Lordy, she hated night calls. It damn near killed her to lose moments with Larry on a night when he was home. Her kids had gone to sleep easily, and they had a stretch to themselves after a long three weeks. The tingle in her limbs slowly and regrettably subsided as she sat behind the wheel of her road-stained Toyota Corolla, peering through the breath-fogged window at the group of four young officers, three men and one woman, who she sent to secure the crime scene at the river’s edge.
They had finished cordoning off the area and now huddled together, a miserable lump of humanity trying to stay warm in the cold of the night. At their feet lay cold death, hidden under a shroud with which they thankfully covered it. As her own warm breath created blossoms on her side window that unfolded then quickly faded with each inhale, they blew into their hands to warm them as they waited for her to set foot on scene.
Maureen Thompson had worked her way through the ranks to become Chief Inspector of Detroit’s 12th Precinct. She wasn’t normally on call at night, but the rest of her senior staff was reeling after the apprehension of a killer dubbed ‘The Vampire.’ Her own partner lay in the hospital, on her way to recovery. Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler sat by the bedside of his partner, Tomio Dubanowski, while he fought for his life. The entire company was mourning the death of one of their own. The killer was now behind bars for the rest of his life, but life out here droned on, and another victim, another criminal’s ruin, lay at the river’s edge. Sweet Jesus, it never ended.
She braced for the blast of cold that would hit her as she opened the door. It did not disappoint. The icy ground crunched beneath her feet as she descended the incline toward the river. Without a doubt, the water’s edge was the worst place to find a body. Thankfully, the blast of frigid air that hit her didn’t reek of dead fish this time of year. Her officers came to attention as she approached.
The body was on top of the rocky shore right at the edge of the water line. Feet poked out from under the shroud, and the river’s waves gently caressed them. It was a weird juxtaposition. The body was face down, unless she was looking at horrendously mangled legs. Markers had been placed next to shoe prints that didn’t belong to her officers, and her people had set down mats of cardboard next to the body as best they could on top of the rocks.
“The scene looks well secured,” she said. It never hurt to pat their backs.
“Yes, sir,” said one of the young men. Another stepped up behind him and laid a comforting hand upon his shoulder. No doubt, the first had upchucked after seeing a murder victim for the first time. What were they looking at here?
Her phone buzzed. “Chief Thompson.”
“Dispatch. Coroner ETA, about two minutes. Over.”
“Thank you. Out.” She stuck the phone back into her coat pocket. Then she squatted next to the body and gently lifted the shroud. The black hair, though short, was long enough to mat against the skull on the back of the head. She used a penlight to check for blood. It appeared to be mud and leaf matter.
“Was this body face-down when you found it?”
“Yes, sir,” said the young woman, who stared at the river when a fish splashed heavily back into it after jumping.
The skeletal build of the body, the short hair and heavy muscling indicated male, but until the coroner flipped him, she wouldn’t know for sure.
The coroner’s van pulled in behind Maureen’s Corolla. A short, older, and gray-haired woman slid out of the bus feet first, wearing muck boots under a business skirt, covered by her white lab coat. Maureen did not recognize her. However, the 12th had an on-call agreement with Precinct Nine. She was probably one of theirs.
The woman stumbled twice as she slid down the hill and fell on her bum. Maureen felt uneasy having to work with someone unfamiliar on a new scene, and watching the woman scramble to her feet did nothing to alleviate that. However, when the woman extended her hand, Maureen warmed to her gentle smile and compassionate eyes.
“Doctor Tamilin,” she said as they shook hands.
“Thanks for coming,” said Maureen. “I just got here myself. Nothing has been moved, the scene is secure.”
At first, the petite doctor seemed feeble and uncoordinated, but then she squatted with the ease of a twenty-something on the precarious rocks next to the body. Immediately all business, she began by temping the body, palpating an apparent knife wound to the back and surveying the brutal bruising on the ribs and over the exposed hips. “Do these look like kick marks to you?” she said.
Maureen squatted next to Dr. Tamilin. “Could be.”
One of the young officers chimed in, “Mixed martial arts.”
“Do you want to elaborate on that?” said Maureen, feeling her left eyebrow arch as she stared up at him.
“Yes, Sir. See that bruise on the forearm and the one behind the knee? Classic strike marks. The victim used a cross-body strike with the arm to push back his opponent, and he took a hit to the back of the knee when his opponent tried to knock him to the mat.”
“Do you fight?”
“Sometimes, Sir. When I can.”
She compartmentalized the information in case she needed it later.
“Am I allowed to direct your team?” Dr. Tamilin quietly asked Maureen.
Dr. Tamilin seemed taller than she was when she stood and turned to the officers. “Let’s move this person away from the water’s edge. I’d like to roll him over on that tarp.” She pointed to the staging area that her second had set up behind them.
Two officers and her tech lifted the body. They laid it on the canvas and gently rolled it as they set it down. A young boy. He was lean, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, maybe nineteen.
The rocks under the body were clean, except for disturbed river debris. It was obvious he’d been killed elsewhere and dumped. Maureen said, “Was he in the river?”
“No, Sir. That is how we found him.”
Tamilin said, “There is no gross evidence he was ever in the water. I will check his lungs, of course.”
The coroner continued, “From the looks of the wounds, here and here…,” she pointed to marks on the boy’s ankles and forearms, “it looks like he put up a hell of a fight.” Then she lifted each of his arms, one at a time, and examined his wrists. “He was bound, not long enough to form abrasions, but these indentations indicate he was bound.” She checked his ankles. “Yep. Probably rope, but I can’t be sure until I get him under the light.”
“Oh, god. Poor thing,” whispered Maureen. Her keen eyes perused the story on the boy’s face, arms, legs, and bare torso. Angry bruises stained his hands across the knuckles and at the base of his palms. His knees sported fresh bruises, as did his ankles and arches. He had a bent nose and a blackened eye, swollen lips. She wondered if he was missing teeth. There were contact bruises across his ribs. “Looks like he’s been in a martial arts fight to me,” she agreed as she stood.
Why would someone knife him? Was it to put him out of his misery, or had he pissed off someone? If captured and bound, was he held captive before or after the fight? His face was so smashed it was hard to ascertain his nationality, but young Taiwanese boys were smuggled into the country to fight. The color and texture of his hair suggested a tie to that traffic line. Her stomach became queasy as she thought about it.
An officer said, “We broke up a few bouts this week. Two of them licensed, one not.”
“Well, we can count on this bout being unlicensed,” she said in a low voice.
“Nothing, nothing.” She nodded at the officer and felt her phone buzz again. She walked away to answer. “Chief Thompson.”
“This is Dispatch. We just received a 9948. Family has requested an officer on scene. Over.”
Maureen looked around. They weren’t finished here, and she wasn’t going to desert her people. “Ten four. Send me the information. Over.”
“Will do. Out.” Dispatch hung up. Ten seconds later, she was staring at the call log and an address with a name. Jack’s neighborhood. She wondered if he was home. She dialed.
It rang twice before he answered in an exhausted voice. “Hey Maureen.”
“Did I wake you?”
“No. Just got in.”
Alarmed by his reply, she said, “How is Tom?”
“He’s in the ICU. Had another surgery. They couldn’t control his pain, so they did an ultrasound and found a pocket of blood. Evidently, there was a slow bleeder they didn’t catch the first time.”
“Dammit, Jack. I am so sorry to hear that. I can call someone else.”
“No. I need the distraction. How can I help?”
“Seriously, I can call someone else.”
“Seriously, I am fine. What can I do?”
“I’m at a crime scene on the river, an apparent martial arts fight gone bad. I have rookies working tonight and I don’t want to send them on a missing persons call. It’s in your neighborhood.”
“I’m sending the address. Thank you so much, Jack. I will be praying for Tom. Out.” Maureen clicked off and re-texted the message from dispatch. She owed Jack big time. He and Tom were instrumental in catching the Vampire Killer. What was one more favor?
As she turned back to her team, a news van skidded into a crooked position behind the Coroner’s van. She did not want the press to get hold of this just yet. The illegal fighting clubs were hard enough to break up, their locations found only by chance. Giving them a head start with limited information about this victim was not on her to-do list. With a heavy heart, she trudged up the bank to intercept the cameras and reporters.
It was going to be a long night.