Authors: Chris Culver
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ven eight months after the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department transferred him to the community relations “team,” Detective Sergeant Ash Rashid still resented his blue polyester uniform, but even more than the uniform, he resented the lack of a weapon. Going without it felt like driving to work without pants; it was fun at first, but it grew old quickly. He understood the reasoning behind the prohibitionâfew school assemblies or neighborhood watch meetings ended in gunfireâbut he still would have liked to carry one if for no other reason than to compare his firearm to the ones carried by the students in some of the rougher school districts he visited. But as he drove home from a particularly long Q&A session at a meeting on the city's east side, it wasn't a disgruntled community member or an angry student who ruined his day; instead, it was a careless driver who had forcefully introduced the front end of his Mercedes to a telephone pole.
Ash pulled his gray cruiser to a stop approximately fifty feet from the vehicle, groaning as he flicked on the light bar hidden in his car's grill and rear window. With the sun still high and soft in the late afternoon sky, few people would be able to see his lights, but regulations required them for officer safety. They required all sorts of things for officer safety that made little sense. He pulled out a pad of paper from his utility belt and began jotting down the conditions of the scene upon his arrival. The city hadn't received any appreciable rainfall in at least a week, which meant the driver hadn't slipped on water. He must not have been going very fast, either, because the vehicle's airbags hadn't deployed on impact. If nothing else, that would save him a couple grand in repair bills at the expense of some bruising. It was a minor fender bender; unless he was too drunk to stand, he'd walk away from it without issue.
Ash slouched and closed his eyes. Having handled at least half a dozen homicides in the surrounding blocks, he knew the area fairly well even if he hadn't been there for a while. A beat cop had found a corpse stashed amid the weeds on a lot to his left just a couple of weeks ago, and the city's narcotics unit frequently conducted buy-busts in the area. He didn't want to stay there any longer than he had to, so he punched the
button on his radio, already dreading the response he would likely receive.
“Control, this is Charlie-thirteen. Please respond.”
Charlie designated his unitâcommunity relationsâwhile thirteen indicated his rank, sergeant. The dispatcher wouldn't be able to individuate him by his radio call sign, but she'd have a pretty good idea if she looked him up.
“Charlie-thirteen, this is Dispatch-seventeen. Go ahead.”
“Yeah, Seventeen. I've got a single-car collision on Forty-Second near the fairgrounds. It doesn't look serious, so I'd be very grateful if you could send someone by to redirect traffic. I'm on my way home.”
“Negative, Charlie-thirteen. All of our officers are tied up right now in an emergency call. Please remain on site until you receive further word.”
Ash closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping to stave off a headache.
“Seventeen, please reevaluate deployment.”
“Sorry, Charlie. The swing shift is short tonight. I'll get someone out there as soon as I can.”
Ash shook his head and readjusted himself on the seat, feeling his back stick to the warm vinyl.
“You want to tell that to my wife, Seventeen?”
“Negative, Charlie-thirteen. You're on your own.”
“That's what I thought.”
Ash hung up the microphone and turned the radio to low before fishing his cell phone from his pocket. He called his wife far more often than he did anyone else, so her number occupied the first slot in his address book. It only took a couple of button presses to get her on the phone.
“Hey, honey. Guess whose favorite person is going to be late tonight?”
Hannah paused. “I wouldn't know. My two favorite people are in the living room with me.”
She meant their two kids. Ash glanced at a colored-pencil drawing of a police officer on his dashboard that his daughter, Megan, had given to him that morning before he left for work. Now that he wore a uniform every day instead of a detective's suit, she told everybodyâstranger or friendâabout her police officer father.
“I suppose your third-favorite person is going to be late. Sorry.”
“How late? Your sister and Nassir are coming over for
in a few hours.”
Ash's stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since before sunrise that morning.
is the evening meal that breaks a Muslim's fast during Ramadan, and he had been looking forward to it all day. He glanced out his window and noticed a line of cars that had begun to queue on the street, their drivers likely thinking he would open the road and wave them through eventually. Pedestrians, meanwhile, had begun to gather on the porches and stoops of houses nearby.
“I'm not sure. I'll head out as soon as another supervisory officer gets here. Shouldn't be too long.”
“Are you close? We're out of dates, so I wanted to go to the grocery store. I'd rather not lug the kids around if I can help it. You know how Megan gets.”
Ash knew what she meant; the last time he had taken his daughter to the grocery store, she made beeping noises when an overweight woman backed her cart up in a crowded aisle. Megan laughed, but the overweight woman didn't find it quite that funny. Ash looked around him again, confirming his location with street signs.
“I'm about a block north of the fairgrounds. Once I get moving, it should only take me ten or fifteen minutes to get home.”
“Are you sure you're not in a bar?”
Ash didn't like admitting it aloud, but the question had merit. God forbade Muslims from drinking alcohol, and Ash usually managed to avoid it. He had more difficulty on some days than others, though.
“I haven't had a drink in eight months.”
“That's what you keep telling me,” said Hannah, her voice a little sharp. “Are you sure you're not in a bar?”
“Good,” she said, her voice softening to its usual tone. “What are you doing by the fairgrounds? That's a pretty rough neighborhood.”
It was a good question, but maybe not for the reason Hannah expected. Off the top of his head, Ash could think of three unsolved homicides and half a dozen assaults that had occurred within five blocks of his present location. That usually kept the tourists away. Moreover, the Mercedes probably cost more than what the average resident of that neighborhood made in five years. The driver might have just been lost, but Ash's curiosity had been piqued.
“Can I call you back?” he asked. “I'm going to check something out.”
“Yeah. Give me a call when you figure out when you can come home.”
Ash told her that he would before hanging up. As soon as he opened his door, he coughed hard. Indiana didn't have yearly vehicle emission tests like neighboring states, so many of the cars on its streets spewed air so toxic and thick that breathing their exhaust almost hurt. In the middle of summer with its heat and humidity, hell just barely edges out a busy Indianapolis street for most uncomfortable spot in the universe.
He walked toward the Mercedes with his shirtsleeve covering his mouth and nose. The vehicle was a relatively new S550, and its black paint gleamed in the afternoon sun as if it had been freshly waxed. The rear end had neither dents nor dings, so the driver likely hadn't been hit from behind; he went into the pole on his own. No one inside moved. Ash leaned his head to the side and activated the radio on his shoulder.
“Control, this is Charlie-thirteen. Please put Emergency Services on standby. I'm not seeing movement in my car accident.”
Ash walked the rest of the way to the vehicle but paused once he reached the driver-side door. As a veteran police officer and former homicide detective, he had seen things that he'd never stop seeing no matter how long he lived or how hard he tried to forget them. Grisly murders, horrific accidents, truly awful domestic abuse. Weighed against those, the scene inside the Mercedes seemed almost benign, but it still made his stomach turn.
As soon as he looked in the vehicle, two sets of cold, dead eyes greeted his own.
He swallowed the bile that threatened to rise from his gut. The driver had a full head of silver hair, a ruddy complexion, and crow's feet beside his eyes. Blood stained the back of his white Oxford shirt and stippled the vehicle's seats and headliner. His passenger appeared ten to fifteen years younger, but she was equally well dressed. She had platinum-blond hair, and she wore a silk blouse and black pencil skirt. They wore matching wedding rings, and they held hands over the center console. Some of Ash's more crass colleagues would call her a trophy wife, but the fact that they had been holding hands when they died told him she was more than that.
He took a step back from the car and coughed, clearing his throat before engaging the microphone on his shoulder.
“Dispatcher, this is Charlie-thirteen. Cancel my request for EMS. I've got bodies.”
*Â Â *Â Â *
Issues of right notwithstanding, anyone who could afford that Mercedes had little business being in that neighborhood. The owner didn't work there, he didn't live there, and he probably didn't have friends who worked or lived there. Hell, he wouldn't have even had to go there to buy drugs; people who could afford hundred-thousand-dollar cars had dealers who wore suits and ties and made sales calls at work. Those two corpses were there because someone wanted them there.
Within five minutes of his radio request, a pair of patrol vehicles rolled up. Even though he had already completed his shift for the day, Ash controlled the crime scene until a superior officer or detective relieved him, and he intended to hand it off with the evidence still intact. He ordered the two freshly arrived officers to park on either end of the block and reroute traffic to secondary streets. That would piss off the commuters, but it'd protect the integrity of the scene, which, at the moment, came first.
A crowd had begun forming on the sidewalk about half a block north of the police barricade. Most of the bystanders simply talked to each other, but others pointed and stared at the crashed vehicle. Even though Ash doubted he'd get anything out of them, he'd be remiss in his duties if he didn't at least try talking to them, so he grabbed a notebook from his pocket and started walking, counting his steps to see how long it would take for the crowd to disperse. He only got to two, a new record for him. Given the neighborhood, he had anticipated that most of his potential witnesses would shy away from him, but he had expected more of a shuffle than a sprint.
Out of an original crowd of a dozen people, Ash convinced four women to talk. All four wanted to help, but none had seen the Mercedes before or heard about anyone in the neighborhood owning it. Moreover, none claimed to know anyone matching the bodies' descriptions. They couldn't tell him much, but at least they had been cooperative, which was oftentimes all he could ask for. He wrote down their names, phone numbers, and addresses in case the detective who picked up the case wanted to talk to them, but he doubted it would come to that. They didn't know anything.
When Ash arrived at his car again, a green Chevy had parked beside him. Detective Eddie Alvarez sat on the hood, talking excitedly into a cell phone. As soon as he saw Ash, he smiled and nodded a quick greeting. The two detectives were roughly the same age, but Alvarez had joined the Peace Corps after college, delaying his entry to the department until his late twenties. He didn't have a lot of experience yet, but from what Ash had heard, he worked hard to learn the nuances of the job. If he kept it up, he'd be a good detective one day.
“It's good to still see you with a badge,” said Alvarez, shaking Ash's hand and taking in the scene with an extended glance. “I thought you might quit after Susan Mercer transferred you.”
Ash grunted. Before joining the Community Relations team, he had been an investigator assigned to the prosecutor's office, and Susan had been his boss. Their relationship had become strained over the years, but he still considered her a damn good supervisor and the best prosecutor the city ever had. Unfortunately, barring divine intervention in the county election cycle, she'd be gone in another six months and a morally retarded gasbag would take her place. Democracy sucks sometimes.
“You didn't take into account my aversion to being homeless and my complete lack of real job skills.”
“I guess I didn't,” said Alvarez, motioning toward the Mercedes with his chin. “So what do you have for me?”
Ash flipped through his notebook to the correct page.
“I pulled up to the scene at a little after four and found two bodies, one male and one female, in the Mercedes. I didn't open the door because both victims were clearly gone when I arrived, but I saw a significant quantity of blood on both victims' clothes as well as throughout the vehicle's interior. I've closed off the streets and kept everyone away from the car, so you should have a fresh scene.”
Alvarez shot his eyes to the remnants of the crowd Ash had just visited.
“None helpful. Four young women talked to me, but none saw anything. I've got their names and contact info if you want to follow up.”
“You think they're solid citizens?”
He wanted to know if they were part of the drug trade, and honestly Ash couldn't say. He doubted it, though; drug dealers rarely talk to the police except when forced.
“Probably. They just didn't know anything.”
Alvarez nodded and stepped toward the Mercedes. When he saw the bodies through the front window, he made the sign of the cross over his chest and closed his eyes. Ash turned away, giving the detective a moment of privacy. A lot of newbies to the homicide squad go quiet and stay that way for a long time when they see their first few victims. Ash drank; Alvarez prayed. Outward signs of religiosity probably violated some esoteric department rule, but Ash didn't plan to report him. Besides, Alvarez wouldn't have changed even with a formal complaint against him. When Eddie and his wife found out that Ash was a Muslim, she sent him a copy of the Bible with every word in the New Testament highlighted. Someone willing to do that wouldn't change because a rule required him to. As long as his faith didn't affect his work, Ash didn't care. It wasn't his business.