** Told from the eyes of one of the Lead Detectives on the case.
"Happy Birthday," The dry statement caught my attention before seconds later; the sound of papers slapping down onto my desk caused me to glance up sharply. Sweet Lord Jesus no… Not another one. Still, the good ole Lord wasn't about to be nice to me about this one, right amid the utter chaos of unsolved cases and half filled out paperwork, there was another case file, it was thin, meaning that it had just been opened, and but I knew just how fast this thing could get as fat as my mother's old tabby.
"It's not my birthday," I muttered dryly as my eyes continued their doomed ascent and I could look at my partner, Jared Frost.
"Who gives a darn? This is your present, and the store doesn't accept any returns, with or without a receipt, so we're stuck with it." Frost muttered dryly, grabbing the back of an old wooden chair and dragging its legs across the scarred floor and flipping it around to flop down into it backwards, arms braced against the backrest.
"So lead detective Derrick Rhodes, what's your take on this case?"
My eye brows rose at his tone, I knew he was teasing me. He
always did, especially after my little promotion over his head,
we weren't exactly two people on the same level anymore, but
honestly, it was just a title, I wasn't getting paid a penny more
than he was.
"I could have asked you that, I haven't even looked at the files yet. What have you been told?" I grabbed the files and flipped it open, only to be greeted to a beautiful female face, long black hair drawn back from her face, eyes closed, and lips slightly parted as if she were only asleep. I've always wished the same thing with all my cases that they would all just be asleep, but I knew better, they were dead, and they would never wake up again.
"So far all we have is one girl dead, early to mid-twenties, Caucasian female. She was killed by a bullet through her heart, it entered through her back. The bullet hit her spine, turned and bounced upwards, crossing her heart at an angle. A second bullet pierced her left lung, it wasn't what killed her, but it would have eventually."
I gave a nod as he rattled off what I was already reading in what little had been compiled into a report, Christina Downs. Nice name for a nice girl. "We'll need a background check on her, criminal record, family ties."I started, flipping the report closed with a snap, "Do we have any suspects in custody?"
Frost gave a nod, "Yeah, her boyfriend. Another kid around that same age, he's in questioning right now, we don't have any evidence that he did it, but he was the only one there at that moment, he even called in the EMS. They're just filing it under some sort of lovers spat, but I'm not buying, do you really think he would have shot her from behind? If they had been fighting, he would have shot her from the front, plus; she was holding flowers, Forensics found traces of pollen on her fingers and clothes."
"So… We got the wrong guy, is what you're saying." I tapped my fingers against my scratched up desk, watching Frost carefully. He had that look in his eyes, steel over icy baby blues, I knew that look, and my gut was rocking.
"Yep, we have the wrong guy. Thing is, we have to find a way to prove it, and find the real sucker that did this. My gut is rockin' on this Rhodes, I just know there's something big behind this, and there's no way I'm going to be sitting here twiddling my thumbs. This isn't going to turn into another 'who-dun-it.' Case, we're gonna solve this, you with me?"
I grinned, this was what I loved about my job, "You got that crap," I laid my palm flat against my desk and gave a nod, already wondering what our next move would be, "Grab your reports and your gear, we roll out in 20. We'll need Forensics on call, as well as that new whizz kid with the computers, whatever his name was. Find him; we're heading off to the crime scene."
Frost grinned and stood up, already heading out the door before I'd finished my sentence, but I was sure that he had heard it all. He was a cocky bastard, but he was a good detective, and in this line of work, that was all that really mattered.
30 minutes later we parked in front of what people around these parts called Kildare Gardens, to me, it just looked like a bunch of grass and flowers planted really close together, yet separated by sad excuses for sidewalks…. Okay, I hate nature. Well, the artificial ones really. This just looked too much like humanity's excuse for 'nature' it was okay I guess, but I really wasn't super excited about it. Frost set his Range Rover in park and got out, leading the way to the yellow crime scene tape that isolated the area from the other places. I could see curious neighbors standing practically on tip toes to watch the officers work, and those lucky enough to live in the complex could be seen crowding at the windows.
"I hate nosey neighbors…" Frost muttered as he spared a glance upwards at the windows, I only hummed in agreemecrnt and stifled a chuckle as a few of the curious neighbors shrank back or at least tried to be more discreet about their gawking when confronted with his icy stare.
Two officers approached us and I flashed my badge to stop the stream of questions that would have come if I hadn't. Despite popular opinion, cops loved to talk. They were worse than chicks in a hair salon, if you didn't set some sort of boundary between you and them, they would tell you all about their family life before you'd even gotten a word out. Saved from another boring and meaningless conversation, I made my way to where Forensics worked, dusting here and there for fingerprints, snapping pictures, and chatting idly.
"You told me that she was shot twice, right?" I started, turning my head to scan the area. The gardens opened up to my left, where it seemed they curved off in different directions. A maze of some sort? I could see a marker where a pair of foot prints had been caught; it was being preserved, and seemed to have been gratefully protected before all of the officers had come in to contaminate the crime scene.
"Right, both bullets entered through her back. Killing shot bounced off her spine and went through her heart; Forensics says there was no exit wound. Second bullet went right through her lung, there's an exit wound in the breast area, they're not so sure where that bullet went."
"If it's not inside of her, then it must have lodged itself somewhere, I doubt the killer would have been so worried about where his bullets went that he would come looking for it and take it with him."
Frost gave me a shrug, "True, so where is this mystery bullet, and why do you care?"
Frost was sharp, but he obviously wasn't following my logic right now. First thing first, we had to find that bullet. I knew that Frost was right about one thing, the kid we had in custody really didn't do it. It just didn't seem right, and normally, cases were never really this easy. There was usually some twist involved, like a bad Stephan King novel. Wait… There isn't any bad Stephan-Oh never mind with that thought.
"There." Frost's words snap me out of my ambling thoughts; my gaze followed his pointing hand before I saw it, at about breast level, a tad shorter, was a deep depression in what I could see seemed to be a back entrance to one of the apartments. The wood was cracked where something had forcibly entered it, and I could dimly see the dull shine of something stuck inside. Bingo.
"Hey, you." I called over to one of the Forensics, I motioned to the door, "Think you missed a spot, there's a bullet in there, fetch it for us?" The older man gave me a blank stare, and for a moment I thought he was going to ignore me, but I guess that after years of seeing dead people and getting bossed around by officers, that blank look I was seeing was the only result. The guy took his time taking care of the bullet, but I didn't mind much, I had what I needed, but would it be enough to free that Marilo kid? Maybe not permanently, but it would alleviate some of the suspicion on him.
"Rhodes, you're plotting and I'm not in it. Spill, what's so important about this bullet?" Frost had turned away from the Forensic team working on the door, and was staring at me intently; he obviously wanted to know what was going on.
"Alright, imagine this. You see that marker? That was where Marilo would have been standing last night," I pointed to where the footprints had been preserved by the tape, and then followed it with a direct line to the door. "From where he was standing, to where the victim was, there's an angle, putting him to her side, and not directly behind her, you follow?"
"Now, the reports tell us that the girl was standing at this entrance, facing away from Marilo, only, since he was in the Garden, he was not behind her. The bullets entered directly into her back, which would rule out Marilo as the killer; got it?"
A slow nod was my answer, but Frost didn't look convinced, "That doesn't exactly add up to what the kid told us. He said that he stopped to tie his shoe, meaning he had to been over. But while he was down, the two shots flew over his head. Wouldn't that had put him and the killer in the same spot?"
I looked off towards the gardens, squinting as I tried to visualize that night in my head, Marilo bending down and tying his shoes… Two shots fired over his head… I felt a bit of disappointment sink in my gut, but I had to agree, "So that would only point to him as the killer…"
"That doesn't make you all wrong…" Frost suddenly added, "Marilo said that he ran when the first shots were fired… So this isn't where the first two shots were fired, this is where he saw the girl's body." I could see the excitement in his words, the way his hands started to gesture faster, and as I thought about it, I could see it. The maze like Garden, it would be impossible to say exactly where they were standing at that time, but…
"Where was he originally? Where did he stop to tie his shoe?"I asked, already scanning greenery, but it was a maze, and it looped around to some place unknown.
"He didn't say, the kid wasn't the easiest to talk to. He was a bit too willing to talk, got his story jacked up with the officers. But he mentioned something about a loop, honestly, that could be anywhere in the Garden, it's some sort of maze." Frost lifted one shoulder in a shrug and motioned to the Garden, "We can say he didn't run very far, there's a loop right there… sort of."
"Cross your fingers and pray," I muttered, picking my way over some fallen branches and twigs, I turned what appeared to be that 'loop' and paused, the ground was overturned here, obviously by someone running. I was careful not to step in it as I made my way farther in. It wasn't long before I saw where the trail ended; there was a slight depression in the ground, possibly where someone had stopped to kneel. I pulled out my phone and snapped a few pictures, catching evidence of my findings.
"Now, where would that put our shooter?"
"Farther behind I suppose, maybe at a place where he had a vintage point of both victims? He shot at Marilo... The kid ran, he must have tried to follow… scrambled and... Ended up hitting the wrong person." Frost finished, a slight furrow appearing between his brows, "Sound believable?"
"Sounds probable, we'll have to scout out the area some more."
A sigh escaped Frost, "Marilo saw the killer, but he didn't see his face. They were side by side when they saw the body, meaning the killer took another route…" He stepped away from me and walked a few feet further away, he turned to the left and looked to the ground, "Here, he was behind Marilo, and in attempt to stay out of sight, he ran alongside him down another part of this garden, when they crossed paths again, those two bullets had already found their victim. This would put the killer behind the girl, leaving Marilo in the clear… Mostly."
I looked down the path I stood at, backtracking in my head, it seemed possible, and I knew there had to be tracks in the other area… So there were three people here… But what's to say Marilo killed her or not? The third could have simply been another scared witness…
"Let's go back to the station; they should be done with the interrogation."
This was going to be a long day.