At the murder scene, Kate Hounslow shivered in the autumn chill and tugged at the winged collar of her navy blue overcoat. She instinctively thought of the inviting warmth of her standard issue Chrysler, then her bed.
As the DC Metropolitan Chief of Police she had become more accustomed to a desk job. In fact, it had been five months since she’d last set foot on the field. Crime in Foggy Bottom was not unheard of. There were the customary burglaries; muggings and drug pushing by dealers who’d ‘bought’ the rights to the streets. Homicide had declined under her watch to its lowest occurrence in twenty years. The current year had recorded 61 deaths; this included, with three months to go.
Something about this crime required her attention. She’d felt it in the grim tone of the voice asking her to come take a look. Her intuition brought with it a kind of cold her overcoat couldn’t protect her from, a cold which came from within. The type of cold she felt occasionally even when she contemplated her electric fireplace in the privacy of her home; or on a hot summer day. It also brought with it a shiver, from the knowledge of a truly gruesome crime. It was at times like these she would draw strength from Ben; the Mr. Hounslow in her life. He was ten years older; a retired police officer from an earlier generation. He had once understood her challenges; doubts and fears. Now he understood less with each passing day.
She pushed down the dire thoughts which threatened to overwhelm her and surveyed her surroundings. Ensuring protocol was observed was a vapid task but for the moment a useful distraction. The DC Police outfit had cordoned off the street and were painstakingly combing the area for clues. A black jogger casually passed by, glancing at the police vans in mild interest. Kate stared him down, willing him to jog on. He did, and soon the officers were alone again on a slow and freezing Saturday morning.
Kate finally turned her attention to the alley, with a gnawing dread of what she would find.
She looked on as the techs, huddled in a tight group in the narrow alley, took pictures of the space between them. Although she couldn’t see the object they were photographing she knew what it was.
Most were unaware of her arrival. Five minutes passed in relative silence, punctuated by the occasion shutter click and observation from an officer. Finally a plain clothed detective, dressed in a grey sports coat and jeans, peeled himself away from the cluster of uniforms and made his way towards her. She smiled at him; the only friendly face in the homicide division. A forty year old cop with the instincts of an older veteran, Scott Devino.
‘Morning Chief’ he said; tipping an invisible hat in deference to her. ‘Looks like we clocked in early today.’
She acknowledged the attempt to defuse the tension with a nod. She’d gotten the call a little past six that morning. A mini task force had been assembled and dispatched to the scene immediately; minimizing the need for damage control.
A quick assessment of the body deemed it necessary to have the Chief herself come down to take a look. She stepped towards the tech group and they drew back; giving her a first glimpse of the body.
Even after thirty years on the job she gave a start when she saw a splash of red and felt a wave of sadness wash over her as she stared at the victim. The girl had been pretty in life; Caucasian with a hint of… Indian? Either way, there was a semblance of the east in her delicate features. Just how far east would be determined when they could ID her.
‘What have we got on her, Devino?’
‘Victim’s name was Jazmin Garretts; a university student’ replied Devino.
‘What university? We’ve got several around here’ said Kate.
‘She’s got a GW card, does it matter?’ said Devino.
‘George Washington University’ she thought. She shook her head. ‘Beyond contacting procedure, no. Time of death?’ she inquired.
‘The meds say she’s been dead at least six hours. Three gunshot wounds to the chest, she was dead within minutes. There’s something else though, look at these bruises.’
Devino stepped around the body and crouched. He tentatively brushed Jazmin’s hair aside with a DNA swab stick, exposing her cheek and neck.
‘Somebody roughed her up real good. Multiple blows to the face and attempted strangulation by the looks of it. We checked her nails for foreign DNA samples but couldn’t find any. No defensive wounds either. It’s like she didn’t even fight her attacker.’
He straightened up and shook his head. ‘It doesn’t make sense.’
Kate looked up at him ‘She knew her attacker. She was dressed for a night out. I’m almost certain she was at The Void last night. She came into this alley expecting to see someone’ she said.
‘Raker and Dixion checked the club perimeter. One main entrance and a back door for staff to use for their short breaks; the club doubles as a bar in the early evening. All in all, we haven’t found anything suspicious’ said Devino.
‘Where is Raker?’
‘He’s contacting the club owner. Black businessman named Shawn Curtis.’
Kate nodded. She hoped they could solve this case within a day, or two. DC had more than its fair share of crime, every city did. But Washington’s homicide department enjoyed one of the highest success rates on high profile murders in the country. The city owed its thanks to the likes of Devino; Dixon and probably even Raker, despite the latter’s rather unconventional approach to law enforcement.
‘Has anyone seen Gotti?’ she asked, looking around.
The uniforms and techies looked away. Devino shrugged.
‘Damn that man!’ she breathed, whipping out her phone. She dialed a number and bit her lip as it rang, unanswered.
‘He’s impossible! As Head of Homicide you’d expect him to be on top of things. If he spent less time playing footsie with-’
‘Don’t sweat it Chief’ said Devino, glancing down at the techies. ‘Best we talk about it back at the station.’
They called her that without even the slightest bit of humour or discomfort. They looked past the fact she was a woman. And why not? No senior officer had established a bond with the rest of the force as she had. She knew a lot of them from childhood; played cops and robbers with them as a young officer on the beat. She’d risen through the ranks by grit and merit, taking down a good portion of the small time crooks that’d plagued the city in her youth without so much as firing a bullet. And now…
‘Chief?’ Devino’s voice interrupted her thoughts and jarred her back to the present.
‘I’m fine Devino, just… Any witnesses?’
Devino shook his head. ‘Friday night, Chief. Most students would’ve been in the club at the time. Passers-by would probably have been few and far between.’
‘Who made the call’
‘Lois Bertrand, GW student on her morning bike ride.’
Kate allowed her eyes to wander up the alley to the street.
‘It’s a little bit out of her way isn’t it?’
Devino followed her gaze and nodded. ’I see what you mean.’
‘Where is she now, Scott?’
‘Dixon’s taken her to the station for her statement. You probably missed them by a couple of minutes.’
Kate closed her eyes for a moment, going over the facts. She decided to ask the question that been nagging him for a while.
‘You still haven’t told me why you thought I should come down here. What’s troubling you?’
Devino fiddled with the DNA swab before speaking. ‘You were worried when you heard the location of the murder, you had a good hunch.’ He beckoned to one of the techies who passed him an evidence bag. ‘Take a look at this.’
Kate took the bag and examined the black credit card inside. ‘An American Express Centurion? She couldn’t just have been a guest then.’
Devino nodded, his face grim. ‘Too true, you don’t simply apply for it. You have to get invited. And that’s only after you blow 250 grand a year like it’s your phone bill or something. Chief, this girl wasn’t just some tag along to the Void. She’s a heavyweight, the press are gonna have a feast with this one.’
Kate concurred. She did a quick calculation and decided Jazmin had to be worth at least $20 million, with sustainable income streams. She couldn’t be over 25, just who on earth was she?
‘And no valuables taken.’ She murmured. ‘Definitely premeditated.’
‘Does the name Garretts ring a bell, Chief?’ asked Devino.
‘I can’t say it does, but I know someone who can give us answers.’
Devino’s cellphone beeped as she called a number on speed dial. A woman answered on the third ring.
Susan Pelosi was a very useful contact at the Washington Post. A good friend too. Kate could count on her vast network of sources. Susan usually broke crime stories in her balanced, non-sensationalist way. Kate was an eager reader and a willing informant.
‘Listen, there’s been a murder at the Void, in Foggy Bottom. I can give you a name but no details just yet. Do you have any information on the name “Garretts”?’
‘Garretts? I can’t say I do. I’ll have to check.’
‘You do that. Victim’s name is Jazmin Garretts. Mixed race, maybe Middle Eastern. See what you can find.’
‘I think we’ve got something’, said Devino, looking down at his phone. ‘There’s a cctv camera over that restaurant on the street corner. It’s got a good view of the alley entrance so we might get some leads from there.’
A chilly wind blew through the alley, ruffling their coats. Kate stuck her hands in her pockets and looked up at Devino.
‘In an hour or so I hope we have a lot more than that’ she said.