She took a bite, savored the fattening, sweet glaze, and wondered briefly how many bites she'd take before guilt got the best of her and she tossed the thing out.

"It has to be our case, there's nothing else much happening right now," Stone continued.

She eyed the dark headed stranger, what little she could see of him from across the room, and shrugged. "Dunno."

Stone's eyebrows continued to dance. "Wonder if he's got any cute, brunette special agents with him?"

Mel grinned. "Like Shemar Moore?"

He rolled his eyes. "I was actually thinking female, thank you very much."

The captain exited his office with the suited man in tow, headed in their direction.

Mel sputtered and wadded the rest of her roll into the napkin, tossing the whole mess in the trash can under her desk.

"Hey!" Stone protested.

"I'll pay you back." Mel turned away from the approaching men and checked her appearance in the small mirror she kept in her desk drawer. She bared her teeth and quickly scrubbed them with a finger before replacing the mirror and spinning around.

"You look fine," Stone assured her.

"Shut up," she muttered out the side of her mouth as her boss stopped in front of her.

"Curtis, Stone, apparently the chief thinks we can use some help on the cheerleader case. He placed a call to the FBI. This is Agent—" he glanced up at the man who had several inches on him. "What did you say your name was?"

The agent trained his gaze on Mel. "Supervisory Special Agent Nathan Willis. Nate." He extended his hand.

She shook his hand, startled by the strength of his grip and, at the same time, the smoothness of his skin. She stared into his bright brown eyes and for a moment, couldn't speak.

Stone cleared his throat and extended his hand. "This is Detective Melanie Curtis, and I'm Detective Henry Stone."

The agent seemed reluctant to withdraw his hand from Mel's but finally did, and turned to Stone. "Pleasure to meet you. I understand the two of you have been working the case. A third victim showed up last night?"

Mel found her voice. "Yeah. It was late, so I'm not sure we have the report yet. But I've got pictures and details from the first two vics here on my desk."

"I was just uploading the stuff from last night to my computer," Stone added.

Willis nodded. "Do you have a room we can use? A small conference room perhaps, with whiteboards or bulletin boards?"

"Sure." Reeder pointed a couple doors down from his office. "Make yourself at home. Let Curtis know if you need anything."

Mel watched her boss retreat, his gait waddling, bald head reflecting the overhead fluorescent lights.

"Let's take everything you have into the war room and get it organized." Willis looked at Stone. "If you could print out some pictures from last night that would be great. Do what you can, then bring them in." He turned to Mel. "Can I help you carry anything?"

Still slightly flustered, she looked at her desk. "Sure." Scooping up an armload of folders, she handed them over. She grabbed her latte and smiled at him apologetically. "Sorry, I didn't know you'd be here."

"No problem. I'm used to lousy coffee. The FBI doesn't make it any different than the police do."

Stone appeared shocked. "Whatchu talking 'bout Willis?"

Mel shook her head. "How long have you been waiting to say that?"

"Since the minute I heard his name." Stone grinned.

Willis stared at Stone coolly then finally let him off the hook and smiled. "I bet you think I've never heard that one before."

Mel paused for a moment to admire the perfect smile—straight, white teeth and lips that curled ever so slightly. I could definitely nibble on those lips. Horrified that she was thinking such a thing about a fellow officer and hoping desperately she wouldn't say something outrageous, she tried to clear her head but her mind felt murky. Get a grip, girl! Shaking off the fog, she leaned in to the agent. "Sorry about that. Please, don't let the lack of a pocket protector fool you. He's a founding member of the Nerd Society."

"And proud of it!" Stone nodded smugly. He nodded toward Mel. "And don't let the recently lightened blonde locks fool you—her nickname around here is 'Black Widow'. They say she kills after mating."

Mel felt the blood drain from her face. How could he say such a thing? Didn't he sense the sexual tension between her and the FBI hunk? She faced Stone and the brotherly expression on his face answered her question. No, he did not.

Sweet, sometimes naive, oblivious Stone. He didn't get caught up in the games people played, she wasn't even sure he understood them. But his investigative skills were top notch and she couldn't think of anyone she'd rather have watching her back. Letting him off the hook, she nudged his arm. "Moron."

Stone's self-satisfied grin widened.

Willis laughed. "Kills after mating, huh?" He shifted the load of folders in his arms and turned toward the conference room. "I'll keep that in mind," he told Stone, and winked at Mel before he walked off.

Mel knew her face flushed bright red, but there was nothing she could do about it. He was gone, anyway. For the moment. As he retreated she couldn't help thinking of the line "hate to see him go, but love to watch him leave". His trim physique looked damned fine in a suit. She wondered how he'd look in a pair of tight jeans. Oh, I think I know. Once again, she had to shake her head to clear it.

"Shoot!" Stone sat at his desk and fired up his computer. "I forgot to ask him if any more of his team are here."

She watched Willis turn the light on in the conference room and begin arranging the furniture. "He didn't go very far. You can still ask."

Stone nodded absently. "You know, he might not be so bad after all."

Mel sipped her latte. "Smells like trouble to me."

"Think so?" He inserted the memory card from his camera into the machine, and began uploading photos.

No, he smells like Aramis or some other musky cologne I can never resist. Mel sighed, and headed into the conference room.

© Copyright 2012 Jamie Hill

1 comment:

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Jamie,
Great excerpt.