Thursday, November 1, 2007
Toilets and dead bodies don't mix. If the thought hadn't occurred to me before, it certainly did now as I stared down at the well-dressed man whose head had been shoved into one. In a public restroom at the Greyhound bus station, no less. Not a pleasant place for anyone to be this time of night--especially if you were dead.
The place stank. You would expect a bathroom to smell, but this went beyond smell. It reeked. And it wasn't the smell of death. That I understood. This was different. This was nothing but the stench of human waste. For some reason, whenever people get together in a public place, the bathroom is always the first casualty. Take sporting events. By the end of a game, all the bathrooms look as if the plumbing got sick and threw up all over itself. I often wonder how those people treat their own bathrooms.
"What a way to die," I said, disgusted but trying not to show it. I'm a homicide cop after all. I'm supposed to be used to filth. However, nobody gets used to it, no matter what they might tell you. "Wonder if they flushed first."
"Why should he care?" my partner, Eddie Dover, said. "He's dead."
"Yeah, but he wasn't dead when they shoved his head in."
Dover visibly shuddered. I chuckled. Rookies. They hadn't yet learned to hide their disgust at a murder scene. The messier the scene, the messier their reaction. This one was nothing--I'd seen worse. Much, much worse.
I turned to Syzinski, the first officer to arrive on the scene. He was a no-nonsense cop, hard working and dedicated. I had to look up at him. I might be tall for a woman, but at six foot five he was a good head taller. "What do we know so far?"
He shrugged. "Seems to be a pretty straightforward case. As far as we can tell, the victim drowned when his head was shoved in the toilet."
"Time of death?" I asked.
"Can't have been dead for long. Fire Department's already been and left. They estimate maybe 8:00-8:30. Have to wait for the coroner to say for certain."
I checked my watch. Just after 9:30. I picked up his blue-tinged hands one at a time. They were still limp as rigor mortis hadn't yet set in, which meant he couldn't have been dead more than an hour--hour and a half.
"Who found the body?"
"Homeless man. He's being questioned right now."
"I'll want to question him too."
"Have we I.D.'d the victim yet?"
"Yeah, found the wallet next to his body. Name is," Syzinski glanced at his note pad, "Fred Turner. Lives at 1351 33rd Street."
"Fred huh? Doesn't look much like a Fred to me. Okay, get the lab guys out here. I want no toilet seat left unturned, got it?"
Syzinski shrugged and handed a page of notes to Dover. "I'll pass on your message, but I don't know how much good it'll do. Do you have any idea how many people have used this bathroom and left their fingerprints and...uh...other...things behind?"
"Just tell them to do their best."
"I'm sure they're adding you to their Christmas list as we speak."
I rolled my eyes and turned back to the body. "I can hardly wait."
Once Syzinski left, I pulled on some rubber gloves and leaned down to examine the body while Dover took pictures of the stall, the body and everything I did. The victim was on his knees, his arms slumped on the floor to each side of the toilet with his head shoved inside the bowl. I picked up his blue-tinged hands one at a time and examined his forearms. No bruises. Next I checked his head and the water in the bowl. No blood. It didn't make any sense.
Drowning was a violent way to die. I'd seen enough to know. The panicked victim struggles wildly, scratching his attacker, sometimes bruising or injuring himself. If this man had been drowned, as appeared to be the case, I'd expect to see bruises on both arms from banging them against the toilet and bits of skin and blood beneath his fingernails. Yet there were no signs of struggle at all.
Which meant he'd either been unconscious--or already dead--when his body was placed here, and the drowning just a cover up. But, a cover up for what?
I didn't like this. Not at all. It reminded me of a case I'd handled while still part of the Los Angeles Police Department. A woman drowned in her own bathtub, but we found no evidence to indicate it was murder. Just like this. The coroner ruled it accidental. It wasn't. And, because the investigation was dropped, a little girl died. An innocent. I still see her face. It stares at me when I look in the mirror at night.
Dover read the notes Syzinski left, his voice pulling me back. "There's no cash in his wallet. Think he was mugged? His clothes look pretty fancy for this part of town."
I'd noticed the same thing. I looked around a little more, checked the floor and the toilet, setting the scene of the crime and the position of the victim's body firmly in my mind. Once satisfied, I stepped into the main bathroom and looked around there too, careful not to touch anything.
It was the same kind of public toilet you find in gas stations or fast food restaurants, only bigger and dirtier. Once off-white walls were grimy from cigarette smoke and covered with graffiti. Half the stall doors were missing and the ones still attached hung at odd angles, ready to fall at the slightest touch. Both the toilets and the urinals were stained yellow with a thick layer of scum, desperately needing a good scrub. The remaining fluorescent lights flickered off and on in a nauseatingly irregular rhythm.
As I continued to inspect the place, I couldn't help but catch a glimpse of my reflection in the tarnished excuse they called a mirror. The silver bleeding through the glass made my skin look pockmarked and the fluorescent lights darkened the bags under my eyes to a shade resembling dried blood.
I grimaced. Nothing like bad lighting and a dirty mirror to make a girl feel attractive.
I peeled off my gloves and dropped them in the overflowing trash can. Even though I hadn't touched anything, I still felt unclean. I couldn't wait to wash my hands.
"Maybe he came from Morton's," Dover said. "They're only a couple blocks away. He's dressed for it."
"Then what's he doing here?"
"I don't know, Castle, maybe his car broke down."
Before I could answer, I felt a chill, the kind I get when I know someone's watching me. I turned to look but saw nothing. I felt silly. No one watched me.
Before Dover could ask what happened, I said, "Why didn't he call a cab?"
"No money? Unless things have changed, cabbies don't take I.O.U.s."
"He have any credit cards on him?"