Detective Marty Bacon shut his car door and locked it. Even though this was a crime scene and the place was swarming with cops, he knew to his cost that that was no guarantee you wouldn't have your car stolen. A while back he'd jumped out of his car without locking it and run into a building chasing a suspect. When he came back with the guy in cuffs the space at the curb was empty and his phone was in the car. He’d had to take him back to the precinct in a cab. Never again.
If you'd seen him walking across that cracked concrete, you might have taken him for a retired sportsman of some kind, a football player or boxer. He was perhaps in his early to mid 40s, had a thick neck, short black hair with a sharp hairline and a broad straight nose. The nose was a product of a childhood accident rather than a fight, but it gave him an occasionally useful look of brutishness, which although untrue he did nothing in his manner to deny. If people think you are the physical type then why let them know otherwise?
The factory used to make carpets and it had been quite successful long ago, as he recalled from his younger days on the force. The faded paint on the sign read 'Kalifornia Karpets', with an odd picture of a cartoon sun sitting in a cosy armchair rubbing his bare feet onto a patterned carpet. Yep, that was it. He'd attended a robbery at the factory when it was operational about 10 years before and it was a thriving business, had been going since the '70s, so thriving in fact that they had a huge wages truck coming in from the bank to pay their people in cash. When it got there a handful of masked guys with pump action shotguns jumped out of a sedan in the parking lot and drove off with the truck and one of the guards. The money was never found, but later in the day the truck and the guard were craned out of a river upstate. Now he was back to the scene of the crime only this time the crime was murder, premeditated and cold-blooded.
Bacon saw his partner talking to a uniformed officer and he called out to him. "Hey, Bing, is this our guy, or what?"
Crosby turned and scarcely missing a beat he said, "Hey, Marty, how's it going? Could be our guy. MO fits, but until we get the forensic it's anybody's game... " He turned back and continued his conversation as Bacon headed for the main building.
Outside the main entrance to the warehouse he nodded to the uniform at the door and entered the building. One whole side of the building had been partially demolished and had crumbled away, time and weather beating it to fine powder. Inside it was darker but he could still see the high ceiling once his eyes had grown accustomed. In a far corner, further than he threw a football even on a good day, was a small knot of officers and free-standing lights, centred on the door to a small office, partitioned off from the main hall. The office was made from plasterboard and had a row of windows around the top that had been painted black. Odd. Someone had wanted it to be dark in there. Inside the room was gloomy and dank.
It had rained yesterday, to everyone's surprise, one of those heavy storms that they try to ignore in these parts. It never rains in LA, they'd say. Yeah right. It had been raining so heavily that the floor of the scene was covered with water, making the work of the Indent Section, the forensic team, much harder. Any fibres and other matter that might have fallen on the floor would be sloshed around and not resting relative to the body, which was annoying. This meant that for the moment movement in the room was confined to the dry part of the room, an irregular shaped dry spot, like an island in the centre of the room.
Bacon surveyed the scene and cleared his throat. "Okay, what have we got?"
A young man dressed in the standard white, lint-free coverall, turned right away and greeted the Detective. "Hello sir, Buck Wiley, Ident Section. We're just finishing up what we can do here. We're going to wait until the water evaporates, as it will later today if the weather holds, which it should." The young man allowed himself a small grin, which Bacon returned with a slight snort. The weather. We talk about it more than the British but for very different reasons. The young man continued. "When we've processed the contents of the floor we'll be all done here. The coroner has been to see the body and so now the EMTs are just waiting for you to finish your examination of the crime scene before they take the body away."
"Thank you, son. Good work."
"Have a pleasant day, sir."
The young man left the room as Detective Arnie Crosby entered. The two detectives crouched as close as they could to the body with their hands firmly pushed into their jacket pockets. The three Golden Rules of investigations like this were in force. Rule number 1: touch nothing. Rule number 2: touch nothing. Rule number 3: do not under any circumstances touch anything, you son of a bitch.
The body lay on one side of its face, eye open, throat purple streaked, shoulders free of the dirty felt with which it was partially covered. The girl was pretty, even in death, and her youth was obvious even though superficially she looked like she might be a young woman. Bacon guessed she passed for 18 but would actually be closer to 15 or 16. Her hair was a light brown or dirty blonde and her exposed eye was brown. A friend of his in missing persons had bet Bacon 10 bucks that this Jane Doe would turn out to be Marcy Wade, a girl from North Carolina. Bacon had the uneasy feeling that he'd be paying out. He could see something metallic under her wrist.
"What's that? Handcuffs?"
Crosby took a pencil out of his pocket and gently pushed up the blanket a couple of millimetres so as not to disturb anything. "Yep. I'll get the print boys to see if they can get a partial off the shiny parts, but I wouldn't hold your breath."
Crosby squinted in the glare from all the lights. "Hey Marty, what do you see around her neck?"
"I see what you see, the mark of a tightly braided cord or ligature. What's your point?"
Crosby nodded. "If it's not our guy, then someone leaked that to the press and we got a copycat. I don't think that happened, do you?"
Bacon shook his head slowly. "Or someone used a curtain cord that was already tightly braided when it was made."
Crosby nudged him with his elbow. "Nah, remember we did that once already. We looked at every available braided rope maker in the US and nobody had something as coarsely braided and yet so smooth. It has to be hand made from the clothes."
"So it's a hand made curtain cord." Bacon was smiling so slightly that only Crosby would have noticed.
"Okay, wise guy, take a look at this..."
Outside Crosby took him to a small clearing in the rubble, on which was a crate used as a seat and a few fragments of cloth, buttons and zippers. "The guy sat here and shredded the girl's clothes and braided the rope. Is that enough for you?"
Bacon looks at the clothing fragments and a knot formed in his stomach. It did seem to be horribly similar to the scenes they had faced in a couple of previous cases, but Bacon was a by-the-book kind of a guy and didn't want to jump to any rash conclusions. He knew that in all probability this was the same guy as before, but he wanted to let the evidence tell the story rather than flipping ahead a few pages to see whodunit. Crosby, he could see, was already mentally flipping pages and had already peeked at the last page to see who was implicated. Crosby lit a cigarette and Bacon shook his head and pointed sternly outside. Crosby cupped his hand under the lit end of the cigarette and stepped gingerly over the rubble so as not to contaminate the scene with his ash. Bacon looked around him at all the cops going about their business quietly and efficiently.
"You know I hate speculation. That's not a conclusion you reached through evidence, that's a guess based on a previous crime. Stop trying to make this one fit, Arnie. If it fits it fits, we'll know soon anyway." Bacon raised his eyebrows as if expecting an answer to an unasked question. Crosby thought for a second and Bacon snorted as if the answer was easy.
"The calling card" said Crosby finally, with a grin.
"Yes, the calling card." Bacon turned and Crosby followed him out of the building into the harsh sunlight.
"So you do think this is our guy, don't you?"
"I don't think, I detect. Detection involves evidence and conclusions based on that evidence, not all of which has been collected. If it is the person who's killed young women like this twice before, then we'll know for sure in a very short time. He'll let us know like he always does. You second-guessing him the whole goddam time doesn't help, Detective Crosby. Please keep your guessing to yourself until you have something concrete."
Crosby flipped him the finger and blew smoke over it as they cleared the yellow crime scene tape. Bacon got into his car and rolled down the window. There wouldn't be any more rain today. But there would be tears in North Carolina, he was certain about that.
Bob woke early and turned on the TV. He made some coffee and sat on the bed in a white dressing gown drinking it while he watched the news. It featured the murder of a young girl who'd only been in the city a few weeks. She'd left home in North Carolina to seek her fortune in the movie business, but instead had found death at the hands of what the reporter implied was a serial killer. A related killing was the phrase, although this was unconfirmed. This was slippery journalistic language that suggested a connection even if there wasn't one. The other stories about robberies and political corruption went over Bob's head, as he had no idea who or what they were talking about.
The murder of the girl had left a bad taste in his mouth and he got his tablet out of its pouch and connected it to the WiFi. After a few moments of static he heard a ring tone. A young girl answered. "Hello." Hanna's voice. A few seconds later her face appeared on the screen.
"Daddy! Where are you?"
"I'm calling, believe it or not, from the Hotel Bel-Air, how about that?" He laughed; he knew she'd get a real kick out of that. He wished she could be there.
"Oh cool. Have you seen anyone famous yet? I bet it's sunny there, right? Have you ordered anything on room service yet?"
"No, I only just got up. It's 8:30 in the morning here. What time is it there?"
"No, mum. He’s on Skype . . . it’s a free call . . . What, dad?"
"I said what time is it?" No reply. "Is your mum there?"
The screen showed a small image of him lying on a bed dressed in a white bathrobe, the larger image showing a skinny blonde-haired girl in an oversized T-shirt. She was looking off screen talking to someone. The house lights were on behind her, so it must be late.
“Mum says hi."
"Oh okay. Tell her I said hi back. You look nice, are you going out?"
"I was going to the pictures, but mum has told me I have to come back too early so there's no point in going . . ." she stared off screen and poked out her tongue, obviously a grimace aimed at his ex-wife, Gena. A voice off screen said, "I saw that, Hanna." Hanna quickly retracted her tongue and made an 'oops' face at her dad.
"So how's school?"
"Oh, okay. I failed my maths mock exam though, before mum tells you. But it's not like I'm going to be a mathematician, eh dad?"
"Hey, now don't bring me into this. Your mother knows what I think about exams, but it's her you are responsible to while you're at school. She reads the reports and she hands out the punishments if you don't at least try to do as well as you can at this stuff. You're a clever girl, baby, and I don't want you to make anyone think otherwise by you not trying."
"But you said exams don't matter if I want to be a writer or an artist!"
Bob coughed to give himself time to think. "Look, it doesn't matter what I think. It's what your teachers think and what your mum thinks that matters. We disagree on the worth of exams but not the practice of them, so buckle down, baby, and make sure you do better. A couple of lousy C's wouldn't kill you, all right?"
Hanna smirked and grudgingly agreed.
"Anyway," he said, trying to lighten up a little, "how are you besides that?"
Hanna made an odd face. "Well, I had a bit of a, uh, nightmare the other night. It's okay, I'm okay about it." Even seeing her as a video picture on a screen he could tell she was far from all right about it. "I don't know why I even mentioned it."
"What was it about? What was scary about it?"
"Uh, well it was Uncle Ken."
Bob felt uncomfortable. Ken and Hanna had always got on so well, but recently since Hanna became aware of boys in that new and interesting way that teenagers do, her relationship with him had been a little bit obsessive and not only on her part. She'd called Ken a few times since he moved to the States and Gena had spoken to Ken and told him to try to cool off the relationship. Ken had reacted angrily and told Gena to mind her own business and keep her dirty mind to herself. Gena had told Bob about it and he'd spoken to Ken about it, albeit briefly. Ken had treated it as a joke and made Bob feel like an awkward pervert for even mentioning it. The result of the conversation had been inconclusive, but Ken had been too busy to talk to Hanna recently and she seemed to be moving on. Gena and Bob hoped that she would forget about it if they didn't bring it up again. But this dream might get her started again, depending on the content of the dream.
Hanna paused for a long time. "He was, uh, standing in the doorway of my room. I woke up and asked him when he'd got back, but he ignored me. He said 'something is broken'. I tried to talk to him, but he kept saying that over and over. I started to get scared and I called for mum, but she didn't hear me. I could hear her on the phone, but she couldn't hear me, like I was in a glass bubble. Uncle Ken was in shadow in the doorway and when he came into the room, the front of his shirt was covered in blood."
She stopped for a second. Was she close to tears? "He didn't want to hurt me, I don't think, in fact I think he wanted me to help him, but I couldn't move and he couldn't say anything else but 'something is broken'. He fell forwards and lay very still and I started screaming. That's when I woke up and mum was in the room holding my shoulders and telling me I was having a dream. Crazy, right?"
Bob wished he could hug her, she looked so vulnerable. She felt very far away.
"It was just a dream, love. I’ll bet it's becoming hard to remember it, isn't it? Even more as the day goes on?"
"Yes, I s'pose so..."
"It will get more distant and more faint in your mind as the days go by. Nightmares are messages from our subconscious and it's probably not even about Ken. Maybe you miss him and emotionally you feel he would have to be injured to not contact you?”
"Aw, dad . . ."
"No really. I mean it. It's probably about something really simple and your active imagination just made it really scary to get your attention. It's unlikely that Ken needs your help. But it is likely that you have to think about how you feel about Ken. Try and put it behind you, love, and just let the meaning of it come to you when it's ready. Don't worry about it. You're not going crazy or anything. It's perfectly normal."
"That's what mum says."
"Your mum is a very clever lady. You listen to her. And tell her to give you a big cuddle from me, okay?"
"Okay." Finally she smiled.
"Okay. I'm sorry but I've got to cut this short, chicken, put your mum on for a minute, will you?"
"Okay, dad, talk to you soon. Call me again, yeah?"
"Of course. Night night, darling."
"Yeah, bye!" she was suddenly bright again. Young people are so awkward with their emotions, they often tried to ignore that they have them. They ape how adults talk about them. She wanted to talk about the dream, but she wanted to talk about it in a grown up way, like it happened to someone else. And given the opportunity to stop after she'd mentioned it, she’d jumped at the chance to change the subject. Kids were resilient sure, but he hated letting Hanna learn about these things for herself. He wanted to guide her through everything painlessly, but also he knew that was hubris and a false hope. Pain was part of life and a vital part at that, so he resisted the urge to shield her from it.
The screen was empty for a second, and then a thin woman with high cheekbones and bright blue eyes came into view. "Hello, Bob."
"Hello Gena. I hope she's being good."
"Apart from this stupid going to the pictures with her mates, yes. Perfect."
"Is she listening?"
"No she's gone upstairs."
"That dream sounded bad. Is she okay?"
"She was upset. She was quiet for a while but she seems to have got over it now."
"Let me know if she's still hung up about it. I don't think the Ken thing will be a problem now, do you?
She shrugged. "I don't know, we'll see. I don't think she's mad keen on talking to him now, anyway. So . . . hey how dare you bring up the exam thing!"
Bob laughed. "Well, you know I don't think exams are important, but I promised you I wouldn't screw it up for you, didn't I?"
"Yes you did. And thanks for that, I think you did very well."
"You look well. What do the doctors say?"
Gena pursed her lips and sighed. "They say I am underweight and I need to get on another stone or this will happen every time I get ill. I haven't got enough that I can lose weight when I can't eat."
"So a shrew in more ways that one."
Bob smiled "Shrews have to eat all the time or they die . . . and you were always a shrew."
"Hmm, thank you. Benefits of your classical education." She pantomimed a smile. "Charming."
"Sorry, that was a bit rude. Being divorced shouldn’t prevent us from being a civil to each other, should it? I'm sorry. I hope you get better soon. And I did mean that what I said about you looking better, by the way . . ."
"Sure. Good night, Bob."
"Oh. Good night, then. Say goodnight to . . ."
The connection broke before he could finish the sentence. He turned off the tablet and put it back in its pouch.
He really wished that Gena and he could get on a little better. But they grew too far apart and nowadays they were so far apart the only way they could talk is by shouting across the chasm. This bothered him, but what could he do about it? Maybe when this film was finished, if it ever got made, they could talk about it properly like grown ups. But right now he had a more pressing problem.