Guiltless Chapter 7: The Body

Kate felt numb, an emotional vacuum as she walked away from the Mayor’s office; followed by white hot indignation; then a sobering hopelessness. He’d cross the line, on a professional and personal level. It was humbling, feeling so small, vulnerable as he’d probed details of her private life.

What else had he done? Bugged her office, her home? The prospect terrified her.

Who could she talk to? Who could she confide in? Surely not Ben, he had enough on his plate. The doctors said he would maintain high levels of mental acuity for another year. Beyond that, who knew? Alzheimer’s, and the resulting dementia, could only be managed by the medical community, not cured.

She had to be strong, for Ben and her police force.

Her phone rang as she approached her patrol car. Dread coursed through her veins as she reached for it. The press conference was barely 20 minutes away, 11th hour updates rarely bore good news.

It was Myers.

‘Hey Chief. Devino and Raker just walked in with Ryan Chow. He’s in interrogation, something good to report for a change.’

She heaved an audible sigh of relief, but Myers was still speaking.

‘Also, Barry Mead asked to see you. No details, he says it’s important.’

Kate paused for a moment before replying.

Barry Mead was DC’s Chief Medical Examiner. Whatever information he had was worth making a detour for. Her statement was typed and ready, she would read it as planned and give additional updates as necessary.

‘I’ll be right there.’

***

Kate always thought Dr. Barry Mead was more afro-American Santa Claus than a Medical Examiner.

A fraction over six feet, rotund and bald, with a grey moustache. His dark brown face creased in a sad smile as he looked at her from beside the body on the gurney in the mortuary. Behind him was a hugely clever and inappropriate sticker:  ’Like a surgeon…cutting for the very first time!’

If Madonna was dead she’d be laughing in her grave.

‘Kate’ he said warmly,  as he straightened up beside and waved a meaty hand.

‘Barry’ said Kate. ‘You wanted to see me?’

‘Quite a mess we’ve got on our hands here’ said Dr. Mead. ‘A quick update before your conference. It’s sensitive stuff, so I thought I’d better deliver it in person.’

‘Thanks Barry. What have you found out, so far?’’

Dr Mead gestured at the cadaver.

‘Mandy Gross, mid-twenties.’

The second victim. Kate found herself unable to speak as she stared at the body.

‘Cause of death was drug induced paralysis of the respiratory system. Most likely from the painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs we found by her. They combine to form a potentially lethal cocktail.  I found no defensive wounds nor signs of assault on her body. She definitely took the medication herself and hit her head upon losing control of her mobility.’

‘Suicide?’

‘I’ll leave that to your detectives to decide. No doctor would prescribe both drugs to a patient, for obvious reasons. It’s possible she self-medicated. Which isn’t at all uncommon. For the record, this one had sex before she died. I found traces of semen in her vaginal opening. It was likely consensual. I’ve sent a sample to the lab just to help your guys cover all bases.’

Kate looked up at Dr Mead, who watched her with an air of expectancy. He’d relayed the information quickly, no frills. Kate had worked with him long enough to know what that meant.

‘You didn’t call me for this’ she said. ‘This is about Jazmin, isn’t it?’

He nodded and lead her to the second gurney, slapping on a fresh pair of latex gloves before he unceremoniously pulled the sheet off the body.

Unbidden, Kate felt the breath catch in her chest as she stared. Jazmin’s petite frame seemed even smaller as her body rested on the cold steel. Three large bullet holes marred her slender chest. Her astonishingly pale body was covered with purplish welts and bruises, Kate counted seven and frowned. That was inconsistent with Shawn Curtis’ statement. Ryan had hit her twice, in the face.

‘Multiple bruises and injuries?’ she said sharply. ‘She was beaten in the alley?’

Dr. Mead shook his head.

‘Don’t get ahead of yourself Kate. A visual analysis of the sub-dermal bruising indicates most of the damaged tissue is in the recovery phase. I’ve sent a tissue sample to ascertain the protein regeneration rate.’

‘Barry. English, please’

Dr. Mead chuckled grimly. ‘Unless our victim has the astounding ability to generate new tissue in her current state I would hazard a guess she sustained most of these injuries a week before her death’

‘Most?’

‘Look here, and here’ said Dr. Mead, pointing to some darker welts.

‘She could’ve been carrying these for up to two months. Of course, it all depends on the subject’s diet. I don’t think she ate much and probably smoked  like a choo-choo train. Again, the lab will confirm.’

‘So there’s no way you can be sure?’ said Kate.

‘For now no, but one thing’s certain. The girl was subjected to a prolonged period of physical abuse- most of it not desirable.’

No sexual assault.

Hounslow’s brain ; a jilted lover? Investigative procedure demanded they compile a psychological profile of possible suspects.

‘I’ll need the report’ she said finally.

Dr Mead wiped his sweaty forehead, in spite of the air conditioning in the room.

‘I’ll get it compiled, pictures and everything.’

***

 ‘So, take us through this again: Jazmin invited you to the Void just to break up with you? And you don’t remember anything after that?’ said Gotti.

‘No’ said Ryan. His shoulders slumped in defeat and he looked absolutely dejected.

Gotti leered at him across the interrogation table.

‘You don’t remember smacking Jazmin around like a rag doll, in a club filled with witnesses.’ said Gotti.

‘No.’

‘You don’t remember Maurice Phelps pulling you off her and punching you in the face.’

‘No-’

‘You don’t remember getting thrown out of the Void. Or waiting in the back alley so you could lure Jazmin and kill her.’

‘FUCK YOU!’ yelled Ryan.

Gotti smirked.

‘Really, make this easier for yourself, Chow’ he said. ‘Think about it…you were angry. You had a lot to drink. You were hurting, enraged-’

‘I didn’t kill her!’

Gotti leaned back in his chair, bad cop routine over and played to perfection. Devino studied Ryan’s twisted, pained features.  He seemed sincere but as a cop Devino had come across a few murderers who could beat a polygraph.

It was his turn to have a go.

‘Why’d you run? And where’d you get the gun?’ he asked.

Ryan slammed clenched fists on the table.

‘Are you even listening to me?! I told you I don’t know! I woke up this morning with a migraine and a gun in my pocket! I’ve never seen that revolver before!’

‘If we swab your hands we’ll get gunshot residue.’

‘Shit! I fired it at the station man and I’m sorry. But I didn’t do it! I swear! You’ve got to believe me!’

Their eyes locked for a moment, then Ryan looked down at his knees. He seemed to curl into a protective ball, rocking back and forth between rapid breaths.

Devino leaned forward.

‘You fired at me, then my partner’ he said, his voice barely above a whisper. ‘If he hadn’t moved I’d be dead. “Shit” is right, you’re swimming in it right now.’

He placed an evidence bag on the table. Within it was a small, nondescript black cellphone.

‘She called this phone, your phone. Unregistered, but it’s got your prints all over it. We found it in a dumpster outside Mitchell Hall, your address.’

‘I knowwhat this looks like-’

‘Tell us, why is Mandy Gross dead less than twelve hours after Jazmin? What did she know?’

The rocking stopped, abruptly. Ryan looked up at Devino, eyes wide with disbelief.

‘Mandy? Mandy’s dead?’

Ryan rubbed his eyelids.

‘Tears, or guilt’ wondered Devino as he waited for a response. A full minute passed before the detective stopped counting.

‘I- I want a lawyer’ said Ryan finally.

Gotti sniggered in his seat.

‘Ah, the magic word. In good time, Chow. I’m sure we’ll find someone who’ll wanna take your case’ he said.

Devino sighed and stood up. He pulled out his phone and called Raker. His partner answered on the second ring.

‘Interrogation’s over. Chow said the L word’ said Devino.

‘That’s his problem’ said Raker. ‘I just spoke with the cab company, Mandy Gross went home alone last night.’

Devino’s heart skipped a beat at the information, he hadn’t expected to hear that.

‘That’s very strange’ he said. ‘She definitely was with someone. Jazmin had five guests on her card that night.  I wanna check them out.’

‘Fine by me’ replied Raker. ‘But there’s the small matter of questioning Curtis’ staff. They just walked in.’

 ***

Devino watched the three men as Raker brandished two crime scene photos in their faces. Jazmin and Mandy.

‘Two girls, found dead this morning. Both were VIP guests at your club last night. Does anyone care to explain that?’ asked Raker.

The tallest, Turner, was the first to break. He shrunk back into his chair, away from Raker, and raised his hands in a placating gesture.

‘Argh, get that stuff outta my face man!’

‘Something playing on your conscience?’ inquired Raker as his lips curled in an ice cold smirk.

‘I don’t like seeing dead bodies, is all. Grandma told me a lotta horror stories from the South while I was growing up. I’m still squeamish.’

‘Understand none of you is currently a suspect. We’re just being thorough here’ offered Devino.

‘Savvy already gave his statement. Wotchu need us for?’ spat the bulkiest of the men; Kareem.

‘We just want to know if you saw anything suspicious’ replied Devino. ‘Did you see Mandy Gross leave with anyone?’

‘Nope’ said Kareem.

‘Kareem, where did you go after your shift at the Void’ asked Raker.

‘Whoa whoa whoa! We went straight on home, man’ interjected the smallest, Lemar.

Raker turned to look at him.

‘And how long have you been working at The Void?’

‘Three months, give or take.’

‘And you, Turner?’

‘Four years, same as Kareem.’

‘Where did you go after closing?’

Turner smiled.

‘Took me home a pole dancer of ours named Simone’ he said. ‘You need details?’

‘Yes please’ said Raker.

‘Cool it, Raker’ said Devino.

‘Fine’ said Raker. ‘We’ll be taking DNA samples from everyone here, if that’s ok?’

By his tone, Devino knew Raker wasn’t really giving them a choice.

‘What? Why?’ asked Lemar, withering under Raker’s intense gaze.

‘Want to lawyer up?’ asked Raker.

Lemar shrugged. Raker produced two latex gloves and three DNA vials. He took mouth swabs with the practiced air of a professional.

‘We’ll have the results in five days, at the earliest’ said Raker as he walked towards the door and pulled it open. ‘My partner here will ask you all a couple of more questions, about Ryan Chow. Don’t leave town, and have a nice day.’

‘I’ll send them to the lab’ said Raker to Devino. ‘You focus on keeping it together.’

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