by Peter Muehling
Nick and Lydia walked up to the young uniformed officer guarding the door to the apartment. The young man was well attired in his uniform and his six foot two, chiseled gave him the appearance of a poster model for a police recruiting pamphlet. Lydia guessed him to be around twenty-five years of age. She smiled approvingly. Nick only noticed the spit polished ankle boots and thought to himself, “Rookie.”
Nick flashed his badge and asked, “Well, what do we have here?” Nick already had an assessment of the situation having been briefed by dispatch on the drive over, however, the question served both as an icebreaker and a re-evaluation of the situation. It was not uncommon for the story to change somewhat as it went from first report, to dispatch, to officer, and further down the line. If left on its own long enough without clarification a simple phone complaint of young boys throwing rocks in a sand lot could reach the media as a gangland multiple murder over millions of dollars of stolen diamonds. For this reason, Nick went by the facts. Double and triple checked the facts. Rumors and suppositions made for good stories, but facts made solid court cases, and that was about what Nick was most concerned.
The attending officer was obviously fairly young and was being very diligent in recording everything in his notebook. He had been tasked with scene security and was determined to do everything by the book and do it correctly. He hardly looked up from his notebook when he asked, “Name?”
“Nick Mozel. Mike, Oscar, Zulu, Echo, Lima.” replied Nick. It still seemed natural for Nick to use the phonetic alphabet when spelling names even though he had not been on the beat for over fifteen years. Old habits were hard to break. The alphabet was used for clarity and was especially important in the days of crackling two-way radios. The system was good, it was clear, it was concise, and so it continued on.
The young officer wrote without looking up. He may have even been confused had Nick not spelled out his name phonetically. Without saying a word, he raised his eyes from his notebook and looked at Lydia.
“Busby, Lydia Busby. Bravo, Uniform, Sierra, Bravo, Yankee.” said Lydia.
“Lima, India, or Lima Yankee?”
“Lima, Yankee,” answered Lydia. She had found over the years that people often wanted to spell her last name with a ‘Z’ instead of an ‘S’, but this was the first time she recalled anyone questioning the spelling of her first name. A first for everything, she thought.
The officer closed his notebook and apologized, “Sorry guys, procedure.”
“No, that’s good,” said Nick. “Better to follow procedure than be complacent and screw up a court case.”
Mozel and Busby had been partners for the past three years. Nick had been on homicide for twelve years and Lydia joined him after his previous partner retired. The two worked very well together. They each had different strengths and weaknesses and they respected each other’s differences which only added to the success of their partnership.
“So, Williams, what do we have?” asked Lydia while reading the officer’s name from his lapel tag.
“Young female Caucasian, appears to be a single knife cut to the throat.” replied Officer Williams.
“What’s been disturbed?” asked Busby.
“Nothing much.” Williams reopened his notebook and reviewed his notes. “A john came to the apartment and found the door slightly ajar. He said he opened the door and saw the victim laying in a pool of blood. He claims he didn’t enter. He closed the door and called us from his cell phone. He waited around until we arrived. Officer Bryce and myself were first on-scene. Tom entered, checked for vitals, and left. Nothing else has been touched. Tom took the john downtown for a statement and I was left here to guard the door. You two are the first to arrive since then. The Medical Examiner has been notified as has Crime Scene Investigation.”
“Good stuff,” said Nick, “Keep up the good work.”
“I’m amazed the john stuck around,” noted Busby, “Most would have taken off.”
“He thought about it,” offered Williams, “but he’s got priors and he figured it was better to be open on this one rather than have us find his prints later on.”
“Every once in a while they come up with an intelligent thought, hey Putz.” quipped Mozel sarcastically as he entered the room.
Lydia simply retorted, “Moron.” and followed him in.
It is unclear of how and when in started, but with names as Busby and Mozel, the two had respectively been calling each other Putz and Moron for years. At thirty-two, Lydia could hardly be called a grumpy old man, however, the forty-eight year old Nick Mozel, with twenty-eight years of service, and a crusty and abrasive demeanor, more than adequately fit the bill of the characters about whom the Grumpy Old Men movies were made.
The two stood in the doorway and scanned the apartment. Immediately their eyes were drawn to the woman laying face down in a pool of blood. A cut mark was clearly evident at the edge of her neck. The extent of the cut was hidden beneath her, however, a large amount of blood had congealed around her neck. The two did not proceed any further. There was no need. Forensics preferred to investigate an undisturbed scene so to enter now may only jeopardize the investigation. This was not a smoking gun homicide and it would take investigative techniques and team work to solve this case.
“Look at her abdomen,” Mozel directed.
“More blood,” noted Busby.
“Mmmm,” mumbled Mozel.
“Another stab wound?” guessed Busby.
“Looks like.” Mozel postulated further, “Probably got stabbed in the stomach, followed by the fatal slash to the throat. Can’t tell much more without examining the body. CSI can tell us more once they get here.”
Nick turned to the officer at the door, “Do you know who’s coming from CSI?”
Williams referred to his notebook once again, “Hudson, Frank Hudson.”
“Good, very good!” Nick said approvingly.
“Are you sure she was a hooker?” asked Busby.
“The john was clear about that,” answered Williams. “He was so paranoid about getting accused that he was open about everything. Tom couldn’t hardly get him to shut up. Apparently all the tenants on this floor are hookers.”
Nick looked around. Four doors. Four apartments. Four hookers? Williams was guarding the last door furthest from the stairwell. The suspect would have had to have walked the length of the hallway. There could not have been too much noise as none of the other tenants had said anything, or else, they assumed any noise was worked related. They would definitely have to be questioned.
Nick and a pensive look about him. Williams looked at him and then at Lydia. She just shook her head signaling him not to interrupt. Nick got that way when he was thinking and Lydia knew better than to disturb Nick when he had a thought going.
Finally he broke his silence. “The door.”
“What about it?” asked Lydia.
“The front door had a piece of wood holding it open when we got here.”
“Officer Bryce put it there to make it easier for us to go in and out,” answered Williams apologetically. He was not sure if that had been a good move or not, so was hesitant about his answer. “The door was locked. Tom found a piece of two by four by the garbage bin and used it to keep the door from locking.”
“So the door was locked when you arrived.”
“Well, sort of. Calvin Smythe, the john, was at the door waiting for us. He let us in. So, yeah, I guess the door was locked.”
“So, who let him in?” questioned Nick.
Both Williams and Busby looked at each other without saying anything.
Nick continued, “Who let, what did you call him? Smythe. Who let Smythe in?”
“How so?” asked Lydia.
“Well, if he didn’t kill her, who opened the security door. The door is electronically locked and unless you are buzzed in or have a key, you aren’t getting in.”
“Could have been one of the other girls,” offered Williams.
“Doubt it,” Nick countered. “They would not be letting in another girl’s customer. I can see this is going to be like most of our cases.”
Lydia piped in quickly as would a young school girl trying to give the right answer to her teacher, “More questions, fewer answers.”
They both turned back to the apartment door and peered in from the entrance. This time it was Busby’s turn to go into a trance.
“What?” asked Mozel, “Something wrong?”
“Look at the apartment,” replied Busby. “It’s clean, almost sterile. Does this look like a hooker’s apartment to you?”
“I can honestly say I don’t know what a hooker’s apartment is supposed to look like,” quipped Mozel.
“Good answer Moron!” said Lydia with a smile.
Mozel scanned the apartment. Lydia was right. The room was clean and tidy. Everything seemed to be in perfect order. The only thing out of place was a tea cup in a saucer on the corner of the kitchen table. Around the table were four chairs. Three were tucked neatly under the table while the forth was pushed back slightly away from the tea cup.
Williams had glanced in too and offered, “Do you think the killer cleaned up after the murder?”
Busby and Mozel looked at each other in disbelief. Mozel just glanced about not bothering to respond but Lydia, remembering that she too was once a recruit, replied, “The killer would not clean up an apartment and leave the body behind. The victim would be the first thing to be cleaned up.”
Lydia had enough experience that she naturally referred to a victim as a ‘thing’. The first step in self preservation was to depersonalize the victim.
Mozel continued his visual assessment, “No signs of struggle. She must have known the assailant, or at least expected him.”
“She’s fully clothed,” added Busby, “No way to tell at this time if she was killed before or after a trick.”
“She’s smack in the middle of the room,” noted Mozel. “I’m guessing by the way she’s oriented that he had just come in the door. They were probably facing each other in the center of the room when she got stabbed.”
“I have to agree with you there,” said Busby.
From behind came a loud boisterous remark, “Putz and Moron, Super sleuths!”
Turning around, Mozel replied with a, “Hi Frank,” while Busby’s greeting was even shorter with a simple, “Frank.”
Humor was a police officer’s greatest tool in combating work stress and Frank Hudson was as jovial as they came, “How’s my favorite Evidence Eradication Team?” Frank was referring to the unfortunate habit of many officer’s zealously entering a crime scene and contaminating evidence before a forensic investigator had a chance survey the site.
Williams defended himself, “We followed procedure, sir. The scene’s intact.”
Mozel calmed Williams, “Take it easy, he’s just pulling your leg. You done good Batman.”
“Don’t worry about Frank,” said Busby, “You’ll get used to him.” Noting William’s pallor as he gazed once again at the poor woman lying in the middle of the floor, she added, “And you’ll get used to this too.”
“I hope not.” Hudson for a moment was quite serious. “You should never get used to this. If you ever do....retire. At that point you’ve seen enough.”
There was short briefing between the group and then Mozel and Busby left. Williams remained to guard the door, while Frank proceeded with the laborious task of photographing, mapping, and gathering evidence for subsequent analysis.
Frank was right. You should never get used to this. You could hide it, suppress it, but never get used to it. Frank chose to bury it. It occasionally concerned him that one day it may come back to haunt him, however, for now, he had a job to do, so he took a deep breath and proceeded.
He was very particular about his work and very diligent in his process. Frank took more time than most of the other forensic investigators on the unit, however, he was thorough and dependable. He had a very good reputation in court and was classified as Forensic Expert. There were few lawyers in the district who dared dispute Frank’s testimony.
Frank labored on in silence. Williams looked in from time to time but never spoke a word and dared not interrupt. Frank would take a several hours before the victim would be ready to be turned over to the Coroner’s Office for their phase of the investigation.