"Unless," I wondered aloud, "it's a carjacking gone wrong?"
"A definite possibility," Johnson said. "The guy who found the body says he noticed a couple of guys in the parking lot last night. He didn't think much of it at the time, but maybe it plays into the carjacking angle."
"I don't suppose he recognized them."
Johnson smiled, familiar with my impatient tendency to hope for early lucky breaks. "Nope. Two white guys in jeans and rain gear. He thinks he might recognize them, though, so we'll sit him down at the station with some mug shots. The poor guy's kicking himself, feeling guilty as shit."
"He's the superintendent for the whole complex." He checked his notebook. "Peter Anderson. He found the body in the carport when he went to replace the motion-activated light that's supposed to be there. Percy put in a maintenance request for the burnt-out bulb a week ago, and Anderson was running behind. I didn't have the heart to tell him he'll be lucky to avoid a lawsuit."
A holler from across the parking lot interrupted us. "Detectives, when you got a sec, we got something you might be interested in."
After exchanging glances with Walker, Johnson volunteered -- "I'll go" -- and started a slow jog toward the patrol officer.
"Anyway," Walker continued, "we're keeping the carjack scenario as a possibility, but usually they take the car, plan gone wrong or not. We found the keys right there." He pointed to a numbered evidence placard marking a spot by the driver's side door. "Crenshaw probably dropped them during the attack."
I looked more closely then at the area surrounding the Benz. Low spatters of crimson marred the barren white Sheetrock of the carport. A wet stain that might otherwise be mistaken for oil spread beneath the front tire like a Rorschach test. I suspected that the matte smear down the side of the cars waxed front panel was also blood.
I turned back to Walker. "Was he shot?"
He shook his head. "Doesn't look like it. He was beaten real bad. Unclear whether the technical cause of death's going to be the internal bleeding or some real nasty damage to his head, but I'm guessing there was a weapon involved. Maybe a bat or a crowbar."
I swallowed, relieved that I hadn't arrived a few minutes earlier, before the gurney was covered. "So what are you working on?"
"We've got patrol officers canvassing the complex in case a neighbor saw something. Doubtful, though. In a place like this, someone would have called it in."
"Did you notify the family?'
"Not yet. We're working on that as a priority. We've got the place closed off, but it won't be easy keeping this quiet. I assume everyone in the complex knows whose car that is, and it's pretty obvious what's going on here."
"He's single, right?'
"Yeah. Ray put a call in to the Oregonian for next-of-kin information. Hopefully his family'll hear it from us before it hits the news."
"Have you gone into his place yet?"
"Working on that too. He lived alone, so we're getting a warrant. Should be easy."
"Who's working on the applications?" I asked. Judges routinely sign warrants for a homicide victim's home and office, so the paperwork was straightforward.
"Mike and Chuck are taking care of it now, back at the office. They'll page you when they're ready for you to look at it." Detectives Mike Calabrese and Chuck Forbes were partners, also in the Major Crimes Team. I'd seen the latter just three hours ago when he rolled out of my bed, pulled on his clothes, and kissed me goodbye. In addition to his position in the bureau, Detective Forbes also filled the role of my current boyfriend. And, technically, I suppose he rolled out of "our" bed, because as of a week ago we were officially shacked up.
From Close Case by Alafair Burke, Chapter 1, pages 3-17 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2005 Alafair Burke.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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