Officially the murder was SCH-1, but I called it the Case of the Punctured Prick.
The first homicide ever in Meiers Corners was my cherry-breaking case as a police detective. Okay, probationary detective. Okay, third shift probationary detective. But a girl's gotta start somewhere, right?
I was at the station reading Midwest Police Monthly when the phone rang. A glance at the line showed dispatch. Something going down--like assault with a Super Soaker.
The senior detective on graveyard was supposed to take it, but Blatzky was in the can, fourth time that night. He was six months from retiring, but I think he actually checked out a year or two back.
So I took the call. "Hey, Alice. What red-hot crime do we have in Meiers Corners tonight? Shopping cart stolen? Mrs. Gruen jaywalking in her sleep again?"
"Something better, Elena." Alice Schmidt was our nightshift dispatcher, also six months from retiring. She'd been six months from retiring since I started as a beat cop. At least eighty years old, she was from the generation that worked until you dropped. She was convinced the day she actually retired, she'd keel over. "Where's Blatzky?"
"He's in the john again, poor guy," I said. "Diarrhea."
Alice snorted. "Too many beers. Or doing a little 'solo investigation', if you know what I mean."
"Your luck, though. Body's on Fifth and Main."
"Body?" My heart started to pound. All my life I dreamed of being a detective, lusted after it. The only thing I hungered more for was a good lay, but that was another story.
Three weeks ago, I'd made it to the detective's desk. Staying here was another matter.
"Body, where?" My feet hit the floor and I grabbed my notebook, jotted date and time. 18 August. 2:16 a.m. Early Tuesday morning.
"Nieman's Bar. At first Ruffles thought the vic had just passed out. Bar time and all."
"Ruffles is the witness?" I scribbled the name.
"Naw. New kid on foot patrol, just switched to third shift. He found the stiff. Poor schmuck took an early retirement option. The stiff, not Ruffles."
I wanted this case so bad my teeth hurt. A potential murder. Instant ticket to success for whoever solved it.
But I was junior detective on shift. Junior probationary. Regs clearly stated senior personnel got first dibs so I stuffed my ambition back in the bag. "I'll get Blatzky."
"Naw, hon. Don't bother. He's just riding his paycheck 'til retirement. He won't want to work."
"Still..." I raised my voice. The second floor gent's was a converted closet, so I didn't have to raise it much. "Blatzky! Officer Ruffles found a body in Nieman's parking lot. You want it?"
There was a groan from the bathroom. "Six months. Just a hundred eighty-two days to go, was that so much to ask? No, I don't want no goddamn bodies!"
I punched a silent yes but kept my voice cop cool when I said, "Okay, Alice, I'll take the case."
Take it, solve it, and earn the Chief of Police's blessing.
My eyes slid toward the forbidding portrait of Chief John Dirkson behind me. Blessing, of course, was the operative term. It would take at least a blessing, and probably a miracle, to get that coveted permanent shield.
Bad enough I was going for a traditionally male job. Worse, this was Meiers Corners, more conservative than Queen Victoria. Worst, Dirkson--with his handlebar mustache and woolly sideburns straight out of the nineteenth century--was the very definition of ultra-conservative WASP.
And here I was, a twenty-six-year-old Irish-Latina female.
Normally I wouldn't have worried. I didn't submit to prejudice, I fought it. Not to mention I worked hard and played by all the rules.
But my future was in the hands of a hidebound Victorian throwback. Chief's blessing, right. Maybe I should light a few votive candles under the picture, just in case. And recite the Prayer of Saint Dirkson, counting on my Grandma Sanchez's red bead rosary.
Hey, I was Lutheran, but it couldn't hurt, could it?
I shook myself. What was I thinking? Method and order would solve this case--Dad taught me that.
So. Rule one, secure the crime scene. "Alice. You said Officer Ruffles reported the body. Did he secure the area?"
"Yes, but I'm not sure how. It's the middle of Nieman's east parking lot."
"Well, I'll find out when I survey the scene." That was rule two. Rule three was collect evidence. I'd do some of that on scene too, but best to bring in our CSI. "Did you call Charlie?"
"I'll tag him after this," Alice said.
"Anyone ID the vic yet?"
"Napoleon Schrimpf. You know, Napoleon's Gym."
"'Where Shrimps Conquer the World'?"
"That's the one. Five-foot-five King of Compensation." Alice snorted. "He didn't conquer the world, but he did try to conquer every female he met."
Rule four was uncover means, motive and opportunity. Here was a possible motive. "You think one of those supposedly conquered women might have conquered back?"
"Dunno. I do think Schrimpf plowed one love furrow too many."
Ugh. Still, I made a note. "Any sign of foul play?"
"No marks, no blood. From Officer Ruffles's report, the most suspicious thing was the stupid grin on Schrimpf's face."
Probably not murder, then. My pulse slowed. I tucked the notebook into my pocket. "Sounds like a waste of time. Still, I'd better take a look."
I checked my Springfield XD (not an S&W or Glock, but let's not get into that discussion) and backup piece and hiked over. Nieman's Bar was five blocks from the cop shop and four blocks from the heart of Meiers Corners.
Well, four blocks from downtown. Since our town pumped beer as blood, I guess Nieman's was the heart.
I sweated through my T-shirt as I hoofed it. Our dog days of August were more like hot-dog days. Two thirty in the morning and the temperature was still well over eighty. I wiped my brow and kept up a brisk trot. This case was my bullet-train ticket to Detectiveville. Nothing going to slow me down.
At the scene I did a quick check-in with Alice. In a bigger city, that would have been so HQ could keep tabs on us. Alice just liked knowing where we were.
The crime scene was cordoned off with several miles of yellow tape. A gangly, potbellied young man in a rumpled uniform marched in front. Literally, high stepping like a Lipizzaner and spinning around with a cross-legged twirl that nearly threw him off his feet.
Daffy Duck guards the crime scene. It didn't help the image that his dark cap had a yellow beak. I guessed this was Officer Ruffles.
As I approached, he fumbled out his gun. "Halt!" He held the gun turned sideways, parallel to the ground. Stylish, if you were a TV punk.
"Whoa, Daffy. Point that thing somewhere else." I flashed my badge. "Detective O'Rourke."
"Ohhh." Ruffles straightened and put the gun away. "A girl." I opened my mouth but he sailed on. "Not that I'm bigoted. I know it takes even more balls to make it as a girl cop. Well, balls isn't the right term. But what would it be? Pussy? That already means not-balls. Not that I'm biased. I could say pussy. Pussy clanks when she walks. That works."
His mouth was shadowed by a thin, feathery mustache. While he talked I watched it flap. "Excuse me, Officer...Ruffles?"
He nearly brained himself saluting me. "Officer Dirk Ruffles at your service, miss. Or ma'am. Or..."
"Detective will do." I glanced at the crime-scene tape. Ruffles had wrapped everything in sight like a cheery yellow mummy. "You secure the area, officer?"
"Yes, ma'am. Detective Ma'am." His voice was a muddy rasp, Cartman with lung cancer. Hard to listen to, but impossible to ignore. "I'm training to be a detective. My uncle says I'll be a great detective. Well, not great exactly. 'Tolerable' was the word he used, but that's almost great. My uncle..."
"Good for you, Ruffles. Tell me how you found the body." I started to hack through the tape. It stuck to me like cobwebs.
"First on scene, ma'am. Detective Ma'am. Got the call at two-oh-four. Nieman's is shutting down by then. Couple of drunks coming out of the bar stumbled over him. The vic, that is. I interviewed them. The drunks, that is. I asked the hard questions. You'd have been proud of me, Detective Ma'am. My uncle says I'll be a detective in no time. He says..."
As I endured Ruffles's rasp, I fought tape. I managed to wrench open a hole big enough for my five-nine and slid one leg through. When I ducked to get the rest of me in, my shoulder-length curls swung against tape and stuck. Pulling the other leg through, I turned to try to wrest the hair loose. My hips swiped tape and my butt stuck.
"...and Schrimpf met her in the bar. So one drunk says to the other, 'Fella walked into the bar.' And the other says, 'He hit his face!'" Ruffles guffawed. "Hit his face when he walked into the bar. Get it?"
"Yeah, I get it." I yanked tape off my jeans, tore it from my hair. Tore off a bunch of hair, but with my mop, who'd notice? "Next time, Ruffles? Use less tape."
He stared blankly at me. "On the bar, ma'am?"
Apparently Ruffles's gun was aimed, the trigger pulled, but he had forgotten to load. I found a barrette in my pocket, clipped back my mass of hair. "Officer. You said Schrimpf met her in the bar. Who?"
"Actually the first drunk said that." Ruffles flipped out his notebook. "No, wait, it was the second drunk. The second drunk said that."
"The correct term is witness." I had to fight not to grind my teeth. "What, exactly, did the second witness say?"
"The second drunk witness said, ahem." Ruffles jutted out his skinny chest, held the notebook up like Charlie Heston with a set of stone tablets. "'Schrimpf met her in the bar'." He looked brightly at me like an eager puppy who's peed on the paper--only it turns out to be your English homework.
A deep, cleansing breath kept me from giving him a yellow tape enema. Barely. The boy didn't have a clue. "Thanks, Officer."
I turned my attention to the body lying next to a bright yellow sports car. Oops, Ruffles had mummified that too. Underneath the tape was a black Audi, probably the vic's.
The ME would log the detail, but I estimated the corpse's vitals with a trained eye. Five feet, five inches tall. Weight one-sixty, mostly upper-body muscle. Brown eyes open to the night. Face relaxed, except the mouth. Alice was right about the snarky smile.
Moving down, the victim wore a white sleeveless tee, not quite a wife-beater. And not out of place, considering the heat of the August night. But I'd have expected Schrimpf to wear a manly black. Maybe white to emphasize his tan?
Except, looking closer, the body wasn't tan. In fact, its skin was as pale as mine, sheet white in the moon's glow. It made it easy to see there was no visible blood on skin or clothes. But Charlie's evidence techs had better equipment and chemicals. The lab would not only test for blood, but vacuum for bits of hair, skin and other clues to the killer's identity.
That was, if there was a killer, and it wasn't just a post-bartime heart attack. I logged pale skin and lack of blood and moved on.
Schrimpf's jeans were the expected black. They were rumpled around his feet, the silver caps of his cockroach killers just peeking out. His hips were exposed.
I do mean exposed. Schrimpf went commando.
Behind me Ruffles had started another monolog on his uncle. Or it might have been Hamlet's soliloquy, I didn't know and couldn't tell you.
Because I was staring at the Schrimpfster's pecker. Shriveled, slightly crusted, barely poking up from of a sack of loose skin.
And, just at the base, were two dark holes.