Chapter 2 A Sudden Case
Despite the fact that it is a natural part of life, it is always a horrific shock when one comes across death. Even for Tom, who had spent some part of his life pursuing murders, felt the sinister chill of the crime. It was soon followed by sudden panic as he realized he would be the number one suspect.
Though he knew crime scenes were never supposed to be compromised, he was not willing to allow himself to be accused. But to make sure there was some documentation of the actual crime scene, he pulled out his phone and took a few pictures. Afterward, he closed the bag, and as gently as he could without causing too much suspicion, he took the corpse to the bookstore. When he entered, he went to the farthest aisle and laid it on the ground.
He glanced around him to make sure he was not being watched before reopening the bag. It was apparent that she had been dead for some time, at least for a half hour. There was no sign of a struggle, but there was something in her mouth, a piece of metal. A tongue ring? He pulled out a small flashlight from his pocket and peered inside. It wasn’t jewelry, it was money. She had a whole pile of coins in her mouth.
“What the…” Tom muttered under his breath. Choking on coins, that was an odd way to die.
He didn’t want to be the one to call the police. He would need to find someone else to do it. But who and how without placing suspicion on himself? He glanced towards the mall where he knew there were multiple options, and slipped behind one of the bookshelves to discreetly observe his choices.
He picked out a decent, elderly couple who were dressed modestly and undoubtedly held conservative viewpoints. He grabbed a book and threw it out into the mall. It fell in front of their feet. The woman picked it up and look at her husband questioningly. They both peered into the bookstore, her with obvious anticipation and fear, him with sarcastic amusement. He gestured his wife to go first, and she complied hesitantly. “Hello?” The woman called. “Does this belong here? Hello?”
“Yellow!” The man called facetiously. “Anyone home? Someone threw a book.” They looked around, and the woman laid it on the cash register. “I’ll just leave it here.” Tom threw another book in Cassie’s direction. Like a hound, the woman went in that direction. "Oh my g...Frank! There’s a dead body here!”
Grimacing slightly, Tom slipped out of store and back into the mall. He found a seat at a safe distance and waited. He mused at the fact that a large crowd was beginning to form, having been drawn by the old woman’s hysteria. There were probably more people in the bookstore than ever before.
Ten minutes later, the police arrived on the scene. Bright yellow crime tape was effectively applied and the onlookers were pushed out. One of the officers pulled the elderly couple aside. Tom slowly approached them as they introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Jolly and jabbered about their shopping trip and how the book appeared in front of them. The officer looked at them skeptically as Mrs. Jolly claimed it must have been the ghost of the dead girl. “What else could it have been?” She asked excitedly. “She knew she had to be found, so she made sure she got our attention. She chose us to help her!”
Mr. Jolly rolled his eyes. “I highly doubt that, Laura.” He stated.
“But it must have been!” She squeaked. “I’m sure of it!” Without pausing for breath, she listed all the reasons why the dead girl would choose them. “I’m a good a woman. I’m very sensitive to crimes and such, and I have a sixth sense. As we were passing by, I felt something cold touch me, and then the book landed in front of us. She might’ve known I helped them locate our dead daughter when…” she continued her story, unaware of the gaping officer and her irritated husband.
Tom’s attention was drawn away when a familiar profile caught his eye. Detective Harry Felton peered at the cash register with feigned interest, and shook his head in disgust. Short, blonde cropped hair, baby-faced, and full of self righteousness, he and Tom had never worked well together as fellow detectives. Instead, they competed and sabotaged each other.
Tom approached him quietly, taking note of the familiar proceedings as he did so. The crime scene investigator (a middle aged woman named Tammi) along with her team scouted for any sort of evidence. Pictures were taken, notes jotted down, and not a stone unturned. His stomach shifted uncomfortably, knowing they would not find all the details in the bookstore. The corpse was found in his truck.
That being said, this was the perfect opportunity to irritate Detective Felton.
Harry crossed his arms as he watched the coroners remove the corpse, unaware that Tom had ducked under the tape and was standing right behind him. He muttered under his breath. "Sick."
"Isn’t it always?” Tom asked. He smirked when his old colleague jumped and faced him with a scowl.
"What are you doing here?"
“Walking by, and I noticed the commotion? What was it? Thievery? Bullies? Murder?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Harry sneered. “Get out of here. You’re not a part of this anymore.”
“You can’t exactly keep me out.”
“I can and I will.”
“You’d be making a mistake. You’re not going to find all the details here.” He nodded towards the Jollies. “I would talk to them before they leave. They will make things very confusing, but it’s good info. Did you get a good look?”
“You should know.”
Harry frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You should know.”
“Ah, too bad. You didn’t look at her mouth. But talk to the Jollies.”
Harry clenched his jaw, and a very cold, calculating look passed his face. "It can't be a coincidence."
Tom frowned. "What coincidence?"
“Do I have any reason to suspect you?”
“This was a murder.”
“Duh, she wouldn’t have put herself in that big trash bag.”
“How did you know about the trash bag?”
“We just witnessed the coroners take out the corpse, Felton. They didn’t bother to remove it. Thoughtful killer, don’t you think?” He smiled smugly at Harry’s irritated scowl.
“You’re giving me every indication you know something.”
“I could be giving a false lead to mess with you. I’ve done that before, haven’t I?”
Harry cringed at a memory they both shared, though Tom thought of it with pleasure. “Get out here, Wayword.”
“Have fun talking to the Jollies, Detective Foolhardy.” He laughed as he walked away.
Back at his apartment, Tom researched the victim. He found her name on the bookstore staff list, Cassie Belvue, then tracked her on the Extra Time social media. Through hacking expertise he acquired in high school, he entered into her account a few minutes later.
Scanning through her history created a clear picture of the girl’s personality in his mind. She was a very green person politically, much involved in saving the Earth and animals, as demonstrated by the pictures of her holding signs of protest Downtown. That could create a few enemies, he noted. She was a huge fan of the Rock My World, a rock n' roll group he was vaguely familiar with. She had over one hundred friends and was a member of quite a few online gaming groups, including Chess, Mental Breakdown, and Mystery Date. She used to have a fiancé named Blake, but they broke off their engagement due to financial issues, which he believed could also result in foul play.
There was still the possibility that she didn't know her killer at all. It could be a serial killer. If that was the case, Tom was certain there would be more murders to follow, if there wasn’t already.
Despite the grim thought, he smiled. Money in the cashier’s mouth? Choked on coins? Creative. He wondered how it was managed.
Next, he pulled up the CNL News website. They were usually pretty good in tracking local crime stories, especially concerning the police. To his disappointment, the last death was an accidental shooting during a bank robbery.
He remembered there was the strange death of Howard Tongal, who had been discovered nearly a month ago stuffed with scraps of newspapers. The fact had shocked Tom, since he used to be his backstreet informer. No killer was identified.
A knock on the door drew Tom away from his research. He stood to open the door, but found he didn't have to when he heard it squeak open. (He cursed himself for not locking it). He just managed to shut down his computer screen when his unexpected and slightly unpleasant visitor walked in.
"Unemployed for a month, and you’re still causing trouble.” Sergeant Stanley O’Neil stated. “I probably should arrest you for hacking...if I could.”
"What makes you think I was hacking?" Tom asked.
The red-headed, middle-aged detective supervisor pinched the bridge of his abnormally large, hooked nose, a habit he had when he was irritated or nervous. His bright blue eyes seemed to pierce through Tom like icy daggers. "What else would you be doing?"
"Playing a video game to ease my depression."
"You don’t play video games. You were hacking."
"I was not."
"Should I dare find out?" He pointed to the screen.
"What do you want, Stan?"
“What do you think? I just got an earful of complaints about you.”
“Harry whining again?”
“It isn’t funny, Tom. What were you talking about? What do you know about that murder today?”
“Are you sure it’s a murder?”
“That’s what Harry is thinking.”
Tom shrugged. “I don’t really know anything about that. I was walking by when I saw the crime tape. I caught sight of the corpse before they took it away, and I overhead the witnesses being questioned. That’s all.” He thanked his lucky stars that he was a good liar.
However, Stanley’s expression remained skeptical. “What were you doing at that mall?”
“What else would I be doing? I wasn’t exactly scouting the security monitors or looking for shady characters.” When his countenance didn’t change, Tom rolled his eyes and decided to grab a drink. It wasn’t that he was particularly thirsty, but it was the perfect way to irritate his former employer. He had a bottle of liquor on the table, and Stanley was borderline alcoholic.
As he casually walked to his destination, he heard Stanley state, "Harry’s got you on his suspect list.”
“I told you he was an idiot.”
“Probably, but he had enough to say, and he’s nearly convinced me.” He raised his eyebrows questioningly. "Has it finally drawn you in that far, Tom?"
Irritation filtered Tom’s voice. "We’ve had this discussion...let me think...nine hundred and eighty-three times. You know I'm not a killer."
"Yet we both know you have murder in your blood."
Tom’s voice dropped, becoming cold and deadly. "You didn't just say that."
"Me and my big mouth. I'll take a drink too, if you don't mind."
"I just might poison it."
Stanley waved it off. "Just forget I said it."
"Why did you say it?"
"Can I have that drink?"
"Why did you say it?"
He pinched the bridge of his nose again. "All it takes is that first choice, that one moment of weakness before the spiral begins. I've seen it before, and I'll see it again. The things you did before, though you had good intentions, were criminal. That's all it takes."
"I'm not a criminal. I was just wanted to be good at my job."
"Said the first woman when she took a bite of the forbidden fruit. You take one step, then another, and before you know it..." He gave long, descending whistle.
“You’ve been telling me that since I was twelve years old! I get it, all right.”
“You act like…”
"I'm...not...a...murderer!” Tom shouted. “I was never one, and I never plan to be one! Enough, O’Neal!"
Stanley gaped at him before shrugging. "Good, so there is nothing to worry about." Tom glowered at him, but he waved it off. “I just had to ask, Tom.”
“Are you ever going to trust me, Stan?”
“No more than you trust me.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“If there was a gun to my head, I would trust you to disarm the culprit in a minute’s notice.”
“But if you were the one with the gun, I’m a dead man.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t kill you with a gun.”
“With what then?”
Tom smiled slightly as he poured himself some of the brown, sloshy liquid. "Can I have that drink?" Stanley asked.
"As your former employee and friend," he took a quick swig and shuddered as it burned his throat, "it is my duty to point out that you’re still on duty."
"You shouldn't have started drinking in front of me. You know I like that stuff. Besides, I'm on lunch. One drink won't hurt."
"I refuse." He took another sip, enjoying the look of frustration emitting from Stanley’s face.
"I just might decide not to ask for your help at all.”
Tom choked and sputtered. "What?"
"Give me a drink and we'll talk about it."
Tom snapped his mouth shut and complied, giving him a small glass of the liquor. "Very well, let's talk. What do you need help with?”
Stanley took a quick swig. “Before I say anything, I need to make it clear to you I can’t have you help with any cases. This is...off the record. Nobody is to know.”
That surprised Tom. Usually Stanley was strictly by the book, never compromising ethics. “All right...”
“Put it this way, I’m currently off duty, and I’m hiring you as a private eye.” He paused. “You probably should be a private eye anyway. You’d make a good one.”
“I have looked into it, but it doesn’t sound so fun.”
“It’s fun enough. You remember I was one.”
“And you gave it up for the police.” Tom pointed out.
“I got too old.”
“No, you were bored.”
Tom smiled again. “What do you want me to do?”
“About two years ago, there was a murder case involving a scientist by the name of Dr. Morgan. He was killed near Tuscan by a law abiding, respected citizen named Andrew Evans, who claimed he was saving the life a young woman. I don’t know the details, but the result ended with his arrest and life sentence for first degree murder. Apparently there was a feud between them in the first place, something about Dr. Morgan’s work...but...” He paused. “The woman he claimed to have saved lives here in Riverton, and I want her side of the story.”
“Why? If that case occurred in Tuscan, it wouldn’t be in your scope. Besides, it sounds like a closed case.”
“You’re not supposed to know why. I just want you to talk to her and see if you can get her to tell you. Believe me, this is for a good reason.”
Tom cocked an eyebrow. “All right.”
“Should be easy for you. This is going to sound really bad, but she's not yet twenty and doesn’t have a lot of experience with men. She is a lonely heart."
"My experience says a little flirting with a woman like that works wonders in terms of acquiring information.”
"Is there a reason why she doesn't have much experience?" Tom asked. "Not very pretty?”
"Pretty? Not that it matters....” His voice trailed off slightly as he spoke. “She’s beautiful...in a strange and frightening sort of way….almost alien.” A glazed, thoughtful look passed through his face and disappeared as he refocused. “I just want you to flirt a little, maybe take her out on a date, see what you find out.”
“Great.” Tom muttered sarcastically. “Just as long as I don’t have to give her my phone number.”
“Just flirt a little, and uh...if she says anything about fractals, pay close attention.”
“They might be important.”
Tom shook his head. This wasn’t making any sense. He would rather try to find Cassie’s killer. But at the same time, he was curious about Stanley’s motives. What was so attractive about this young woman? "Fine, where can I find her?"
He pulled out his notebook and jotted down an address. A strange, eager glint flashed through his eyes. "Her name is Alathea Winters. She works for Cleaning Creations, a family business." He tore the paper out and handed it to Tom. "This is the address of their office. Anything else you want to know, find out yourself.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an old pocket watch, something he was rather famous for. “Fifteen to one, I better get going.”
Just before he left, he turned and stated. "One last bit of advice, don’t let her know what you’re up to. Use whatever means necessary to keep her from finding out the truth.”
Another strange look passed his face, an eager, amused, and longing expression. The words, 'I wish I could watch this,' could’ve been plastered on his forehead