Heather—or Detective Bertrand as she was always addressed around here—stared at the dead body rigged on of the fire escape. Her eyes narrowed; she felt morbidly curious and sickened all at the same time. She had seen many a grisly murder pockmarking the alleyways of New York during the course of her job, but never had she seen anything quite like this.
The body, hung upside down on one leg and held up by barbed wire, was of a well-built Caucasian man—Heather guessed that he was in his late-thirties to early-forties—in a complete state of undress. She made great efforts to avert her eyes from his member in order to assess his injuries. His wrists were marred with bruises, his black eye made his blue eyes looked startlingly cold even when lifeless. Multiple stab wounds clustered his abdomen; they had been done haphazardly, without method or thought behind them, other than maybe the thought to kill. She presumed, however, that the cause of death was either of a broken neck, as evidenced by the yellowing blue bruise around the area, or a concussion, indicated by the patch of blood in his blonde hair. But she wouldn’t know for sure until she got the official report.
Heather heard her partner, Detective Kurt ‘Beck’ Beckendorf, discussing the cause of death with the medical examiner and forensic analyst, Dr. Pauline Myers, several feet away from her. She walked over to join them.
“—signs of struggle,” said Pauline. “It looks like he was killed elsewhere, but was then brought here and staged. Based on temperature and lividity, I estimate the time of death to be around midnight to three this morning.”
“So what’s our victim’s name?” asked Heather.
“Jeremy Hancock, according to his I.D.,” answered Pauline.
“And what was the exact cause of death?”
“Crushed windpipe. The blow to his head was fatal, but that happened afterwards and, if you’d allow me to impart my opinion, only acted as a ‘safety precaution.’”
“At least his crown jewels are still intact,” said Beck. When Heather turned to stare at him, he added, “What? Look, as someone who happens to own a—”
Having heard enough, Heather propped a finger up against his lips to silence him and shot him a meaningful look.
“I also found this in his hand,” Dr. Parish said. She handed Heather what a crumpled, shiny sheet of paper; it took her moments to realise that it was a photograph, futilely smoothened but fully intact nonetheless, of a fair-skinned woman. She was in the nude, held down by black leather straps on all four limbs, blindfolded and gagged. Her head was turned to the right, her brown hair hiding half of her face. Heather peered closer at it and saw some kind of stain on her cheek, but couldn’t tell what it was.
Next to her, Beck whistled low. “Bondage. Always a nice touch to murder.” Then, after a beat, “This can’t be the only photo around. I bet there’s more of this where it came from.”
Heather’s mind ran through a number of possibilities, but there was only one word that stuck out and made the most sense to her. “It’s blackmail.” She twisted her midsection to face the body that was still dangling from the fire exit. “Have CSU bag the body and canvas the area. Search for every available print, fibre, the whole works. We’re going back to the precinct, find out who this woman is. Pauline, let me know if something new comes up.”
“So what are you thinking?” said Beck as they headed back to their car.
“This murder wasn’t more than just an act of vengeance,” said Heather. “Whoever killed this man could’ve easily left the body in the dumpster or wherever it was they did it, but they hung him up here. They were sending a message or a warning of sorts.”
“And you think the woman in the photograph is involved?”
“Possibly. But I don’t think she was working alone. She either had help from a third party, or she’s not the only one in this predicament.”
* * *
“Mr. and Mrs. Hancock, thank you so much for coming in today.” Heather closed the door of the precinct lounge and joined Beck on the opposite couch from the mourning couple. “I’m Detective Bertrand. This is my partner, Detective Beckendorf. We’re very sorry for your loss.”
“Do you have any idea who could’ve done this?” said Mrs. Hancock through tears.
“No, but I assure you we are doing everything we can to figure that out.”
“When was the last time you saw your son?” asked Beck.
“We haven’t seen him in months,” replied Mr. Hancock. There were tears in his eyes, but Heather could tell he was holding them back. “His business has been booming lately and I suppose he hasn’t had the time to come and visit. He always does when he can.”
“And have you heard anything from him at all?”
“The last time he called us was a week ago, to tell his mother a happy birthday and to apologise for not visiting as often as he used to.” Mrs. Hancock’s sobs became louder at her husband’s words.
“Is there anything else you can tell me about Jeremy, or anyone you can think of anyone who would be a threat to him?” Heather persisted. “Was he in a relationship? Did he have any enemies? Any ex-girlfriends or boyfriends?”
“No, Jeremy was such a good boy. He doesn’t have any enemies,” said Mrs. Hancock.
“He has two ex-wives, however,” added Mr. Hancock. “Jennifer Rain and Penelope Parish. As far as I know, he split on good terms with the both of them. Jen moved to London about a year ago.” He let out a despondent sigh. “You don’t think they had anything to do with his death, do you?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out.” Heather turned her head at the knock on the door; a colleague of hers, Detective Ryan Purdue, opened the door and motioned for her and Beck to come over. “Excuse us for a moment.”
“What’s up?” said Beck as he closed the door.
“I just got the list of calls Jeremy Hancock made in the past twenty-four hours,” said Ryan, waving several sheets of paper. “and check this out.” He pointed to a series of numbers on the top of the page. “Seven calls to the same number on the day of his murder. Two hours before his murder, no less. And it belongs to a . . . Penelope Parish.”
Heather’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s one of Jeremy’s ex-wives.” She dashed to her desk, booted up her computer, and typed in the name ‘Penelope Parish’ into the database. A close-up picture of a woman in her mid-twenties popped up. She had long, glossy brown hair, striking green eyes, and a port wine stain taking up the entirety of her left cheek. She cross-referenced her image with the photograph found at the crime scene.
“How do you know that’s Penelope in the photograph?” said Beck.
“Because of her birthmark,” explained Heather. “You can’t really tell at first glance, but if you look closely on her cheek, her skin tone there doesn’t match the rest of her body.” She skimmed through Penelope’s information, found her address, and quickly jotted it down on her pad. “Come on.”
* * *
“Ms. Parish?” Heather banged her fist on the front door for the third time. “Ms. Parish, this is the NYPD. We have a few questions to ask you about Jeremy Hancock. Open up!” When no one answered yet again, she nodded at Beck, then hollered, “Ms. Parish, we’re coming in!”
She then kicked the door down, breaking the lock in the process.
Even from the foyer, Heather could tell that the house was completely barren, with no furniture and not a single speck of dust on the varnished wooden floor. Sunlight streamed in through the large windows. It looked more like an unfurnished model home than a liveable one.
“What?” Heather mumbled in disbelief. Something wasn’t adding up. “Has she made a run for it?”
“No, she hasn’t.” She heard Beck from somewhere in the house. “You might want to come see this, H.”
Heather followed her partner’s voice and found him standing in an empty lounge, staring at the far end of the wall. She turned her head . . . “Oh my Lord.”
Penelope Parish was dead, strapped to the wall with leather contraptions, half-naked and positioned in a way that resembled da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Her head had been bashed in; an angry splatter of blood dyed parts of the wall and pooled by her feet. The red on the wall looked fresh.
“Call the team in,” Heather said. “Tell them we have another body in our hands.”
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
If you made this far into my post, then thank you for reading! Feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you think or some advice if you want to. This is my first time writing a thriller/crime/murder mystery short story, and I’m not that familiar with the genre to begin with, so please go easy on me. And yeah, I’ll see you in the relative future.
Until next time,
(Side image taken from Wikipedia)