Monday, June 27, 2011

Harvest of Ruins

I've been sick the past few days, and haven't been operating at peak efficiency, so this seems like a great time to share with you a little piece of my new manuscript, HARVEST OF RUINS.

No Crime Scene

They say the last thing you see before you die is recorded in your eyes. Hunter McKenna wondered if this was what Adam Fields’ eyes would show if they could see that image. His body surrounded by a white porcelain bathtub surrounded by marble tile, water pelting down at him from above?

“Goddamn CSI shit.”

Hunter McKenna, a detective sergeant with the provincial police, watched her partner swear, turn, stomp across the room and swing his foot at the trash can. When Noah Wilmott’s toe connected with the steel bin it rose into the air before it tipped sideways and the contents spilled all over the floor.

He limped and cursed for a few steps, although he kept the words under his breath. Hunter knew him well enough to know what he was saying, though. It seemed like Noah hadn’t thought kicking the can would hurt as much as it apparently did. His hair was black as coal but he had the temper of a redhead, a temper he tried to rein in and offset with a groomed appearance, but there were times his nature defied the suit-and-tie charmer image he worked so hard to project.

Next to her partner, Hunter felt frumpy. He had a nicer wardrobe, a more recent haircut and most of the time he appeared polished. Her hair wisped around her face, her curves threatened to push her out to the next clothing size, and she never had felt like dress pants fit properly anyway.

Noah staggered out the door, down the hall.

“Where the hell is Heineman? That goddamn spit-for-brains no-good sack of shit.” There was a pause as Heineman was located, and then Noah’s voice returned with a roar. “Prove you aren’t totally useless. Tell me it occurred to you for even just a split second to turn the water off and stop running evidence down the goddamn drain.”

Under other circumstances a smile might have tugged at Hunter’s lips, but on this occasion she could understand her partner’s anger. The discovery of a body had been reported around the time early risers ate breakfast. The late risers had been deprived of their opportunity to sleep in, at least in this cul de sac, unless the growing chorus of sirens that had reached their crescendo outside this otherwise normal home hadn’t piqued their curiosity and their curtains were thick enough to block out the swirling lights of the half dozen plus emergency vehicles that had converged there.

By the time Hunter and Noah had arrived the slipper-and-robe brigade had swelled to such a size that she guessed the bystanders included residents from as far as three blocks away. The joggers and dog-walkers interspersed with the sleep-deprived explained the spread of information throughout the quiet community.

They’d been on the front step when the first camera crew arrived.

Hunter looked down at the body in the tub, felt the heat of the steam on her skin as she snapped a plastic glove over her hand, reached for the tap and turned the water off. Goddamn CSI shit indeed.

The reported body lay in the tub of what was undoubtedly the master bath, adjacent to a massive bedroom that a one-bedroom apartment could fit inside, with room to spare. Considering the size of the room, and the fact that the door to the master bath had reportedly been left open, the house must have had one hell of a hot water tank. The steam had fogged the mirror and she’d felt the heat when she’d twisted the spigot. Hunter stepped aside for Dr. Eaton, although the bathroom itself was as large as a standard bedroom, and she was hardly in his way.

The wizened doctor prepared himself to examine the body and knelt by the tub. “Apparent cause of death would be from a gunshot wound to the temple.” Dr. Eaton’s voice was gruff but hinted at no emotional response. He carefully lifted the decedent’s hands and examined them.

They’d been folded neatly across the boy’s naked body, resting on his stomach, where the spray of water from the shower nozzle had been directed.

Deliberate or coincidence?

“We’ll check for gunshot residue, but the water…” Dr. Eaton stood up and shook his balding head. “Obviously, core body temperature and rate of decomposition has been affected.” He bent over and lifted the victim’s leg a few inches, grunted, and nodded. “He’s pretty fresh. I can’t even swear to cause of death until I get him on the table.”

Hunter nodded. It was what she’d expected to hear. “Hot water was still running. We might be able to establish a window based on the size of their tank, how much hot water remains…” She’d have to have someone shut the system down so that it didn’t start replenishing the supply. “Glad you were in the area.”

He grunted again. “Convenient when I live across town.”

Or not so convenient, Hunter thought as she watched him glance at the body again. “Recognize him?” she asked.

“Adam Fields.”

Adam Fields… Where did she know the name? It clicked. Her former partner Tom’s daughter. Adam was a boy Vinny had played with. Hunter could remember a few times, when she’d been in the neighborhood where Tom’s ex-wife still lived, and seen Adam as a young boy. Blond hair, and truly white skin. He’d stood out almost as much as Jonah.

Jonah, a gorgeous boy with light brown skin, huge chocolate eyes, and clothes that bordered on rags. Somehow, as children they’d overlooked the obvious differences.

But with age came the loss of innocence, that taint of the world and the distorted views so many held.

Hunter remembered what had happened to Jonah.

Wondered if Adam had been there.

“Did you know him?” Dr. Eaton asked.

“Never struck me as the type to play Russian roulette,” she said.

“Won’t know what killed him until I get him on the table,” Dr. Eaton repeated. “Any blood’s long since swirled down the drain.”

Meaning that there may not have been sufficient blood loss to indicate the head wound was the cause of death. They hadn’t found Adam Fields’ clothes, they hadn’t found the gun, and there wasn’t any blood spatter on the walls. That meant that even if Adam had pulled the trigger himself, in that room, someone else had been there to clean up. Someone sophisticated enough to put him in the tub and turn the water on, and they may have been smart enough to use a gun to try to conceal the real cause of death. A gunshot wound was just a gunshot wound, until the doctor said otherwise.

She watched him shuffle out the door, through the adjoining bedroom, and saw Noah return. He ran his fingers through his hair the way he did when he was frustrated. He saw her watching him, took a breath, lowered his hand, straightened his tie.

A quick nod at one of the uniforms was all she needed to get him to approach her. After relaying her instructions, she turned to her partner. “Remind me why we’re here?”

“Because we’re dealing with all youth crimes these days.”

“And this qualifies how?” she asked.

“Suspicious death of a kid.”

She made a face at him. “We’ve got the vandalism from a few days ago, not to mention the drug leads we're chasing up. Musquash High’s been flooded with a new supply.”

“And this is going to take priority.” Noah shook his head. “It’s a teenager. A local boy. Drugs are just like God and the Tooth Fairy; they don’t really exist until your kid’s stealing money from your wallet to feed their habit, or the junkies are dropping like flies on the sidewalk in front of your house. But this is a body.”

He was right. All that mattered was that this was a teenager who was dead and shouldn’t be.

The drug case would have to wait.

“The doctor can’t be certain about cause of death.”

“Big surprise.” Noah scowled.

“What else have we got?”

“The keystone cops bungled every part of the scene they could get their hands on. I sent Heineman outside, on perimeter duty. Too bad there wasn't an Arctic outpost to send his ass to."

"He'd still find a way to screw that up somehow.”

Noah cracked a smile.

She’d already surveyed the master bedroom, and quickly exited, followed the hall to the main bath, checked it, and proceeded to the other bedroom.

All the furniture was pushed to the walls, the black and steel desk and shelves containing nothing more than a computer and a few books and boxes. The white carpet didn’t appear to have so much as a speck of dust on it.

Still, she did a full 360°, pushed the closet door open and confirmed it was also clear.

As she stepped back out into the hallway, Noah shook his head. “No gun. No bits of brain splattered against a wall. No blood stains.” They walked towards the stairs. “And courtesy of a timed sprinkler system the front and back yards are as wet as the bathtub.”

“Sprinklers? In October?” This was a year when drought hadn't been an issue. Enough rain had fallen throughout the spring to keep the grass growing steadily, green as the leaves on the trees, and with the arrival of fall the rain had returned.

The officer Hunter had tasked with checking the hot water heater stopped short, three quarters of the way up the stairs, when he saw them at the landing. Elijah Two-Rivers was tall, fit, with a booming voice that he somehow managed to soften appropriately whenever he was on the job. Hunter rarely visited the bar with her colleagues – not with a daughter waiting for her at home – but when she had stopped in for a few moments, she’d taken note of Elijah. He was the one who kept the party in check, which was why she’d selected him for her assignment. He was a young officer who was going places, and not just because of any affirmative action policy those passed over would blame.

He looked her straight in the eye. “You’re not going to like it,” he said. “They have a tank and an on-demand system. Damnedest thing…” He shook his head. “If that was the only water running and it wasn’t full pressure it could have been on for hours and the water would still come through hot.”

Hunter cursed the homeowners silently but thanked the officer. Elijah turned and looked as though he was about to descend to the main floor, but then stopped. “I also looked at the sprinklers outside,” he said.

Noah frowned. “Why?”

Elijah glanced at Hunter, then faced Noah as he answered him. “To see where it connected and what time it came on. The timer wasn’t activated.” He glanced back at Hunter. “I just thought you’d like to know.”

Hunter nodded and thanked him again. She raised an eyebrow as she glanced at her partner. “Remind me. How did this call come in?” They walked down the stairs.

“Anonymous 911 call from a pay-and-talk cell phone.”

“And who lives here?”

Noah flipped back a few pages in his notebook. “William and Eileen Shannon. Neighbors say William’s in finance, and Eileen works at Soldiers' Memorial Hospital in Orillia.”

“A couple with a lot of money.”

“And no kids, never mind teenagers.”

At the bottom of the stairs there was a door that presumably went to the garage. It took no more than a second to confirm that, and to verify that there was no vehicle parked inside. Hunter closed the door.

Noah smiled as he tapped his fingers against his notebook. “Neighbors say they’re on vacation. Crete.”

So far they had a naked dead boy in a bathtub, in a house he seemed to have no reason to be in, no murder scene, no witnesses, no certainty about what had killed him and not a whole hell of a lot to go on.

They were off to a great start.

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