How do I sum up our relationship? I have a hard time making sense of it myself at times, so it’s no wonder I’m at a loss for words trying to explain it here. It’s one of those things that is best described as a feeling, rather than a word. It’s cliché, I know, but I don’t know how else to make you understand. Sometimes I find myself hearing her say exactly what I’m thinking and vice versa. I suppose we’re like fraternal twins, separated at birth, and destined to have our inner-twin-chakra drive us to one another. That’s the closest I can come to describing what we have, but even that falls short: it’s much more than finishing each other’s sentences or wanting the same take-out food.
Tess and I have been partners for three years, but it seems like a lifetime – not in the prison sentence sort of way. We just clicked. Some would call it soul mates and – while I don’t believe it – I suppose that could be right, too.
* * * * *
When the APB went out, Tess answered. I tried to ignore it; we were on our way back to the station after acquiring yet another case. A body belonging to a homeless man was found between 52nd and Grant, and the only evidence on the scene was a few used syringes I knew was foolish to think belonged to anyone but our vic. Third John or Jane Doe case that week with no reprise in sight.
“You gonna answer that, Brad, or should I?” She asked.
“I hadn’t really planned on it.” I was dog tired, fighting the alluring promise of shut eye.
“Want me to tuck you in before or after I take this call?”
“Well considering you’re driving, you can’t answer the call while I’m in the car. Regulations and such.”
She shot me a sarcastic pouty face and eyed me while grabbing the receiver and speaking back to headquarters.
“This is Findley, we’re about thirty minutes out.” She clicked the receiver back into place and wheeled the car around, towards the address noted in the APB.
“I’m going to have to write you up for that.”
“I think it’s about time to report you for all that smoking you do in the car – errr, on government property.”
“But you smoke, too.”
“Mutually assured destruction.”
“You’re cold, Findley.”
We got there in twenty, a habit Tess had – one I wasn’t quite sure I liked or disliked. “I’ll be there in fifteen,” turned into a knock on my front door four minutes later. Annoying at first, but after a while I just got used to it. I still wasn’t sure if it was her inability to gauge time, or if she was just trying to make herself look good.
Our car pulled up to the flat and we were greeted by the loud lights of several squad cars. It was well after dinner: my growling stomach and the darkness of the sky was evident enough. The block was dingy. The paint was peeling, windows were shattered and boarded up and hasty graffiti was scrawled on every house. It looked like they were all part of a Home Buyer’s Association with really odd standards for homogeny.
Stuart walked up to us and shook our hands. He had glasses that looked too big for him. I couldn’t tell if he was being ironic or if he had no sense of style at all. His hair was a mess and sleep lines creased his face making me believe it was the latter. It looked like he was wearing yesterday’s clothes, as well a jacket – FORENSICS emblazoned in bold on the back – equaling the size of his glasses.
“Stuart, how you doing?” I asked.
He let out a deep, painstaking sigh. “Well, let’s see, I was lying in my bed, enjoying the warmth and comfort of my bed, and the delicious thought one of those things people call a ‘weekend–’ ”
“– never heard of it.”
“–then the phone rang, and I stupidly answered – like I had a choice – I got called down here.”
“That’s what you get for thinking you get to sleep.” Tess scolded
He sighed again and ushered us to follow him.
“Davidson still on vacation?” Tess asked while ducking under the police tape.
“Aye, the little bugger. I swear, the vilest villains all waited until he went to Maui to start killing each other. Either that or I’m part of an elaborate practical joke. For the record, I don’t find it very funny.”
“Any results on Jane Doe?” I asked.
“The junkie from Grant? No, I tried to get toxicology to speed up the results – you two still owe me a beer, by the way – but they’re more backed up than a body builder’s colon.”
“Great, now I won’t be able to stop thinking about poop.” Tess put on her best disgusted face and faked a gag.
“I promise you, you’ll forget about it all together when you see the scene.”
The door was wide open to the house, the forensic team walked amongst the man’s flat like a group of intruding paparazzi. Artificial light flashed on and off as their camera’s furiously clicked and documented every piece of the house. I eyed the door as I walked in.
“Looks like it may have been a forced entry,” I said, picking at the splintered wood of the frame.
“Have you seen this block?” Stuart asked. “Bunch of God damned addicts, breaking and entering is more common than decency around here from the looks of it. Come on, it’s upstairs.”
The stairs creaked beneath our feet as we walked up them. The old wood was wrought with both dry rot and mold, creating a lethal combination waiting to happen. I tentatively stepped on each stair, sure that the dying wood would burst under my leg, or the banister would snap. I suppose it would sum up my night nicely, a lovely verbal beating by Captain Mallard followed by a worker’s comp case and a visit from the Union representative.
“Give us a minute.” Stuart said, poking his head through the door. There were a couple more clicks from cameras, then two tech with masks on exited the room.
“You might need these,” Stuart was holding up two masks. Tess grabbed one but I waved the other off. “Suit yourself,” Stuart responded and walked into the room.
As soon as I entered, I instantly regretted turning down Stuart’s offer, but stupid pride kept me from admitting my mistake. I exhaled a breathy exasperation that sounded remarkably close to a gag and reached into my pocket for my handkerchief. I placed it over my face and had to squint my eyes because the smell was so palpable.
The room had been setup with a series of lights – tech lights from HQ – casting the whole room in a series of sporadic shadows. Bed posts were duplicated dozens of times by their dark counterparts, the room was bright, yet it seemed impossibly dark with the blackened duplicates thrown against the peeling walls of the room.
A large array of lights were setup on one side, their lamps hurling beams of sterile luminosity towards a wall where the smell was coming from. A man, well into a state of decomposition, hung from the northern wall of the room. Though after taking a quick look, nailed was closer to the truth. His features were bright in the queer spotlight, every divot and crevice of his naked body accented.
He was held in place by series of large metal nails. Railroad spikes, perhaps, and in his left hand he held a rose.
“Beyond the smell, the first thing you’ll notice is the absence of blood.” Stuart said, completely unfazed.
“I suppose it would be too much to ask to get a body where the murder happened for once.” Tess answered.
“We’d be out of a job if it was that easy, hun.”
“And by the state of the body, we know the murder happened some time ago.” Stuart continued. “There are dozens of lacerations on the body, literally from head-to-toe. Two cuts across his jugular, four more through his legs here, here, here and here.”
Tess shifted her weight and crossed her arms. She eyed the decomposing dead man with the kind of indifference only a Murder detective could. “So, no obvious cause of death.”
“Not until the autopsy is preformed, no.” Stuart adjusted his oversized glasses. “But if I were to guess I’d say the deep lacerations were performed afterward. There’s no recent blood clotting, or bruising on the body either, making me believe it was internal.”
Tess nodded, “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“Poisoning of sorts, yeah” Stuart said. “But perhaps the weirdest thing is not with our body, but the wallpaper.”
I took a quick look at Stuart’s back, “I thought your jacket said FORENSICS, not INTERIOR DESIGN.”
Stuart looked at me, “Har, har. Just look at the room, wiseass.”
When I finished being proud of myself, I searched the wall the man was nailed too and understood what Stuart was talking about. The rest of the wallpaper in the room was the type I’d find in my grandmother’s bathroom. Faded pink, green and blue floral patterns coated three of the walls. But unlike my grandmother’s, it was in a miserable state of disrepair. Junkies had plunged hands, feet and knives through it. One side was half removed – no doubt during a state of high, motivated stupor – while the other two simply looked thirty decades old.
Yet the wall the man hung from was completely different.
“The paper is new.” I said.
“Yeah, it’s still wet in spots,” Stuart answered, placing a hand on the paper and showing us the glue that soaked through onto his palm.
The pattern was off, too. It wasn’t a floral pattern but instead crisscrossing lines. Some straight enough to be done with a ruler, while others curved and intertwined seemingly at random.
“We still don’t really know what it means.” Stuart said. “It looks like a scribbling from a bored child.”
He was right. The lines were in different colors, ranging from a vibrant pink to an ominous black.
Yet despite its chaos, it seemed to have a uniformity to me and, while I couldn’t quite place it, it was somehow familiar. Like a name on the tip of your tongue, or a bit of eerie déjà vu. I looked at the rose. “And what’s with this?”
“Not sure on that either,” Stuart said. “Obviously it means something. Best I can tell, the murderer has a deranged mind. If you couldn’t tell already from the rest of the scene.”
“I’m not sure if I’m crazy, but the lines seem familiar to me.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Tess replied. “Look over here, there’s a block of them. Squares, while the one’s by his hand are more spirally.”
“I don’t think that’s a word.”
“Spirally? Look that shit up, it’s a word, Einstein.”
“I’ll put a dime on it.”
“Ten dollars richer,” Tess said, moving closer to the wall. She crouched down near the block of lines in the corner and peered closer. “You know, if I didn’t know any better, it kinda looks like a city block.”
Understanding clicked in my mind. It was unclear before because the lines had always been accompanied with street names. “That’s exactly what they are, Tess. This wall’s a goddamned map.”
I heard Stuart breath out a breathy swearword behind me.
Most of the map was covered by the vic’s body, but once you saw it, you couldn’t unsee it. “You’re right.” Tess said. “That’s downtown down there, the projects are over here, and HQ would be somewhere… that way.”
I realized I wasn’t holding the handkerchief to my face, somehow the smell didn’t bother me any longer. I looked to the spike through the man’s hand, the one with the rose in it, and knew Tess was right. “Look at this: does this line seem familiar to you, Tess?”
She raised an inquisitive eyebrow and stared at it.
“It was a little different in the dark on our way here,” I hinted.
Her eyes flashed with understanding. “Christ that’s Monroe. We came in on that road.”
“Yup, and this blue line is the metro. The black seems to be streets while this green one is the interstate. The spikes all intersect a line, or near one.” It reminded me of the pin located on my GPS, only this time it signified something very different from a pub or grocery store.
“And I’d venture to say that spike lands on this very room. How many did you count, Stuart?”
“If that spike points to this one,” Tess mulled out loud, “where do the others point?”
No one answered. I let out my breath and held the temples of my head between my thumb and pointer finger. I pulled out a pack of cigarettes and my phone and moved towards the door.
“What do you think?” I asked Tess.
I nodded, and flipped open my phone. “Want anything?” I asked Stuart.
“Food.” He stared at me. “It’s gonna be a while, I think there’s one of those 24 hour coffee places around the corner if you’re feeling tired.”
“Shit.” Stuart said, looking up at the ceiling. “Goddammit, Davidson owes me for this.”
Tess was already on the phone with HQ, her voice was always a little lower and more tense when she spoke with Mallard. I couldn’t make out most of what she said, but one phrase popped out in my mind.
Possible serial killer.