When Beggars Die
A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Nicky, get dressed. Your mother's going to be here soon and you know how she is when you aren't ready."
He watched his son roll his eyes. "Dad, don't call me Nicky. I'm twelve. Call me Nick."
"Well NICK. If your mother yells at me because you're not ready to go when she gets here . . ."
"Okay, okay!" He crawled off the couch, shoulders hunched as if burdened by a sack of rocks. "Why can't I just go to work with you?"
"Because your mother has all kinds of wonderful plans for you today. You get to sit in the beauty shop waiting area while she gets her hair done and then its off to the manicurist. And then, man oh man, you get to mow her lawn and all kinds of things around the house like the good son that you are."
"What happened to the good old days when a father just said, 'because I said no.'"
"I didn't think Nick would appreciate it. Nicky on the other hand would easily comprehend the gentle nuances of such a pat answer. Have you seen Nicky late? I thought I saw him this morning."
"Oh!" He brought his hands to his face in mock surprise. "My dad the comedian. Don't quit your day job."
A horn sounded from the driveway. "You better hurry. She's here."
"Nicholas. Where's Nicky?"
"He's in his room."
"Nicky honey? Let's hurry. We've got a busy day ahead."
Dressed in his jeans and a T-shirt; his pajamas rolled up in a ball, Nick looked at his father with pleading eyes.
"Elizabeth? Next weekend, if it's not a problem, I'd like to keep Nick here for the whole weekend."
"Nicholas, you know that . . ."
"Well he's twelve now and it's that…" Nicholas tried on his fatherly concerned face. "…He's been asking questions, certain questions, that I guess you're more than capable of answering. I just thought it would be better to broach the topic man to man."
"Of all the chauvinistic pigheaded . . . Oh you mean The Talk." Elizabeth Chandler Berkley looked torn. "I suppose we can make an exception this one time. It is important." She looked around her old home and then back at Nicholas as if weighing the pros and cons of The Divorce as she often called it. It wasn't said offhandedly, but with all seriousness when ever she brought it up. "He is a growing boy. And since The Divorce, well he does need a father figure around to explain things. And Daddy isn't really up to it."
Daddy, Forester Berkley, running for Mayor, had his responsibilities.
"So I'll pick him up after school on Friday?"
Elizabeth nodded, absently looking at her watch. "Nicky, say your goodbye. We've too much to do today. I'll be in the car. Take care Nicholas."
"You too Elizabeth. Tell Forester I said hello." His eyes followed her through the front door then he turned to his son. "You mind your mother. And not a word about next weekend. She finds out the truth and you and I will be forced to sit down and listen to one of her lectures. And I've grown too accustomed to my peace and quiet to have to endure one of those.
"Thanks Dad." Nick wrapped his arms around his father's neck and hung there as his father walked out to the car, Nick's feet dangling back and forth.
"And talk to your mother about joining the team. We'll double team her after you soften her up."
With a final squeeze around the neck, Nick bounded to the car and hopped into the front seat. Nicholas raised his hand as the car pulled away.
"Detective Black." Nicholas flashed his badge at the perimeter watch of the crime scene. The yellow tape glowed in the flashing lights.
"…. Abrasions suggest a struggle. Fingernail scrapings should give up some clues."
"Ah Detective Black." Detective Wilson "Tobacco" Toback, looked at a small notepad he carried. "A positive identification. Fourteen-year-old female, blond, blue eyes. Strangled. Prostitute goes by the street name Chastity. Looks like another one."
Black nodded toward the medical examiner. "He said something about abrasions and a struggle?"
"It's a preliminary guess. Both her hands have external abrasions. Looks like she went a couple of rounds against a brick wall." He looked Black in the eyes. "On the record he has no official opinion, off the record this guy must have taken a beating. We have tissue samples under the nails, hair samples in the fold of her palm, and it looks like a possible blood sample on the T-shirt. If it is the same guy, he must have slipped up."
Black stared down at the shape under the sheet. Five Mondays. Five prostitutes. All blond and blue-eyed. All of them strangled. This one fought but like all the others she had died as well. He hoped it was the same person. He hoped to catch the son of a bitch before next Monday.
"Hey Black. Bad news. East Side found another one." Black looked down at the sheet and then back at the Sarge by the squad car. Sargent Trease was shaking his head. "No. Not a hooker."
"Sometimes I hate my job." He looked at Ryder. "Do you know when you'll get around to the autopsy. I want to make sure that this is same person. My gut tells me its not."
"I should have something by noon. It was a pretty slow weekend." Ryder reached down and pulled the heavy black sheet back and revealed the body. It was obvious she'd been in a fight. Her young face was bruised and cut, her eyes staring, oblivious of the starry night. "You having your usual Monday Night gathering for the game?"
"You bringing the beer?"
Nicholas Black had been under the impression, a shallow impression apparently, that he had seen everything. That nothing could surprise him. He stared down at the headless nude corpse, arms splayed forward ending in bloody stubs. Gravel was imbedded in the underside of the arms as if the victim had tried to crawl away. Blood, dark and gelatinous, covered everything within a small radius of the body. Nicholas suppressed an urge to vomit.
Flash cameras captured the scene, washing everything with a ghoulish white, momentarily bleaching the dirty gray brick walls and illuminating the grime and filth of the alley. A page from The Hyperion lay flat in the blood. The headline article covered homelessness in America. Taped to this was the Society Column; a collected montage of who's who of the city's upper crust drinking champagne and celebrating their latest fundraising event; an opening of a new modern art museum that he and his ex-wife had attended.
Nicholas shook his head. The last thing he needed was a murderer with a message.
"Do we have anything? Anything at all?"
The beat officer looked a bit green. Blood was smudged on the back of his notepad and his hands shook as he brought it within sight.
"Lady, a Mrs Steflan, out walking her dog found the body and was screaming to high heaven when someone called in to report it. She was still screaming when we pulled up. Fainted, dead away when I touched her to get her to stop screaming. As for the victim. No I.D., no clothes, no wallet, no nothing except what you see here. We know he's male. That's it. The W's, well that's your job detective."
Nicholas winced. He tried to take in everything, cataloguing the scene to memory. The most prevalent image was the blood, brackish pools of it glistening in the flashing red and blue light.
A news crew van pulled up, its wheels squealing audibly. The crew jumped out, doors slamming closed. A camera lense was the first thing to exit from the back of the vans sliding door. Johnny "the eye on the beat" McElroy held his microphone like a trophy in front of him. Another van pulled up an instant later. McElroy pushed his way to the perimeter. "Detective. Detective."
Black turned away from him and watch the CSI unit working the scene.
The coroner covered the body and looked at Black. "Body temp suggests no more than two hours ago. I'd get your canvas up and running. The perp did it all right here. Heavy bladed ax of some sort severed the hands and head. The blade dug into the black top. The cuts are clean, so one stroke. Even at the neck. This guy is strong. Has to be a guy. Primary investigation of the body shows needle marks. Possibly drugged." He shrugged. "Ryder did the last vic, so I can't say for sure if this is the same guy, but from what I recall from his report, the M.O. is the same."
Great two wack jobs running around. "Thanks."