Detective Carruthers never liked working days. It wasn’t the sun shining or the crowds of people on the street, it was the general feeling of being at odds with nature. Yet here he was, sitting at the same old desk with the stuck third drawer staring at sadly familiar folders of unsolved cases.
It was enough to drive a man to drink, if he bothered. Carruthers had been down that road before and taken more than one pit-stop along the way. He didn’t like how the world looked through the lens of alcohol, having climbed out several years ago. He vowed to never go back.
“Hey Carr, chief wants a word soon-as.”, the kid, a full twenty years his junior popped his freshly scrubbed face around the partition staring with those optimistic eyes. Carr knew that look. It was the gaze of a man that hadn’t seen what he had. Give it time kid, give it time.
“Yeah, gotcha. On my way in a moment.”
The kid nodded and walked away, brisk departure fluttering paper on the top of Carr’s “In” box. That was another thing, all these new faces. Carr sighed, taking stock of weary joints and old injuries. The top brass would love it if he retired, but Carr wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction.
Let them upgrade the whole department, he’d be sitting there grafted into his old office chair like the roots of an oak tree in the park. He dared them to try. Carr smiled, imagining people rallying to prevent the tree being cut down, maybe holding a bake sale with brownies and pie.
He laughed at the absurdity of it. If anything, they’d probably be cheering as he carried his box of belongings to his car. The office chair creaked and complained as he stood, smoothing his hair and fixing his tie. If the chief wanted to talk, maybe there was something new on the blotter. It would be a welcome change.
Chief Cobb wasn’t the worst, but he wasn’t the type to get staff holiday presents either. Cobb was about the same age, which explained some of their rapport. The rest was lost in the tug-of-war between subordinate and supervisor. Carr knocked on the oak-paneled door, opening it a crack.
The office was full of plaques and mementos, a living museum to the institution that Cobb had become. Carr wondered if anyone would notice if the Chief keeled over in his chair. They might mistake his body as part of his dusty collection. Carr sat down, the ill-fitting chair immediately making him regret his choice. He hoped this would be brief.
“So, Carr, we got something damn peculiar here. I need you on this. Take a look.”, Cobb shoved over a worn manilla folder, several photographs spilling out from the open edge. Picking up the folder, he caught a glimpse of a body on an autopsy slab. Carr paged through the file, scanning the reports.
“John Doe, approximate age 32. None of it makes sense. The meatwagon picked up the body near Kennedy Street. No ID, no personal belongings.”, Cobb leaned back, staring over his bifocals.
“Okay, so we’ve got a dead body. Why do you want me? Put that new kid, uh… Thompson on it. He loves chasing shadows.”
“If you’d stop flapping your gums and take a closer look, you’ll know exactly why I didn’t assign Thompson.”
Carruthers flipped back to the top of the pile, reading closely. It wasn’t good. Not only was the body not identified, but the cause of death was – “highly unusual and unknown”. That was a term he didn’t see, ever. Usually it was “shot twice, loss of blood”, or “multiple stab wounds and internal bleeding”.
Not this “unknown” business.
Sighing, Carr knew he would have to take the case. Anything outside the usual bag-and-tag always wound its way to his desk. This time it came from a desk higher than his. Carr shrugged, closing the folder. “I’ll get down there and see what the morgue has to say. I’m on it, chief.”
Cobb grunted assent, waving Carruthers out of his office.
The sun glared off of his windshield as he opened the car door, pausing to let the super-heated air mingle with its cooler cousin. He didn’t like summer either, but it beat having to scrape ice off the wiper blades. Carruthers liked his cars like he did his desk. Solid, simple and uncomplicated.
It probably belonged in Cobb’s museum, but he didn’t mind. It reminded him of a time when profit margins didn’t drive design. It had enough chrome and heavy-gauge steel to function as battleship anchor. All it needed was the wrist-thick links of chain welded to the chassis.
Easing into first gear, he pulled out of the station parking lot. He wondered what he’d find at the morgue. Something unnerving about that slab photo. He turned it over in his mind as he drove down the street. Whatever it was, he had seen nothing like it before.
(To be continued.)