Authors: Steve Martini
"But we'll have to wait for the M.E.," he says.
He motions for her to come a little closer, something private.
"If you have a second I wanna talk to you alone," he tells Lenore.
He motions her to one side of the alley, just out of earshot, where they talk. This exchange seems to take a while, and it is not a monologue by Tony. At one point there is a clear display of some surprise by Lenore.
This, followed with more animated gestures by Tony and then raised voices that I can almost hear, until they both look in my direction.
Finally Lenore seems to end this, walking away, leaving Tony standing there.
When Lenore comes back her face is more ashen. I am thinking that perhaps Tony has imparted a few more grisly details of death, the sort of particulars in a criminal case that you don't want floating in the public pool of perceptions.
"There's nothing more he can tell us right now." For Lenore this is a little white lie. She tells me it's time for us to go.
I wanted to give you the heads-up," says Tony.
"Right," says Lenore. sun Mmm "I thought maybe you'd be handling the case," he says.
"I doubt it," she says. Lenore hasn't told him she's been fired. More deception.
Tony starts to walk us toward the tape and my car.
"I knew you'd be interested," he says. "You worked with her, in the Acosta thing. It's too bad. She was a good kid." Tony starts to turn a little teary. "We'll get whoever did this. She knew a lotta guys on the force. They'll be out for blood, turn over every stone." What is becoming Tony's mantra. One more reminder that cops take care of their own.
The details of Tony's face are suddenly lost in the glare of headlights on high beam, a car nosing into the alley at the other end, large and dark.
"I'll keep you posted," he says, moving down the alley now, back toward the fold.
"Hey. We need to talk," I tell him. "Yeah. Later."
"It's time we should be getting along," says Lenore. She's at my sleeve again, retreating to the tape, as I see the tall, slender silhouette exit from the rear of the vehicle, with uniforms trailing behind it as though on the tail of a comet: Coleman Kline.
"There's something I have to see," she says. "Turn here." I'm on my way home and Lenore wants to take a detour. It's late and I have Sarah. I tell her this, but she insists that it will take only a minute.
I follow directions down Fifteenth Street, away from the downtown area toward 1-80.
I ask her what it was that she and Tony discussed. "I can't say right now," she tells me.
"Where are we going?"
"You'll see. Make a left at the next intersection." I do as I'm told.
She's checking the painted addresses on the curb as I drive, and a few seconds later she has me pull over under an aging elm, massive and looming, home to a million crows. Their saturation bombing of the street gives it a dalmatian-like quality.
It is one of those older neighborhoods, with turn-of-the-century homes, most of which have seen better days, elevated for the floods that once inundated the city each year, pilings concealed behind a facade of rotting latticework. There are a few apartments and a four-plex or two mixed in, built during the late sixties and early seventies, when the city made a brief attempt at renaissance, before crime and white flight nailed a stake through the heart of urban America.
Three men or boys, I cannot tell which, are at the corner, hoods up, doing various renditions of the pimp roll, talking to someone in a car, engine running with parking lights, the commerce of the night.
Before I can say a word Lenore's door is open.
"Where are you going?" Her only response is a slammed car door, as she heads across the street.
Left with the accomplished fact, there is nothing I can do but follow.
By the time I lock the car, Lenore has disappeared into a dark passage up a narrow walkway, the ground floor of one of the four-plexes. If I hadn't turned to look in time I would have lost her completely. As it is, I follow her across the street.
In the dark, deep in the bush of somebody's front yard, I cannot see her, but I can hear her fumbling in her purse, the rattle of keys.
"What the hell are you doing?" "Shhh."
"Who lives here?"
"Put a cork in it." Then, suddenly, a faint beam of light, like Tinkerbell in an inkwell.
Lenore has found what she was looking for, a small penlight on her key ring. I approach down the walkway.
"I hope this is a good friend," I tell her. I glance at my watch, with its luminous dials. It is nearly one a.m.
Lenore is working the handle of the front door. It is not until I see the handkerchief lining her hand that my apprehension runs to fear. The sobriety of the moment settles on me like white-hot phosphorus, and as the door latch clicks, dark intuition tells me who lives here.
In a neighborhood like this, that anyone would leave their door unlocked is a curiosity on the order of fire eating and sword swallowing.
"We're in luck," she says.
Not any kind that I would recognize.
Lenore slips through the door and pulls me in after her. "We shouldn't be here," I tell her.
More shushing, a finger to her lips as she closes the door, a hand kerchief. I have visions of sirens and red lights.
"It can't take them long to figure this out," I tell her. "We won't be here long."
"We shouldn't be here at all."
"Then go sit in the car," she says. With this I am left in darkness as Lenore moves and takes the dim illumination of the penlight with her. In an instant, in the dark, I am playing bumper cars with her behind, "Keep your hands in your pockets," she whispers.
"I wasn't getting fresh. Honest."
"I'm worried about fingerprints," she says.
"Right." I am wondering about the cutting-edge frontiers of science, and whether they can get DNA footprints off the leather soles of my shoes.
Though in this place I need not worry. There is so much shit on the floor that if I work it right, I will not have to step on it.
It is one of the immutable rules of dating, learned in pubescence: the better looking the woman, the messier her apartment. This is one of those places where you might eat off the floor, only because the dishes are dirtier.
There is a stream of light through windows off the street in the front.
In this I can see papers strewn across the kitchen floor and what looks like the remnants of someone's meal, part of a yogurt container spilled across them waiting for a culture to take hold. The sink is filled with dishes, pots, and pans, more clutter than the average junkyard. One of the chairs is turned cattiewampus, blocking the way through the kitchen, so we take the course of least resistance, down the hall toward what I assume is the living room.
Here there is not just mess, but destruction.
A picture in its frame is on the floor. This appears to have been pulled from the wall, its glass shattered, the scarred and bent hanger remaining.
As I turn into the living room I see dirt on the carpet near a
metal-and-glass coffee table, some potting soil from an indoor plant, the greenery on the floor near another, larger dark stain that has settled into the carpet like oil on sand.
I am thinking that clutter is one thing, this borders on the ridiculous, when it settles on me that what I am seeing is not the usual random chaos of life. There is some desperate design to all of this. Here, in Brittany Hall's own home, is the place other death.
It takes several seconds before Lenore can move. Then finally, she walks around the debris. Her flashlight catches the glint of metal, some thing gold, partially covered in potting soil on the floor. She takes her flashlight close for a better look. In the light I can see that the stain on the carpet is glistening moist, and red, matched by a similar flow that has not yet entirely congealed on the sharp metal corner of the coffee table.
In an hour, maybe less, there will be evidence techs crawling over this place like locusts. I tell Lenore this.
"Right," she says. "I had a hunch it happened here." "Clairvoyance is a wonderful thing," I tell her. "Now let's go." "See if there's anything down the hallway," she says.
"I think we should go."
"Just take a look. Whoever did this is long gone," she says.
It is easier to comply, and less likely to attract the attention of a neighbor, than to argue with her. So I do it.
The hall is dark, lit only by a small night-light plugged into an outlet near the floor. There are two open doors at the end, one on each side, with a bathroom in between through which some light shines. I step quickly but carefully down the hall.
Halfway down there's a door open about an inch. I peer around and look inside through the open crack, just enough to light a shelf high on the wall. It's a closet of some kind, dark and small. I leave it and move on.
The first room I look in faces on the street at the front of the apartment. It appears to be Hall's bedroom. The bed is stripped to the sheets, but except for the tossed pillows and the missing blanket, everything here seems in its place. There's a closet in the corner, the door closed.
I turn to look at the other room across the hall. This is a different story. There is another, smaller bed, the clutter of a little child.
There are dolls and the plastic parts of toys, little snap-on things a child can build with, and a set of wooden blocks. A pink coverlet is on the bed. A little girl's room. But there is no sign other. I ease around to check the other side of the bed. No one.
I'm back down the hall. Lenore is still canvassing the living room, stepping carefully to avoid the evidence.
"I didn't know she had a kid." "Little girl," she says.
"Where is she?" Being baby-sat," she says. "Grandparents." "How do you know?"
"Saw a note in the kitchen." She's been nosing around while I've been down the hall.
"Fine. Then let's get the hell out of here."
"Back out the way we came," she tells me. "Check to make sure we didn't touch anything." As I start to go back suddenly I am without light.
Lenore has gone the other way, toward the dining room and the kitchen beyond.
"Where are you going?"
"Meet you at the door," she says.
Arguing with Lenore is fruitless. I figure anything that will get us to the front door and back to the car in a hurry is fine by me. I retrace my steps. This takes me all of three seconds. When I get to the kitchen I see Lenore, who has barely made it through the door at the opposite end.
She is studying a large calendar hanging on the wall just inside the door, her back to me.
"Let's go." My voice jogs her from some reverie. In a moment such as this it is like Lenore to be checking the victim's social calendar.
She does a delicate dance over the yogurt, avoiding the blitz of papers, and puts her hankied hand on the back of the chair that is blocking the way. She slides this gently out of the way and then repositions it as accurately as she can. With this, I'm to the door and out, Lenore right behind me. She closes it and we hoof it to the street and my car on the other side. Once inside, I waste no time putting two blocks behind us, before I utter a word.
"If any of the neighbors saw us I just hope to hell they have a good clock," I tell her. Two people skulking about in the apartment of a murder victim while her body lies in an alley surrounded by the cops.
Then the question that is gnawing at my mind: "What the hell was that all about?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean going to her apartment like that?"
"Tony had a suspicion she might have been killed where she lived," she says.
"Then Tony should have checked," I tell her.
"They were searching records to see where she lived when he called me on the cellular. DMV showed an old address," she says.
"How did you know where she lived?"
"It was in the file the day I interviewed her in the office." Mind like a steel trap.
"And you didn't tell them?"
"I don't work for those people anymore." As she says this she smiles, and we both laugh, just a little, a cathartic release.
She speculates a little about the manner of death, evidence of a struggle, whether Hall died as a result of a fall against the table or some other trauma.
"Why would anybody move the body?" I say.