I continued to watch, uneasily, as Habib continued to poke and hmm. I don't too much like to work cases in which I know the victim, because it's too hard for me to think of it as just a case, the victim as just a victim, a nameless part of the background scenery necessary to make up part of the crime scene. I remembered the time two police officers I knew well had been shot while serving a search warrant. They'd both survived, luckily, but we hadn't known until days later that they were going to. I was on the crime scene crew then.
I was on the crime scene crew, and I was off duty, with Harry at the Elks Lodge, playing bingo and drinking beer, and somebody--a uniform sergeant--came and got me out of the bingo hall and we left together, but after a while we decided to wait and work the scene when it was daylight. So the patrolman delivered me back to the lodge where Harry was patiently waiting for me, and I rejoined him in the bar because bingo was over, and I changed my drink from beer to old-fashioneds. They're strong, but that night it was like drinking water.
We finally went home, and early the next morning I got up and went to the scene. The victims were intelligence officers, and so intelligence was serving the search warrant while ident worked the crime scene.
We all survived--we all kept going--by never saying their names. Never saying their ranks. Always saying the victims. The victims. If they were only the victims, not Steve and Dale, we could go on working.
And so we did, until late that afternoon, when one of the intelligence officers, walking in the front yard and carefully not seeing the blood-soaked gauze squares and the other paraphernalia the ambulance crew had left behind, caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of something gold glinting on the ground. He knelt. "What is this?" he asked.
And another intelligence officer, standing right behind him, stepped around him and knelt too. "It's Steve's Saint Christopher," she said, and stood holding the broken chain and the little gold medallion in her hand.
And we all, the five police officers left at the scene, stood and stared at the broken chain with the little gold medallion on it. Steve's Saint Christopher, that we were used to seeing around Steve's neck, with the medallion resting just at the V of his undershirt. It wasn't "the victims" any longer. It was Steve and Dale and we loved them and we didn't know if they were going to live or die.
At last Gina said, almost under her breath, "I'll take it to him."
It was part of the crime scene. I should have laid it back in the grass. I should have photographed it, and put it in a little plastic sack, and sealed it away until the trial.
But I couldn't. "Yes," I said, "yes, you do that. You take it to him."
The department had ordered bulletproof vests for people likely to be in tough situations. When we got back into the office, with all our photographs and all our evidence and Steve's Saint Christopher medal, the man from UPS was there delivering the vests. We opened the boxes and their sergeant got one of the vests out and held it in his hands for a long time, and looked at it. He didn't say that the shipment was three weeks late. He didn't say that Steve and Dale should have been wearing those vests the night before. He didn't say anything. He just held the vest in his hands and looked at it for a long time, and then he put it back in the box and walked away, not quite steadily, toward the men's restroom.
I didn't cry. Not then. I just wrote my report and went home and started drinking again, and finally, a long time later, while Johnny Carson was being funny on television, I drew my knees up in my chair and sat with my face against my knees and sobbed. I don't know how long I cried.
Gina told me later she went home and cried for two hours.
Their sergeant told me later he went home and got drunk and cried.
Their lieutenant told me he went out to the target range and K-fived the hell out of a lot of targets. One of the victims was his brother, working undercover under his command.
My partner--a tough ex-boxer-turned-cop (that was after Clint Barrington went over to the sheriff's office)--told me he went home and got as drunk as he could and spent the rest of the night until 5:00 A.M. with his head in the toilet alternating between vomiting and crying. I could believe it, even before he insisted on showing me the toilet-rim-shaped bruise on his chest.
I wasn't going to get drunk and cry about this. I hadn't known the old man that well; besides that, my doctor has been very stern about something called fetal alcohol syndrome, and I am not allowed to get closer than five feet to anything with drinkable alcohol in it right now. I might decide to cry, but then again I might not. Whether I did or not, it would be at home on my own time. I neither cry nor vomit at crime scenes.
So I just stood and looked at the old man leaning back in the blood-spattered interior of the pickup truck. Pale blue eyes, red-rimmed, stared vacantly through gold-framed bifocals that hung askew on the cherubic pink face; the mouth gaped to disclose the too-perfect pearliness of an old set of dentures. The white shirt of some silky-looking synthetic was pulled open over a white cotton undershirt--crew-necked, not V-necked--and blood had splattered over the old man's expensive gold pocket watch.
Irene Loukas and Bob Castle were going over the ground now, looking for anything that could either lead us to the killer or help us to pin the crime to him after we had identified him through other means. I expected it was a futile effort; the hard black tar surface wasn't going to tell anyone anything, and what ground there was had been sprayed with flying dirt and debris from the airplane's propeller and then soaked with water and chemicals from the fire truck.
And the victim hadn't been shot from close range anyway. There was no reason the killer ever had to get off the tar.
Habib turned and threw out an order to move the body. As an afterthought, he added, "The postal inspector is through with it, isn't he?"
"I don't know where the postal inspector went," I replied.
"I'm right here." Otto Castillo was on his way back, with a semi-satisfied look on his face. "Yes, you can go on and move the body, but don't touch anything else in the truck."
Habib turned slowly, to look again at the truck. "Mister," he said, "that body weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds. You want to get him out without touching anything else in the truck?"
"That's not what I mean," Castillo said impatiently. "I mean the mail, that kind of thing. I've got to take custody of it and see that it gets delivered."
"Delivered," Castillo repeated. "That's the law. The mail has to get delivered. Just give me the keys, and when you get through with the body lock up the truck. And leave a patrolman to guard it."
"Mister, that's not my job," Habib said.
"I'll see to it the scene is protected," I told him.
"Good, now if you'll excuse me--" He began to walk on down Kelly Road.
"Where are you going?" I asked sharply.
"None of your business."
"The hell it's none of my business. This is my case too. Where are you going?"
He didn't like it. But I was right and he knew it. "We got a make on the license plates," he disclosed reluctantly. "One Patrick Kelly. Address on Kelly Road."
"But I thought nobody lived--"
"Is this Kelly Road?"
"This is Kelly Road. But--"
"Then I'm going to go and look at Patrick Kelly."
"And I'm coming with you," I said. "Just let me get a radio."
"Why in the world do you want a--"
"One time I got in a shootout and I didn't have a radio with me," I said, not adding that it was only months ago. "I'm never going to do that again."
"You planning to get in a shootout?"
"No. But I wasn't planning to then, either."
Castillo shrugged, and I borrowed Bill Livingston's walkie-talkie. That left him with only the radio in his car, but as he didn't seem to be planning to get out of his car anyway, that should be no handicap.
The doctor told me I ought to do a lot of walking. I was certainly doing it today; it was a good mile from the crime scene to the point where the road dead-ended into an old farm road.
An old farm that was no longer quite as ramshackle as it had been the last time I saw it, which was probably four years ago. Somebody had recently made a little effort to clean it up. The yard had been cut not with a lawn mower but with a tractor, leaving stubble six inches high, and debris had been piled up in one corner of the road--most likely they'd been waiting until after the next rain to burn it, because despite September's heavy rain the woods and fields were still tinder-dry in places. Somebody had begun painting the house a garish yellow, and a tall ladder leaned against the front wall beside a second-story window. There were tire tracks and footprints in the rutted dirt of the driveway.
A black and tan feist stood up at our approach and stretched its front legs, hindquarters ridiculously in the air, and then straightened again, wagging its tail and whining a welcome before walking anxiously to an empty metal pan on the front porch. It wasn't a food pan; there was a spilled sack of dry dog food beside it. I detoured to a water hose, and the dog drank eagerly from the nozzle, not waiting for the dish to fill.
Castillo watched me, his face impassive, and then when I was beside him again he knocked on the doorframe. On the doorframe, because the wooden storm door stood open and the old screen door sagged.
This was stupid. One of us should have been at the back door. Should I, or should I not, tell Castillo his business?
Wads of dusty cotton were stuck with hairpins into the black mesh of the screen to scare the flies away, and the wooden molding that held the screen in place hadn't been repainted yet. Its old gray paint was chalky, cracked, falling into powder.
Nobody was going to have to tell Castillo his business.
Nobody was coming out the back door. Nobody would be in that house, now, by choice. I could hear the flies buzzing, and I could smell what they were buzzing about.
Castillo sniffed and turned away, roughly taking me by the arm and attempting to turn me away from the door. "What are you doing?" I asked, refusing to be turned.
"You don't need to go in there," he told me, in a rough attempt at gallantry. "Isn't that medical examiner, what's his name, Phillip Habib--"
"Phillip Habib is an ambassador," I interrupted. "The medical examiner is Andrew Habib."
"You can get him out here. You know what's in this house." Castillo opened the door.
"No, I don't know what's in this house," I said.
"You and I both know--"
"No, Otto, you're wrong," I said. "I know the condition of what's inside this house. That's all I know. I don't know what's inside the house. And I have to find out. You don't. You're a postal inspector. Your case is down the road. But that's my case in there, and I have to go in. You can go with me if you want to. But you don't have to."