Plague – Excerpt

“Right in the middle of my damned tacos.”

Freddie Southwell was a twenty-six-year veteran detective with Denver PD and was on deck when he got the homicide callout.

Freddie hung up his phone.

“Damnit!”

He chewed several more times and swallowed.

He wrapped up what was left and hoisted himself up from the wooden picnic table that would barely support his weight.

He glanced up at the sign, Tacos Rapidos, his favorite place.

“Manuel, gotta go—”

“Bye, Mr. Freddie—”

“Delicious, as always—”

“Thank you, Mr. Freddie, see you next time.”

Freddie wiped the grease off his chin with a wad of napkins and got into his car.

Fifteen minutes later, Freddie pulled up to the stone house that presently was festooned with yellow, crime-scene tape. 

He rolled out of the car and tugged on his pants.

In twenty-six years on the force, he was not only wiser, but thicker.

“What’ya got for me, Zeke?” Freddie approached the large chested sergeant with two hash marks on his sleeve. “Are we doing this today?” Freddie held up his plague mask that all law enforcement was mandated to wear.

“Not on my watch,” Zeke Andersen waved it off.

“Good, I can’t breathe in these damned things. It’s all a citizen-show anyway.” Freddie shoved the mask in his jacket pocket. “I tend to be a little claustrophobic.”

“Not a good one, Southie.” Zeke and Freddie had worked together for years. “Looks like an execution.”

“Robbery?” Freddie said.

“Nope, don’t think so. First glance, no resistance—”

“Even worse,” Freddie said.

He slipped on the paper booties over his shoes and some black, nitrile gloves.

“CSU here yet?” Freddie asked, referring to the Denver Crime Scene Unit.”

“Yup, already busy as beavers,” Zeke smiled.

A small car screeched to a halt at the crime scene tape.

“Who do we have here?” Zeke asked.

The driver’s door flew open and a young lady fell out.

“Oh, crap,” Zeke said and started toward the car.

Freddie placed a hand on his large arm.

“It’s okay, that’s my new partner.”

“You’re kidding,” Zeke said.

“Unfortunately, no.”

The young woman jumped up and dusted herself off, snapped on her plague-mask and had her credentials out, waving them at the officers, like a cross at a vampire.

She approached Freddie and Zeke.

“Sorry, I’m late—”

“Miss the call again?” Freddie asked.

“I was in the shower, sorry.”

“I can see that,” Freddie said.

Her hair was still damp.

“Get dressed in the dark, Booker?” Freddie asked.

She looked down at her outfit. “Oh crap.”

Her patterned top clashed with her pinstriped slacks.

“Uh, well…actually, yes,” she said. “Sorry—”

“Doesn’t matter to me,” Freddie shrugged. “You’ll probably get blood on them anyway, the way you are—”

“Got caught in the seatbelt. Okay?”

“Sure,” Freddie grinned.

“Andromeda Booker.” Her hand shot out toward Zeke.

Zeke offered a closed fist, and they bumped knuckles.

“People call me Andi—”

“What people, Booker?” Freddie asked.

“People.” She cleared her throat. “Some people call me that—”

“I’ve never heard anyone call you that.” Freddie turned and walked into the house and Andi toddled after him, fumbling with her gloves.

Freddie and Andi badged their way past several more officers, tasked with securing the crime scene.

They entered a small living room where a deceased woman was slumped in a brocade chair, now stained with crimson. A number of suited up, technicians dusted for fingerprints, measured areas and snapped photographs.

“Pretty neat place,” Andi said.

“Except for the blood and brain matter,” Freddie said.

“Well, yeah.”

Andi gagged, leaned forward and inhaled a few times.

“You gonna be okay, Booker?”

“Sure, why not?” She straightened up. “Just checking the carpet for evidence—”

“Ever seen anything like this?”

“Sure.”

“When?”

“When I was in uniform,” Andi said.

“Up close and personal?” Freddie asked.

Andi hesitated. “Well, no, not this close.”

“Excuse me.” A technician brushed past them.

“Compartmentalize, Booker—”

“I know—”

“Do you?” Freddie asked. “You wanna be a good detective?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then compartmentalize. Distance, Booker. Distance—”

“Sure.”

“Separate your thoughts and emotions. Victims, Booker. Victims.”

Freddie stepped toward the dead body in the chair.

“Can’t think of her as a person—”

“But—”

“Not yet, Booker, that will come later. And it will come. But when you come on a scene, your task is to assess the scene, gather the evidence and find out who did this—”

“I know—”

“The emotion comes. But now, this is no person. No family. No hopes. No dreams. No deciding whether to have the ravioli or spaghetti for supper. No woman watching Wheel of Fortune tonight. A victim. This is a victim of a terrible thing. Push the other junk off as long as you can—”

“Makes sense,” Andi said.

She took a deep breath and stepped toward the body.

 “What a mess,” Freddie looked down at the chair.

“No shit Sherlock.” Another tech entered the room, also suited up, with face mask and gloves.

Freddie turned. “Oh, it figures.”

“Luck of the draw, Southie?”

“Bad luck—”

“Oh, don’t be that way,” the tech swatted his shoulder.

Freddie turned toward Andi.

“Booker, my ex-wife, Jillian.”

“Oh, really? Nice to meet you.” Her hand shot out.

Jillian didn’t offer her hand.

“Trace evidence,” Jillian said. “Don’t touch my gloves.” She turned to Freddie. “Where’d you get this one? You oughta throw her back in the tank.”

“Shut up,” Freddie said.  “New partner–”

“You sleeping with her?”

“Jill–”

“What?” Andi said.

“Just checkin’,” Jillian said. “Love ‘em and leave ‘em, Southie. New partner every six months—”

Freddie took a deep breath. “You got something for us, Jill?”

“Cool your jets, Fred. You got somewhere you gotta be?”

“Busy dance card.”

“Really?” Jill said. “We’ve drawn seven suicides in two weeks and this is the third shoot and scoot. Top that—”

“Yeah, life is tough all over,” Freddie said.

“Shoot and scoot?” Andi asked.

“Do you see a gun?” Jillian asked.

Andi glanced around.

“No.”

“Not yet,” Freddie said.

“Well, it’s a foregone, it isn’t in her hand,” Jillian said. “So, she didn’t pop herself.”

“Professional opinion?” Freddie asked.

“Yeah, professional opinion, don’t be a prick.”

Andi dropped to her knees to look under the chair.

“Don’t contaminate my crime scene, Little Missy.”

“Oh, sorry.” Andi stood up.

“Lot of depression out there,” Jillian looked at the body. “People jumping off bridges, throwing themselves off hotel balconies, stepping in front of trains, husbands killing wives.” She grinned at Freddie. “Wives killing husbands.”

“You wish,” Freddie said.

“Jus’ sayin’. With all this plague crap going around, I wouldn’t prosecute a wife who shot her husband—”

“Glad you’re not on the jury, Jill—”

“I bet you are.”

“Anything else?” Freddie asked.

“No kids at home—”

“No kids, period?” Andi asked. “Or just at home?”

“None that we found, Missy—”

“Her name is, Andi. Be a professional for once—”

“Always have been, Fred.”

“Well, you’re acting a little bitchy now.”

“I’m not little on anything I do.” She turned toward Andi. “Okay, Miss Andi. My team has not found any children in the home. Thank God.”

“Looks like grown and gone.” Andi walked to the mantel.

“Don’t touch those,” Jillian said.

“Wouldn’t think of it,” Andi placed her hands behind her back and stared at the photos in frames. “Looks like kids and grands.”

“Guess you missed that, Jill,” Freddie said.

“Didn’t look that far, yet, Fred. Had to leave something for you to earn your pay.”

“Appreciate it,” Freddie said.

“Jillian?” One of the techs called her.

“Yeah.”

“Can you come into the kitchen.”

Jillian headed for the kitchen. “Don’t screw up my crime scene, Bozo.” She said without turning around.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Freddie said then mumbled. “Bitch.”

“I heard that,” Jillian said as she disappeared around the corner.

“Not an amicable divorce?” 

“To say the least—”

“Kids?”

“You said yourself, they’re in the photos—”

“No, I mean you and Jillian.”

“Oh, yeah,” Freddie said. “Grown and out of the house when we split.”

“Oh, well, at least that’s good, huh?”

“Yeah, still a blow. Kids always know—”

“How many?” Andi asked.

“Four. Two boys, two girls—”

“Grandkids?”

“Compartmentalize,” Freddie said. “Back on track, Andi—”

“Yeah, of course. Compartmentalize.”

Andi looked back at the woman’s body. “This is really shitty–”

“Always is.”

Andi stepped near the chair.

“What do you see now, Booker? Look beyond the gunshot wound. Tell me what you see.”

“Woman, mid-sixties, takes care of herself—”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, her blouse is well tailored, don’t know about those shorts, but she’s slim, has some good muscle tone in her arms and legs, not a lot of wrinkles on her face, for her age, manicures and pedicures regularly, hair healthy.”

“Good observations. What else?”

“Curious about this area?” Andi pointed in between the woman’s feet, that were flat on the floor. “Looks like someone was sitting here—”

“At her feet?”

“Yeah,” Andi said.

Freddie looked closer. “Is that a bloody handprint?”

“First impression, yes.”

Freddie thought.

“Remorse,” he mumbled.

“Maybe,” Andi said.

“So, he kills her and then slumps at her feet and hugs her leg,” Freddie said. “You might be on to something, Booker.”

 “Bloody footprints, too.” Jillian had come back into the room. “Some here.” She pointed near the chair and more in the kitchen by the back door.”

“Yeah?” Andi said.

“Ten to one,” Jillian said. “I like the husband for it, and he walked away from the scene after doing the deed—”

“Jumping to conclusions,” Freddie said.

“Intuition, Southie. Intuition. Prove me wrong.”