“Graham called me.” I looked up from my phone. She removed her gloves and added them to the evidence bags. Paul handed her the clipboard and pen.
“Why?” She scowled.
“I’m working the Regan case. I’m guessing he half expected her to be in the dumpster. You’d have to verify that with him, though. ”
“Does she look familiar to you?” Kris asked, holding Lauren’s driver’s license about an inch from my nose. My eyes crossed, the stench wafted up my nose. I coughed and pushed his hand away. I wanted to punch him, but I took a minute to look closer at the image. Someone laughed at my expense. I shrugged it off.
“In fact, she does. Why would I know that face?” I examined her face more, but a one-inch picture isn’t very telling. Luckily I’ve already seen several photos thanks to her parents. She had shoulder-length brown hair with hazel brown eyes with intense flecks of green.
Val stood beside Kris and he held her I.D so she could see. “She looks like Natalie Maguire. Give her long blond hair and they could be twins.”
Natalie Maguire’s disappearance and death were headline news for months three years ago. Gamble assigned me her case when she was first reported missing. Violent Crimes, aka homicide etc, took over when a grounds keeper found her corpse in Central Park. What was his name? I used to be obsessed with her case like millions of other people, but I don’t have the time anymore.
According to Val, Lauren and Natalie could be doppelgänger twins, but I had doubts. I had to see for myself. I pulled out my phone and did a search. I copied both pictures into the document.
“That’s amazing,” I exclaimed once Natalie’s picture came up.
“It sure is,” Val smiled. She was still scribbling notes on her clipboard.
“You should be a detective, Val,” Kris said.
“No, thank you,” she chuckled. “I prefer dead people to the living.”
And I avoid the dead at all costs. You’d think I wouldn’t want a career investigating murders, and you’d be right. That’s why I stick with missing persons.
“You don’t mind the smell?” Kris asked.
“Luckily, I was born with Congenital Anosmia, without a sense of smell. What I wouldn’t give to smell a cinnamon roll.” One of the younger officers at the entrance to the alley started gagging. I suppressed a laugh. It wasn’t funny for him.
“I think you just ruined cinnamon rolls for Doyle,” I said.
“Eh,” she said. “He’ll get over it or he can find a new job.”
“You were on the Maguire case, right?” I asked Kris. Val’s head whipped around to glare at Kris. Val smelled of anger. What was she angry about? Who knew anger was a more potent smell than decomposition?
“Yes,” he said. “Commissioner Cane, was sweating bullets when he passed it on to us. A groundskeeper found her in Central Park cleaning litter from the Loch. Two days later, Logan, my partner, and I were assigned the case. You remember, April. You were there.”
“Yes, I rem. I rem her fiance, Owen Griffith, should have been the primary suspect, but wasn’t. I rem her father telling me that she’d told him she was afraid of Owen and he father believed Owen killed her. I remember trying to help after homicide took over, but nobody would talk to me. I remember finding something important, but for the life of me I can’t rem what it was.”
Kris, Paul and Val stood there, dumbfounded.
I sighed and leaned against the wall, jotting more questions into my phone.
Are Lauren, Eden and Natalie connected? Are they connected by something more significant than a wallet, a phone and a resemblance?
I tried to turn on her phone but the battery was dead. “Hey Val, I’m plugging her phone into the charger in the van.”
“That’s fine. Just keep it in the evidence bag.”
While the phone charged, I searched the alley floor for anything else that might be evidence. Every scrap of paper, disposable cup, and cigarette butt would be gathered up and taken to the lab. There wasn’t much debris making me certain the cleaning crew swept out the alley recently.
She was probably placed here sometime after dark. I sighed in exasperation as a freezing drizzle began falling.
“Do you have a canopy in the van?” I asked.
“Yes.” Val snapped her fingers and one of the younger officers jumped up to fetch it. I scanned the scene again. Brown suit leaned against the brick wall of the building next door. The dingy gray brick mortar showed through his suit. I leaned against the wall beside him. An icy shiver raced up my spine. I hated dealing with the dead.
“Excuse me, sir. Is there something I can help you with?” I held my phone to my ears so I wouldn’t look insane talking to myself. I tried to ignore my heart, but the sound of it hammering in my chest was so loud.
Paul looked in my direction. I swear his eyes became a black pool, then returned to his normal green.
“No, ma’am.” He pulled out a pipe, stuffed some tobacco in it, and lit it. I’ve never seen a ghost do that before. My dad smoked a pipe when I was a kid.
“Can I ask your name and why you’re here?”
“Does anyone smell pipe tobacco?” asked the detective mapping the scene. How does he smell the pipe tobacco? I can’t smell it. Could he be another member of my distant family? He looked Latino, but that shouldn’t matter.
“No, ma’am.” He blew out a puff of smoke.
“Did you see who killed her?”
“What did he look like? Or was it a woman?” Please, give me something I can work with.
“He was a vampire. If you don’t mind me saying. Women shouldn’t be allowed to do this kind of work.” He grumbled, tapped the ashes out on his boot heel, and vanished.
“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful. Have a nice night.” I said. I wasn’t sure if he’d heard me or not, but it doesn’t hurt to be polite even if he gave me very little to work with.
“Kris, April.” Val motioned us to the alley entrance. “Here are my preliminary findings. She had defensive wounds on her hands and arms, a broken jaw, nose and femur. Her left eye is collapsed. I’ll know more once I open her up. Did either of you notice this?” She pointed at her neck. Just under her jawline were two tiny red marks . Kris and I, our eyes connected.
“Are those what I think they are? Could this be another vampire murder?” I whispered. Vampire murders are still not announced publicly, even though vampires came out of the shadows ten years ago. If the humans knew how many people are killed by vampires every year, they would freak out. It really bothers me how these cases are swept under the rug.
There are laws they have to abide by but the punishments aren’t strict enough.
“It could be incidental. She could be a frequent customer of Fade,” Kris mused.
Fade was an underground vampire nightclub that wasn’t under the radar. Fade was illegal because they allow vampires to bite uneducated and stupid people. Whoever owns Fade doesn’t have a liquor license and distributes other illicit drugs. I wouldn’t know why people think it’s fun to feed a vampire.
“Why haven’t they closed it down?” Val asked. “That place disgusts me. People should have enough sense to avoid predators, not be willing victims.” I’ve been in this career long enough to know that humans can be predators, too.
“They have, several times,” I said. “They just keep relocating it. We think that they have a mole in the PD.” I looked at the sky, my eyes trailing up the side of the building. The security camera hung limply from the wall with scorch marks from the power cord. “Damn,” I whispered. That explains the burnt plastic smell I caught earlier.
“What?” Kris asked.
“Busted security camera.”
“Maybe the people who dumped her also broke the camera,” Val suggested.
“That’s wishful thinking,” I smirked. If we were back in Nebraska, I’d think lightning would have killed the camera. Can mages shoot lightning like the emperor in Star Wars?
I heard a car door open and close. Gamble leaned against the door to the sedan and rubbed his face.
“Hey, Gamble. Why is your lily-white ass here in East Harlem?” I heard from the mouth of the alley. Sergeant Hayden Graham strolled over and punched his shoulder. Gamble reached into the car, pulled out his big green Thermos, and poured himself some coffee. Graham was a tall, imposing black man.
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