My fourth novel, Murder Revisited, is almost ready. While I am making my final edits and polishing the details, I thought I would give you an opportunity to meet the main character. To that end, I have written a short story featuring homicide detective Jack Mallory. Hope you enjoy:
There was a stench in the room that told a story of what was beyond the next door. Homicide Detective Jack Mallory moved with a methodic grace that defied his size as he skirted the sea of evidence leading to the final scene. The living room was decorated with broken glass and blood splatter. In a gallery it might be considered art. In a one-bedroom walkup it was tragedy.
Every picture frame had been shattered. Decorations were slashed or smashed. What had happened here was personal. Very personal. Nothing was left untouched with the exception of a child’s drawing on the refrigerator door.
Jack paused and studied the crayon strokes on construction paper. It depicted a family scene. Recreation or imagination? A child, presumably the artist, held hands with a woman. Next to the woman was a man holding the leash of a dog. They all held ice cream cones, including the dog. It was crude, but the details were clear.
It was a family unit, yet the apartment only had one resident. So, who were the people in the drawing and why was it spared the devastation that took place in the rest of the room? Curious, Jack pulled out his cell phone and took a quick photo of the artwork.
Stepping up to the doorway leading to the bedroom, Jack paused to collect himself. As grim as the scene was in the living room, it was the bedroom where the true violence took place. He noted hairs pulled out by their roots on the doorframe, a preview of what was to come.
Crossing the threshold, Jack took deliberate steps so as not to contaminate anything vital to the investigation. The problem was the first responders had not been so careful. They had come in the hopes of saving the victim and were unconcerned with scene integrity.
The woman lay next to the bed, in front of the bathroom door. The latch was broken, the stop plate ripped from the woodwork. She had made it to the safety of the next room only to discover it was not enough. It slowed but did not stop the attack. It was from that room that the 911 call had been made. The operator on the other end of the line would need counselling after hearing what took place.
The victim, Valery Stevens, a woman in her late twenties, stared blankly at the ceiling through one eye. The other lid was swollen shut. Jack leaned over her and looked into her iris, wishing he could see what she had seen. She was covered with cuts and bruises. Her pale skin was caked with dried blood.
“What’ve you got for me?” Jack said.
The coroner knelt next to her, opposite where Jack stood. Unlike the victim, the coroner was a short, thick boned woman with a pronounced forehead, made more so by the way she pulled her hair back. Her ancestry was European and although she had lived in the states most of her life, her German accent was impossible to miss.
“Multiple contusions,” she reported. “Death was most likely blunt force trauma. I will know for sure after the autopsy. But from what I’ve seen, I would say she was beaten to death.”
“What about the cuts?” Jack pointed. “Nothing lethal?”
“All surface wounds,” the coroner sighed. “She suffered, Jack. A lot.”
It was obvious from the scene, but hearing the words caused the hairs on Jack’s neck to prickle. No one should have to die this way.
She was still alive when the paramedics arrived. She had fought to hang on as long as she could. But despite their efforts, there was nothing the medical team could do to save her. The damage had been too devastating, too extensive. What kind of monster could have done this?
Jack looked at the victim’s face one more time then took a step back to take in the rest of the room. Things in this room looked much like the rest of the apartment. Picture frames and decorations destroyed. Clothing had been pulled from drawers and the closet and cut to shreds. The killer had not just wanted this woman dead, they wanted her erased.
“Jack?” the voice brought the detective around to where a uniform stood in the doorway.
“What is it, Burns?” Jack had worked with this particular officer before. He was smart enough to avoid contaminating the scene, but that was about it.
“There’s a man outside, sir,” Burns said. “Claims to be the boyfriend.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. It was 3am. Not exactly a ‘stop by the girlfriend’s place’ kind of time. Either he has odd habits, or he is coming home from work. And there were no signs in the apartment that a man lived there.
“Well let’s have a chat with the boyfriend,” Jack said, making his way out of the bloody scene.
Jack followed the wide shoulders of Officer Burns down three flights of stairs until they were standing on the front porch of the apartment building, a converted brownstone from the post World War II era. Jack spotted the boyfriend immediately. The man was tall and broad, more than Burns, with thick muscles. He was visibly agitated, understandable of a man who had just learned his girlfriend was murdered.
What struck Jack as odd, was that at this late hour, he appeared to have just stepped out of the shower. His hair was still damp. His t-shirt was too white. Had he gone home to clean up after killing Valery? Jack approached slowly, not wanting to set off any alarms.
“I’m Detective Jack Mallory,” he introduced himself. “And you are?”
“Douglas,” the man said between tears. “Douglas Fox.”
“You say you’re the victim’s boyfriend?” Jack clarified.
At the moment Jack said the word victim, Douglas lost what little composure he had left. Burns reached out to stablize the man who’s knees seemed to be about to buckle. Despite the tears and wailing, Douglas nodded his head repeatedly in response to Jack’s question. Jack waited a moment for the man to compose himself before continuing.
“You’re out kind of late, aren’t you?” Jack asked. “Do you make a habit of stopping by at three in the morning?”
“I’m a bartender,” Douglas said. “We close at two and then we clean up. I always stop by on my way home. Valer…”
He lost it again. Jack stood and watched the man without expression as Burns patted Douglas’ thick shoulders. The detective waited, taking in every detail.
“Valery,” the man continued. “She always waited up for me.”
“She did?” Jack said. “Isn’t that unusual?”
“Unusual?” Douglas made eye contact with Jack for the first time.
“Wouldn’t she need her rest?” Jack asked. “Get up in the morning to go to work. You coming every night would keep her from her sleep.”
“She was a waitress,” Douglas said. “Worked evenings, like me. She just got home earlier.”
“I see,” Jack took notes as they talked. Douglas seemed to try to see what the detective was writing down.
“I’m not lying,” Douglas said.
“Didn’t say you were,” Jack said. The detective remembered the piece of refrigerator art and asked, “Do you own a dog, Douglas?”
“A dog?” the bartender said. “No. It’s not practical with my schedule.”
“Kids?” Jack said.
“No,” Douglas said. “Why?”
“There’s a kid’s drawing on the refrigerator,” Jack said. “Just wondering where it came from. Does Valery have any nieces, or nephews?”
“Only child,” Douglas said. “But I know where the drawing came from. It was Sylvia’s.”
“Neighbor kid,” Douglas said. “Took a real liking to Valery.”
“Does Sylvia have a dog?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know,” Douglas said. “I’ve never met the kid.”
The sound of metal scraping wood caught their attention and the two men turned to see the coroner leading two men out of the apartment building carrying a gurney between them. They struggled to make the turn necessary to clear the final door. The coroner barked orders at them, guiding them through their maneuvers until they were finally able to step free of the structure.
“Is that?” Douglas moved their direction, stopped by Jack and Burns.
“No,” Jack said. “You can’t see her now. Not like this.”
Douglas relaxed, but watched intently as the men carried the gurney to the coroner’s van. When all was secure, they drove away into the night.
“What you know of Sylvia,” Jack said, “you learned from Valery?”
“Yes,” Douglas still stood watching the taillights of the county vehicle moving away.
Jack looked down the street in both directions looking at the neighborhood. The residents were mostly single-family homes except for Valery’s walkup and one other. The crowds that had gathered on the sidewalks to investigate why their houses were being bathed in the flashing lights of the small army of emergency vehicles were elderly and one group of teens. He did not see any couples that might have young children. There were no yards with tricycles or swing sets.
“And you’re sure she said Sylvia was a neighbor?” Jack said to the man’s back.
Douglas didn’t say anything and for a minute Jack thought he would need to repeat the question. But Douglas turned to him with his brow scrunched. “I don’t remember. I asked her about the drawing and she said Sylvia drew it. When I asked who the girl was she said, ‘A friend.’.”
“And you conclude it’s a neighbor?”
“Burns,” Jack barked. “Who is working up Miss Stevens’ background?”
“I believe Officer Lopez, sir,” Burns said.
Margo Lopez was one of the best in the department at researching background information on victims and suspects. If there was a morsel of information to be had, she would find it. Jack nodded, “Where is Lopez now?”
“I’m here, detective,” Margo said. The Puerto Rican officer was sitting in the back of her SUV with a laptop on her legs. She typed, scanned and typed some more. Jack made his way to her and leaned up against the department decal on her vehicle.
“You got anything yet?” Jack asked.
“Valery Stevens, aged twenty-eight, waitress,” Margo read off the points like a grocery list. “Moved here three years ago. Prior to that, nothing.”
“What do you mean, nothing?” Jack said.
“I mean nothing,” Margo said. “Prior to three years ago, she has no social media history, no work history, nothing.”
“Witness protection?” Jack mused aloud. “Maybe they didn’t hide her well enough.”
“Couldn’t say,” Margo said. “Could be she changed her own identity to run from someone. Or the law.”
“Run a missing persons report for women matching her description from three to five years ago,” Jack said. “Maybe that’ll get us a hit.”
Margo’s fingers flew across the keyboard. Jack looked back at the apartment building. Three years. There were photos throughout the home. Were they all from the past three years or were they memories from before?
“I’ve got something,” Margo announced. “Diane Green, missing three and a half years. Presumed dead. They suspect the husband of foul play.”
The officer spun the laptop around for Jack to see. The image on the screen was four or five years old, but it was obviously Valery. There was no mistaking the eyes.
“What about a Sylvia?” Jack said.
“Diane’s daughter, also missing,” Margo said. “She would be eight now.”
“No sign of her in the apartment,” Jack thought aloud. “Except the drawing.”
Jack pulled out his phone and opened the photo he had taken of the refrigerator. The crayon strokes that made the family and dog were made by a toddler, not an eight-year-old. Valery, or Diane, had not seen her daughter in the three years she had been in hiding.
“What does the husband say happened?” Jack asked.
“Claims the wife took the child and vanished,” Margo read. “There was a history of domestic disturbances. The wife never filed charges. The local police concluded that he killed them. They just couldn’t find the bodies or evidence to charge him.”
“Give them a call,” Jack said. “I think we should talk to Mr. Green.”