On TV, it’s easy: I show my badge, a uniform lifts the crime scene tape, I duck under it, and I’m immediately met by a grizzled detective who gives me a brief synopsis of the situation after I say, “So what we got?” Then we crouch in front of a body and rock music plays.
In reality, I’d left my badge at home, the uniform was walking out of a house like he’d been punched in the gut, there was no crime scene tape strung up, and I had to turn my head to spit a mouthful of saliva into the street because I’d caught a strong whiff of blood and gore coming out of that house.
I bent over, hands on knees, head aching but my mouth watering again, and I was still two doors away from the subject house, holy shit, how bad was it in there? Four people dead, I knew that, I smelled that: one adult male, one adult female, two young girls.
I straightened up, rubbed my mouth, and watched the uniform go to his patrol car. He leaned heavily against the passenger-side fender and then keyed his shoulder radio. I couldn’t hear what he was saying; I have enhanced reflexes and strength, plus a super sniffer, but my hearing is average.
I heard an odd noise, something like a combination shriek and gasp, ahead on my right. There was a young woman, mid-twenties, dressed in a blue sequined tank top and blue capris, framed in the doorway of the house next to the blood-house. She had her hands over her face. Then a guy, her husband I guessed, pulled her back into the house and shut the door.
The cop heaved himself off the car and trotted to their house. He glanced at me, then reached the door and whammed the side of his fist against it until it opened. The woman’s husband was there, and they started talking. I heard the murmur of their voices, but I couldn’t make out individual words.
I stayed put on the sidewalk and watched them. The wife showed up, shouldered hubby out of the way, and started gesturing to the bloodbath house. She must have been the one who’d called it in.
I briefly–very briefly–considered coming forward and offering my help. But we were solidly in the Mitchum Bay city limits, which meant the county cops, like me, stayed out of an investigation unless help was asked for, which was rare. It didn’t help that I was minus my badge and county ID card. I didn’t know most of the city cops, and I definitely didn’t know that guy. He’d have to take my word that I was a cop, and since I currently looked like crap and smelled like a distillery (I may have spilled two or three drinks on my black T-shirt, it was hard to remember), it wasn’t going to happen.
I pulled out my phone. Google Maps showed me where I was: across town and not far from the Buffalo Wild Wings, which meant that I’d have to figure out a way to cross Interstate 10. And after that feat, I’d have another three miles to walk. And I was hung over. My body processes alcohol faster than normal, so for me to wake up feeling this shitty meant that I’d really put them away last night. I sort of remembered having a couple of drinks at home before the restaurant, where I’d had many, plus a few more at the guy’s house.
My head may have been pounding, but my stomach was rumbling. I spat again and crossed the street, wanting to put some distance between me and that house. It didn’t help. Another two M.B.P.D. cars showed up.
The street ended in a cul-de-sac, and there, instead of another bland house with hedges below its bay window, was an open brick structure that sheltered a cluster mailbox. I went to it. The neighbors were outside their houses, most of them sticking around their front steps, but a few of them trickling out into the street. A couple of cops were finally putting up the crime scene tape around the front yard.
I sat next to the mailbox, in the shade, because the morning was warming up and making me feel worse. The P.D.’s Crime Scene Investigation Unit rolled up in a black Ford van. Three technicians bounced out, two from the front and one from the sliding side door. They clustered by the back doors, pawing through their gear and putting on white biohazard suits. An unmarked gray Dodge Charger pulled up behind their van. A guy in slacks and a blue dress shirt, who just had to be a detective, got out. He started pointing at the house, then at them, then at the house again, probably reaming them out for trying to get into the house before he had a chance to look at the scene.
I checked my phone. I might have enough battery to call a taxi. The news trucks were showing up, and they were blocking my view of the house. I almost called Alamo Taxi, but then decided to wait. The street was too congested. I’d have to get the driver to meet me on another street, and I didn’t feel up to walking just yet. I had shade, and the mailbox to lean against, and the cold metal of it felt good on my cheek.
After half an hour, when I’d decided I felt okay enough to walk away from this mess, another unmarked car showed up, this one a white Charger. It parked behind the gray one, and I knew the guy who stepped out: Ryan Riley, Sawyer County Homicide Division. If Mitchum Bay had called us for help, there was something epic going on. I got to my feet and walked to him. “Ryan, hey,” I said.
He paused by the Charger’s trunk, his eyebrows raised. “Elizabeth. Good morning. I didn’t think you lived around here.” He opened the trunk.
“I don’t. I spent the night at a friend’s house.” I gestured in the general direction of my date’s house. “I saw the P.D. go by just as I was leaving. I got nosy.”
“Well, if you’re here for details, I don’t have any.” He pulled out a bulging canvas messenger bag, closed the trunk lid, and set the bag on it. “I don’t see your car,” he said.
“Yeah. I walked over.”
He nodded and opened the bag. Riley was my age, plus or minus a year, but to me he always came across as older. Maybe it was because he’d gotten out of the patrol division as soon as he could. I was content to stay where I was; I had enough problems handling my life as it was. God forbid I throw a promotion into the mix. Or maybe it was his wife and three kids that made him seem more mature than I was. He was a grown-up adult, and in contrast, I had spent the night passed out next to some dude with an energy drink logo permanently etched on his body.
He pulled out a black binder. “The only detail I have is that there are no bodies inside the residence. A large quantity of blood, but no bodies, and no apparent drag marks.” He tucked the binder under his arm. “I expect that Mitchum Bay wants us to assist in the search, once things are more straightened out here. This will be a very big deal. A family of four is missing.”
“Dad, mom, two little girls,” I said.
Riley raised his eyebrows again.
I shrugged. “Neighbors are talking.”
– – – – – – – – – –
I called a car, then spent the ride home worrying that David would see me on the news. There had been cameras everywhere. I didn’t want him to see me lurking and think that I had something to do with what had happened. I didn’t want to know that he thought I was capable of slaughtering a family.
Once I was home, I ate, then showered and took a nap. I woke up for channel twelve’s five o’clock news. The family was the top story. The dad, Micah “Mack”Peterson, owned Loud Noisez, a shop that specialized in custom audio and video systems for vehicles. The mom, Daniele, did church bake sales and Parent-Teacher Organization stuff. Their twins, Alexa and Dayton, were seven. Channel twelve showed photos of the family. Anyone with information should call the Mitchum Bay Police Department or the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Office.
I wanted to go to the house. I wanted to sniff around, literally, and see if I could find something that the crime scene techs had missed. But I knew that even if they were finished out there, they’d post an unmarked car nearby to watch for suspicious people. So I dozed off on the couch, and woke up an hour or so before the ten o’clock news. I stayed awake even though I figured the newscasters would just regurgitate what had been broadcast five hours earlier.
I was wrong. There was a new wrinkle: a large quantity of methamphetamines had been found in the house, hidden in one of the three bathrooms.
To be exact, two quart-size freezer bags of meth had been found behind the plumbing access panel in the master bathroom by Ryan Riley, who’d noticed that the screws that secured the metal panel to the wall were unpainted stainless steel. The other two bathrooms contained panels with painted screw heads so they’d blend in.
The talking heads were practically frothing at the mouth with the idea that we had our very own Breaking Bad scenario, so I turned it off and went to bed. Stupid me, I thought I was done with the Petersons.