Beta Read by BethB
Written for PetFly by Gail Morgan Hickman
internal thoughts in italics
<"Dispatch, this is unit 257, requesting CSI team to parking lot
underneath Cascade Narrows Bridge. We've got a DB here, looks like a jumper.">
A tingle of excitement races down my spine at the call coming over the radio. After a long day of endless meetings, wading through my predecessor's paperwork, and getting to know my new staff, a dead body sounds wonderful. Picking up the radio mike, I key it on and let Dispatch know I'm responding. I'm not sure how happy my team will be to see me, but I know from experience it's the quickest way to find out how my people work together. Every group has their own style and pecking order, and I figure I'll stay in the background, observing and blending in.
A smile crosses my face. Carolyn Plummer would be laughing out loud at my intention to simply oversee the scene. I'm a hands-on kind of person; a bulldozer is what she used to call me. I have to have my fingers in everything. Staying in the background will be a big adjustment, but I'm determined to get off on the right foot with the Cascade PD, and maybe even make some friends for a change.
Parking behind the police barricade, I gather my stuff together, making sure my Sig Sauer is clipped to my belt. Used to be crime scene techs didn't carry weapons, but too often now we're left behind at a crack house or the scene of a gang shooting, to gather evidence with little or no protection. A person high on crack equates badge with police, no matter what our actual job is. I've never had to fire it in the line of duty, but I've had to pull it more than once. I flash my ID at the uniform keeping the sparse crowd back and head in, forensic kit in hand. I'm not the first to arrive. Sharon and Howard are already on the scene, photographing the DB. It's sprawled across the roof of an SUV, and from what I can see, is a real mess.
"Sharon, Howie," I greet them. "What do you think, a jumper?"
Howie shrugs. "Could be, but it doesn't feel right."
I nod, turning to stare up at the bridge. The angle of descent is off. I'll go up and have a look from above in a bit, but right now the DB is my priority. "Okay, get a body bag over here and let's transfer him straight to it from the truck. We don't want to contaminate any evidence."
Once that's done, I take a look at the corpse in more detail. It's a male Caucasian; my rough guess at age is between 30 and 40. Hard to tell when his face is hamburger. After taking scrapings of some mud on the bottom of the man's expensive Italian shoes, I go through his pants pockets looking for ID. They're empty, and he's missing the jacket to his tailor-made suit on a chilly night. Things are not adding up.
Getting to my feet, I pull out my cell phone, call Dispatch and, following procedure for a suspicious death, ask them to send a detective over. That done, I turn to Sharon and Howie. "Keep working here, guys, I'm going to check out the bridge."
Things are even stranger up there. The bridge is closed for repairs and the crew working the night shift hasn't seen anyone on it all night. I walk down to the place he would have had to be standing in order to jump and land in the parking lot. There's a high railing, and John Doe would have had to climb over it to take his nose-dive. The angle still looks wrong from up here.
Shrugging, I head back down to the scene. Maybe the autopsy will provide more answers.
Returning from the bridge, I find a small crowd gathered around my DB.
One's a large black man in an expensive jogging suit, a detective's ID swinging from a
cord around his neck. The second is also a detective, judging by the badge on his belt;
he's tall, well-built, close-cropped dark hair. The third man is standing off a little way
from the other two, obviously trying to listen to the conversation, but also attempting
not to look at the body. He's short, with long, curly brown hair that brushes his
shoulders. If Carolyn's description was accurate, I'm looking at her ex-husband and his
ride-along, Blair Sandburg. Smile, Welles. Be polite, be helpful. After all, you don't
know how much of what Carolyn told you is true, and how much is sour grapes.
I walk up just as Ellison asks if anyone saw John Doe jump. "No one saw anything. The bridge has been closed for roadwork for the past few weeks. I just spoke with the crew supervisor. He says they were working the south end of the span." The two detectives look at me, then each other, then back to me. Whoops. I stick out my hand. No one takes it. Okaaaay. "Cassie Welles, new Chief of Forensics."
Recognition dawns on Ellison's face. "Oh, I got a memo."
I smile politely. "Yeah, today's my first day." Shit, that sounds bad. "With the Cascade PD, not my first day in forensics. I used to work with the San Francisco police." That wasn't much better. Take a deep breath and relax, girl. They'll think you're hopped up on speed the way you're going.
The tall cop finally introduces himself. "I'm Detective Ellison. This is Detective Brown. Nice to meet you." He doesn't mention the other man standing a few feet away. Turning his back on me, he asks Brown, "We got an ID on the victim?"
I answer before Detective Brown can. "None that I could find. His pockets were empty."
Ellison gives me a look. "You went through the victim's pockets before the detective on the scene?"
Hindsight is always 20-20. I should have ignored that call and headed home. I don't need this shit at the end of my very long first day on the job. "Arriving officers on the scene asked for a CSI team, gentlemen. After examining the body and determining that the cause of death was suspicious, I called for detectives. Is there a problem?"
He crouches by the corpse as he says, "Well, in the future, I'd appreciate it if you waited for one of us to get here before you touch anything."
I catch myself grinding my teeth. I can see I'll be writing some memos tomorrow reminding the departments about the regulations regarding proper procedure at a crime scene. Forensics always examines the scene and collects evidence first, then walks the detective through it from a scientific standpoint.
Pointing at the DB's shoes, Ellison starts to say, "This looks like some--"
Determined to do my job and give the detective the forensic assessment of the scene, I bend down and jump in. "--mud, mixed in with some kind of fiber. Carpet, maybe. I already took some scrapings. Evidence at this point seems to indicate death was caused by a fall from a great height, most likely the bridge, however, there are some anomalies--"
"Why don't you tell us your theory? I'm assuming you have one," Ellison growls, getting to his feet.
I follow suit, thinking Carolyn seriously underestimated how abrasive her ex could be. Hold on to your temper, girl. Try to remember you're on the same team. "No theories as of yet, Detective, just some facts that don't add up. The fence on the bridge is too high to accidentally fall over. As for suicide, we haven't found a car parked nearby, so our DB didn't drive here. The carpet fibers on his shoes indicate he didn't walk here on his own. Besides, it's pretty chilly out and all he's got on is a T-shirt. We can't ignore the possibility that he might have had some help falling from the bridge." If he fell from the bridge the position of the body still bugs me, but I'm not going to admit that to Ellison, not until I've come back in the daytime and taken some measurements.
"You've got all the pieces of the puzzle right in line, don't you?" he sneers. "There's just one thing "
"What's that?" I'm wondering if he's seen the same peculiarities in the scene that I have.
"The bridge was closed, so there's nowhere to park in the north end. What you seem to be suggesting is that the killer parked on the south end and carried the body past the work crew without anybody noticing."
Hey, the muscle has a brain. Will wonders never cease?
The young man with the long hair approaches. "Well, maybe the crew was on a break or something."
"Good point." Up close, I can see that he's several years younger than I am, maybe in his late twenties. His hands are stuffed in his jacket pockets, and he shivers, though I'm not sure it's so much from the cold as from having to stand next to the DB. Bending down, I zip our boy John closed, and Ellison's partner relaxes, giving me a smile of thanks. "You are?" I ask him.
The smile turns into a grin. "Blair Sandburg. How you doing?" He extends his hand. Straightening, I shake it, finding his grip chilly, but firm.
Ellison sarcastically interrupts whatever Blair was about to say. "Okay, let's go with the 'work crew on a break' theory, shall we?"
My back to the detectives, I roll my eyes, but don't say a word. Blair winks at me, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. I think I'm going to like him.
The detective keeps on talking. "So the killer carries the victim, who's got to weigh 200 pounds, give or take, up to the bridge to throw him over to meet his death. Why?"
It's an effort, but I turn my attention back to Ellison. "Why what?"
"Why go through that trouble? I mean, if you're going to kill somebody, there's got to be an easier way, wouldn't you think? Your theory has all the pieces, but it doesn't make sense. Let's take a look at the bridge." He begins to walk away, Brown following.
"First of all, it hasn't been determined officially that Mr. Doe here died from the fall--" I begin, but he's not listening. Sandburg shrugs sympathetically and trails after his partner. I have the distinct feeling I've been given the brush-off. Sighing, I signal to the techs from the ME's office they can take John away.
I break into a trot to catch up to Jim and H. Jim shoots me a look of
disgust and says, "The workmen were on a break, huh, Chief? How could she resist
"Well, they could have been," I reply indignantly. Jim shakes his head, laughing as he and Henri climb the hill up to the top of the bridge. I remain at the bottom.
"You coming?" Jim finally yells down at me.
I shake my head, knowing that he can see it in the dark, then say for Henri's benefit, "I'm cold. I'm going to wait in the truck." Turning around, I stomp off, fully aware I'm being childish, but I don't care. My stomach's still doing the mambo from getting a glimpse of that body. God, what a way to go.
Stop thinking about it, Sandburg. But it's hard not to. The image of pulpy, bloody flesh torn from the inside out by bits and pieces of broken bone won't fade. I'll probably have nightmares for a week.
Reaching the crime scene, I notice the body bag is gone, and the ME's van is pulling away. I glance around for the new forensic chief, and spy her examining an SUV with its roof crushed. I shiver. That must be where the poor guy landed.
Changing my mind about waiting in the truck, I lean against one of the cruisers and watch her work. Cassie Welles hmm. Good-looking, curly red hair, blue eyes, and about my height. Smart, aggressive, older, but that's never been a hang-up for me god, listen to you, Sandburg, already sizing her up, trying to figure out what lines will work the best.
I run a hand over my face, pushing away the memory of Iris Johnson that pops immediately to my mind. I've got to quit doing the Casanova thing; it only leads to trouble. Friends friends is good. I can do friends. Geez, I just can't stop. I can be friends. I will be a friend to Cassie, because from what I saw before, Jim certainly won't. And I know from my own experience with the police department that newcomers are regarded with wariness, no matter who they are, forensic scientist or anthropologist.
Now, what can I do, as a friend, to help out? Glancing across the street, I see an all-night convenience store. I feel a smile cross my face. Coffee, yeah, I can do that.
Five minutes later, I'm back with enough coffee for everyone still at the scene. After handing all but two cups out, I approach her. Cassie's packing her collection case by the SUV. She looks up as I walk over. "Hi, I thought you could do with some coffee. I didn't know how you liked it, so I brought one black and one with cream and sugar."
She gives me a genuine, if surprised, smile. "Thanks. I take it black."
Handing her the appropriate cup, I say, "Thanks for what you did earlier, closing the body bag. I've been riding with Jim for almost three years, and I still have trouble with dead bodies."
"No problem. Some people never get used to it," she replies. I expect the same condescension I get from the guys at MC over my squeamishness, but there's no hint of it in her voice. She takes a sip of her coffee, then adds, "I've gotten used to it. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, it makes my job easier; on the other, I sometimes wonder if it's made me lose my empathy."
I give her a reassuring smile. "I think if you can worry about losing it, you still have it."
Cassie's about to reply, when Jim shows back up. Glaring at us both, he says, "I thought you were going to wait in the truck, Sandburg."
I thrust the cup of coffee I'm still holding into his hand. "Went for a coffee run."
He makes a noise, then says, "I'm ready to go, Chief."
"Okay, be right there." I turn to Cassie. "It was nice meeting you. See you around the station tomorrow?"
Nodding, she answers, "I'll be there. And I'll make sure you get a copy of the forensics report first thing, Detective Ellison." Oooh, she's still ticked at him. Picking up her kit, she walks away.
Jim stares after her, then takes a sip of his coffee and grimaces. "Sandburg! You know I don't like cream and sugar."
I shrug, feeling mischievous. "Sorry, I gave Cassie the last black one." Dodging the swat aimed at my head, I trot toward the truck, chuckling to myself.
Climbing into my van, I watch Sandburg and Ellison get into an ancient
blue-and-white Ford pickup and drive away. I sit there for a moment, comparing what I've
witnessed with what Carolyn told me about the two men. Blair she'd called a cute and
sometimes annoying bundle of energy, who had somehow attached himself to her ex-husband.
They even live together, she'd said with an eye roll and a shake of her head, though she
was pretty certain they weren't gay. Not that that really matters to me, or her, but I
think it still bugs Carolyn that she can't figure them out.
Jim Ellison she had plenty of stories about, most of them appreciative of him as a police officer, and some not-so-flattering of him as a person. Of course, she's biased; we all are when it comes to someone we care about deeply who disappoints us. Underneath it all, though, I think she still has feelings for him.
Shaking myself out of my trance, I start the van just as my cell phone rings. Digging it out of my purse, I answer, "Hello."
<"Hey, Cassie! So how was your first day with the Cascade PD?"> Speak of the devil, it's Carolyn.
I laugh, then say, "I was just thinking about you. My day was pretty boring, until I went to a scene tonight and met your ex."
<"Oh, really? How did that go?"? I can hear the amusement in her voice. <"He's just a big pussycat, remember?">
"Uh-huh, right. With nice big claws."
<"I take it you clashed?">
"Big time. How in the hell did you ever put up with him, Carolyn? It's his way or get outta the way," I answer.
<"Gee, I wonder who that reminds me of 'Bulldozer.'">
"Would you stop? I was never as bad as he is. His ego is huge. Mine's just big." She laughs, and I can feel a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth.
<"So, besides big, bad Jimmy, how's everything?">
Sighing, I run my fingers through my hair and look out the window at the now deserted crime scene. "It's it's okay. Well, terrifying actually. New city, new job, new apartment, no friends ." I swallow past the sudden lump in my throat. Where in the hell did this come from? I'm blindsided by a wave of homesickness. "I miss you," I blurt out.
<"Aw, Cassie, I miss you, too. It's too quiet in the lab now, and there aren't pieces of equipment scattered all over from your 'improvements'. But it'll be okay. The people at the Cascade PD are great, honest. You'll make friends before you know it. And the coffee there can't be beat. I think that's what I miss most of all.">
Her mention of coffee makes me reach for the cup Blair gave me, and the memory of his kindness makes me feel better. "I take back what I said. I think I might have made a friend tonight."
<"Oh, really? Who? Is it a guy? Is he single? Come on, spill it. Is it someone I know?">
Laughing, I put my van in gear and point it toward my new home. "So, Carolyn, tell me again everything you know about Blair Sandburg."
I get to the station early the next morning. I want to be present for John
Doe's autopsy, and it's a good chance to get to know the M.E., Dan Wolfe, a bit better.
I've been watching him work for the better part of an hour when I hear someone calling his
name from outside the autopsy bay.
"In here!" Dan calls back, and Jim Ellison barges through the double doors, Blair Sandburg on his heels.
Wanting to start off on the right foot today, I give them a smile. "Morning, guys. Thought I'd sit in on the autopsy."
Dan greets them as well. "Hey, Jim. Blair, haven't seen you down here since that autopsy last year--the one where you passed out."
Sandburg's expression is slightly embarrassed, and he's looking everywhere but at the body on the table. "Well, uh I was new back then. I'm thinking that maybe I can handle it now." His gaze meets mine, and I wonder, given his confession to me last night, what he feels he has to prove.
Jim, however, walks over and takes a good look at the corpse. "What are we looking at, Dan?"
"What we've got is one seriously traumatized corpse. Your report says he fell from the Cascade Narrows Bridge onto a parked car?"
Dan shakes his head. "In my estimation that wouldn't account for the massive physical damage he suffered."
I've been wondering about that as well. The guy's insides look like they've been through a blender. I've never seen anything quite like it. "Could he have been beaten before he fell? Hit by a vehicle, maybe?"
The pathologist shrugs. "It's possible, but it'd have to be one hell of a beating. We're talking every major bone broken, every major organ shattered, arteries and blood vessels burst. Take a look." Using forceps, he plucks a bloody bone fragment from the mess and holds it up.
Blair's face pales, and his hand goes to his mouth. "Oh, that's that's beautiful." He ducks back out the door, and I cringe in sympathy. Poor kid. Ellison seems unconcerned at his partner's reaction.
"See what I mean?" Dan says. "Good thing we were able to get fingerprints. Even his own mother wouldn't be able to ID him." The detective nods, and Dan continues with his examination.
Forty-five minutes later, the autopsy's finished, and Detective Ellison and I leave the morgue together. When he speaks, it startles me; he hadn't said a word the whole time we watched Dan work.
"Do you always come to the autopsies?"
I shrug. "It depends on the case. Something that's cut and dried like a simple shooting, no. In a case like this, where the evidence doesn't add up, yes."
He seems to think about that for a second, then says, "You know, Welles--"
"Cassie. Welles is too formal for people who work closely together."
"Do you mind if I call you Jim?" I ask.
"No, not at all." He seems a bit rattled. Maybe I'm talking too fast for him.
"Do I make you nervous, Jim? Because I'm definitely getting the feeling I'm making you nervous." Might as well get this out in the open now. After my talk with Carolyn last night, I'm determined to nip this friction with Jim in the bud.
His gaze slides away from mine as he pushes the button for the elevator. "Look, Cassie, I'm sure you're good at your job--"
I hear a "but" coming, and squash it flat. "Yes, I am, and I've heard some really good things about you. I'm looking forward to working with you." My praise is met with silence. The ignore-her-and-she'll-go-away treatment is not going to work on me. He's going to end up having to deal with me sooner or later, and I prefer it to be sooner. I bring the topic back to the case. "About our John Doe--you might want to check out the tourist information because this guy's shoes were made in Milan, and his belt had one of those little Paris labels on it. I already have my people looking into where the items were sold."
He lets out a long-suffering sigh and says, "You know, I really enjoy your enthusiasm. I want you to know that."
There's that "but" again. I fold my arms across my chest. "Uh-huh. But?"
Jim's jaw muscle twitches. "But you're not a detective."
"And you're not a forensic specialist-criminologist. It's my job to look at a crime scene and the victim, and figure out what happened using science, physics, physiology and some psychology. I, in turn, report those findings to you, which you use to make an arrest, and the DA uses to get a conviction. I'd be happy to dump all my raw data on your desk and let you try to figure out how to do a DNA test, or spectrographic analysis, or remember off the top of your head the life cycle of the black fly and how to tell how many days a victim's been dead by the state of its larvae."
Whatever it was he was expecting me to say, it certainly wasn't that. His mouth opens and closes, then opens again as he says, "You're taking it the wrong way. I just meant that you should stick to what you know and leave the detecting to the detectives--"
"What? You have a problem with the way I do my job? You haven't known me long enough to know how I do my job. Or maybe that's not the problem. Maybe the problem is I'm a woman doing this job. I've heard a lot about you, Ellison, from someone who knows you very well. I know all about your run-ins with female authority figures, about your problem with authority in general."
He interrupts me. "All I'm trying to say is--"
"I know what you're trying to say. And it's the same thing every woman doing a so-called man's job hears. I was hoping things might be different here in Cascade, but I see I was wrong." I'm so angry now I'm shaking, and as the elevator doors open, I spit, "I'll take the stairs."
It takes me almost four flights and a lot of name-calling before I calm down. Stopping to catch my breath, I remember my conversation with Carolyn from last night, and the advice she gave me. "Don't let him get to you, Cassie. Just do what you have to do, and ignore him if you can, go around him if you can't. Don't let Jim Ellison or anyone else make you think you're not qualified to do the job. The only reason I'm Forensics Chief here in San Francisco is because I had more field experience at the time the job came up than you did. So don't sell yourself short."
At least someone believes in me, even if she is hundreds of miles away. My confidence renewed, I tackle the rest of the stairs to my office.
From my perch on top of the conference table in the captain's office, I'm
watching Jim pace in front of Simon's desk. He's well into the fifth minute of a rant
about our new forensics chief.
Simon removes his cigar from his mouth and cuts him off. "All right, all right, so she's a little eager."
Jim snorts. "Try pushy. She had the gall to suggest I have a problem with females in positions of authority."
I can't hold back my chuckle.
Glaring at me, Jim asks, "What's so funny?"
"Well, you do, Jim. Sheila Irwin, Deborah Reeves, your ex-wife I can go on." A memory hits me and I snap my fingers. "Didn't Cassie say she's from San Francisco?"
"So isn't that where Carolyn transferred to?" I almost fall off the table laughing. "No wonder Cassie has your number, man! Carolyn's told her all about you."
Jim looks stunned. "All about me?"
"Of course, man. That's what women do. She probably even knows you like to sing "Black Magic Woman" in the shower--"
Simon interrupts before I can continue torturing Jim. "Look, why don't you just give her a break? She's been here less than forty-eight hours. From what I understand, she's very good at her job."
Jim makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a raspberry. "I wish she would do her job instead of trying to do mine."
Sighing, I shake my head. "You don't get it, do you, Jim? At this point in the twentieth century, you have the same job: gathering enough evidence to convict the bad guys. Her method of doing it is just a bit less dangerous than yours." I give him a grin. "She's all right. She's smart, she's aggressive, she knows what she wants. Sound familiar? Personally, I like her."
Jim gives me a pained look. "Okay, D'Artagnan, back off on this one. You've already dated half the eligible women in the department. Leave her alone."
"Are you kidding? Dating her would be like dating you, and I'm not gonna go there. I know my limits."
Simon waves his hand to silence us. "Why don't you just give her a break, Jim? You know how it is first week."
There's a knock on the door and then Cassie enters, carrying a laptop computer. "Captain Banks, excuse me for interrupting. I think there's something you and Detective Ellison should see."
I hop off the table as she approaches and sets the computer down. She punches a couple keys as I look over her shoulder at the screen.
"Dr. Wolfe said that the damage to our John Doe was so intense that a physical identification would be difficult. I've got this new computer program I've been beta testing. It's designed exactly for this kind of situation. Here's what it does: it builds a three-dimensional re-creation of the victim's face based on data extrapolated from measurements of the skull. So you add in known hair color, skin type, et cetera."
A face is forming on the screen. I'm fascinated. "You know, I've seen computer modeling used to reconstruct early hominids based on skull fragments, but man, never with this level of sophistication. That's incredible."
She gives me a smile. "Yeah, it's pretty cool, isn't it? Obviously there's room for error here, but I think this is a pretty good facsimile of what our John Doe looked like before he died."
Simon's come out from behind his desk and is taking a closer look at the image. "Well, I'd say that was a pretty impressive piece of police work, wouldn't you, Jim? I'd also think that you'd want to get a copy of that picture over to the medical examiner as soon as possible."
Taking the hint, Jim, Cassie and I leave his office in search of a printer.
Fifteen minutes later, Jim and I are back in the morgue looking for the
pathologist. "Dan? Hello? Anybody here?" Jim calls.
The outer office is empty. "Maybe they're out to lunch. Why don't we just leave the reconstruction on the table?" I suggest, mention of lunch making my stomach rumble.
Nodding, Jim sets the folder containing the printout down on the desk and starts to leave. He pauses, his head cocked in what I've come to think of as his listening pose.
"I hear breathing," he says, and strides through the door into the morgue. "Dan?"
Inside the autopsy bay, even I can hear the muffled yells for help. Jim strides over to the individual refrigerated drawers and yanks one open, pulling the slab out. Dan's lying on it, duct tape over his mouth and binding his hands.
Jim rips the tape of his mouth as I ask, "Man, what happened?"
Inhaling deeply, Dan replies, "Two guys they took the body."
Jim frowns. "What body?"
"John Doe. And they grabbed all the files, including the fingerprints. They just ran out."
Ran out with a body and no one noticed? Great security here at the PD.
Jim nods as he's heading for the exit. "All right. We'll send some one back for you."
We leave poor Dan still in the drawer and rush out the side exit of the morgue into the alley. Two men are loading a body bag into the back of a station wagon.
"Police! Freeze!" Jim yells.
But instead of freezing, they turn toward us. One of them has something in his hand. Then Jim's shoving me around the corner of the building as the station wagon explodes. When Jim finally lets me up, I see the men are gone, and there's not much left of John Doe but charcoal.