02: Bodies, Minus One
Character is much easier kept than recovered.
The Commissioner leaned back in his seat, brushing the raindrops from his pea coat as Nathan pulled into traffic. “I assume you have a few questions before we arrive?”
Em silently nodded towards Nathan.
Mike pressed a button which raised a pane of glass between them and the driver.
Em’s eyes scanned the back of the limo.
Mike laughed. “Don’t worry. The department searches for electronic devices periodically, but I rarely discuss police business here. Anyone would be a fool to bug the Police Commissioner’s vehicle.”
Em eased back, her shoulders relaxing. “Well, nowadays, when every Tom, Dick and Harry feels entitled to everyone else’s private information, that’s the best we can hope for. So tell me about the affair.”
Mike sighed. “It’s a … complex situation. We travel in similar circles: fundraisers, political, civil and cultural events. While Councilman Adams and I never said more than twenty words over the years, I discovered I share a lot in common with his wife, Martha. We have the same sense of humor, appreciate the same novels and think along similar lines, both politically and morally. Her husband was always so busy, and never spent much time with her, especially at those events. Socializing with his political cronies bored her—.”
“That’s wonderful, but I wasn’t looking for why you were attracted to her. I’m looking into the nature of your relationship. What I need is who was aware you were involved? Did you have a common meeting place where someone may have observed you? Does anyone else know about the two of you? Could your wife or the deceased have discovered something to clue them in on what was occurring?”
The Commissioner stroked his chin. “We began by flirting by text. Once we realized we had something, we drew definite rules about the affair. Neither of us wanted to damage our marriages. Believe it or not, we both love our spouses. They weren’t there and we … fell into a convenient relationship. We didn’t meet in public. We didn’t use our work phones, so nothing can be tied back to us. I can’t think of anyone who knew about it, though clearly Nathan did. He’d drop me off a couple blocks away, so someone may have observed me entering. It’s possible someone noticed me, didn’t respond, but talked about it to the wrong person.”
“But if the councilman discovered her private phone, he’d press her for details.”
“Possibly, but if he did, he wouldn’t be the one dead, would he?”
Em answered that with a silent look before continuing. “Who found the body? His wife?”
Here Mike grew silent, staring out the window. “No. I didn’t want to cast her in a bad light, but you need to know. Their maid discovered his body. No one’s heard from Martha since the murder.”
“So it’s possible he forced her to admit what was happening, they fought and she defended herself.”
He sighed, tapping his fingers on the seat. “That occurred to me, but I can’t believe she’d do anything violent. In any case, she’d have contacted me. She’d know I could set things up so she could quietly turn herself in.”
“Unless she didn’t intend to surrender?”
He shook his head. “No. Martha loved her husband, as I do my wife. Even if she couldn’t live with him, she wouldn’t dream of hurting him. After all, they’ve got their kids and relatives to consider.”
“But if it wasn’t planned, she may have panicked, expecting you’d press her to confess.”
“No. That’s the thinking of someone who’s desperate; someone who’s considered what to do and has few options available. Not only does she have my counsel, she’s got enough money to hire the best lawyers. Even in the worst case, it would be years before a final legal decision. Her legal team could arrange any number of obstructions. Running makes her look guilty. When she’s caught, she’d sit in jail versus being free. It isn’t logical she’d run.”
“So how do you account for her disappearance?”
“Personally, I’m worried. I’m afraid she’s either been kidnapped, or we’ll discover her in a few days floating in the East River.”
“You realize I’ll have to put an all-points bulletin out for her, don’t you?”
“Yes. I anticipated that.”
“Yet you didn’t tell me upfront, as if giving her extra time to make herself scarce instead of searching for someone in trouble.”
Mike stared at her, not saying anything for several moments as he frowned. “No. I’m assuming if anything happened to her, she’s either already dead, or there’s a minuscule chance a kidnapper will contact me personally.” His eye glistened with a newly-formed tear. “I doubt she’ll be found if she wasn’t there when the body was discovered.”
Em placed a comforting hand on his arm. They were interrupted by a buzz from the front of the limo.
The commissioner turned, noting where they were. He cleared his throat and wiped his eyes. “We’re here. With the weather, there isn’t much traffic. We’ll have to finish the grilling later. I’ve included all Martha’s contact information, phone numbers, description and most recent photo. That’s enough to put out an alert. But, please, for the sake of her name, can we list her as a potential victim rather than the lead suspect?”
“I can, but frankly, it’s better for you if she was. Otherwise, you’re my prime candidate.”
“I can live with that,” he said, unlocking and opening the door. “I’ll remain here and wait for your friend Paul. I don’t want to compromise your crime scene, especially since my DNA is all over their home. Contact me if you need anything else. Otherwise, I’ll leave time available to meet tomorrow at ten and three when we can discuss anything you need to know.”
“Thanks. I’m hoping this will be an open and shut case. So far, it sounds like it’s anything but.”
Em exited the limousine, shaking her head at how much larger it was than her Camry. She headed towards the stately brownstone in the middle of the block. The only sign anything was amiss was a single New York CSI van parked in front. However, there wasn’t any police tape or a patrolman to be seen.
“Hey, Em!” She turned to see her partner, Doug Wei, jogging to catch up with her. “What the hell is going on?” he whispered, as if afraid a superior might step out of the shrubbery surrounding them. Doug was a wiry guy, thin and relatively short. Em initially wondered how he’d ever made it as a beat cop, but he proved to have a sharp mind and was excellent with details, which made him an ideal detective—especially since so many people underestimated him, revealing more than they would otherwise.
“Lieutenant Anderson told me all my other duties are being assumed by someone else and this one investigation is my sole responsibility.” Em opened her mouth, but Doug jumped in before she could explain. “He also said I no longer report to him. What the heck is up? Who did you piss off, and what kind of hard-ass are we reporting to now?”
Em held her hands up. “Whoa. Slow down a minute. The hard-ass in charge of this case is me. And the person we both ultimately respond to is him,” she said, pointing to the limousine. Doug turned and stared. It took a moment, but when he figured out the symbol on the side of the door, his jaw dropped. “Holly shit! You’re working directly under Commissioner Eddleson?”
Em grinned, enjoying this little game. “Technically, no. As of now, I report to no one. We both have complete autonomy. Though once it comes to light, all bets are off. This is a high-profile case, and one Eddleson wants handled delicately—for more reasons than just the obvious. But—”
Their conversation was interrupted by a loud horn. Actually, more of a high-pitched beep. They turned to see Em’s little powder blue Camry pull to a stop in front of them. Detective Paul Simmons jumped out and stormed forward, his anger too palpable for immediate words. He waved his hands wildly, signifying nothing but his mounting frustration. “Who … what … where do you get off turning me into your little errand boy?”
He was so pissed, he didn’t notice the car door shutting behind him. Closing in on Em, towering over her by a good three inches, he sputtered in her face, waving his hands on either side of her body. “You’ve got some nerve! I’m not going to let you forget this. You’ll live to regret ever—”
“I don’t know about the where or the what, but the who would be me,” Commissioner Eddleson said from behind him.
Paul jumped, so surprised he collided with Em, who leapt back to avoid being bowled over. Growling, he spun around, his face transforming from a fierce scowl to ashen white as recognition spread across his face. “Sir … Sir.”
Smiling, Em stepped into the breach. “Paul, I believe you’re familiar with Commissioner Eddleson. Mike, this is the man I thought you’d want to talk to, a trusted companion from my department, Paul Simmons.” Despite her pleasant tone, her voice conveyed the pleasure she got twisting the knife in his self-inflicted wound.
Gathering his wits from where they’d spilled—before he could trip over them—Paul danced a quick recovery. “Sir, it’s an honor. I’m a big fan. You’ve done more for the police in—”
“Please, don’t embarrass me with too many platitudes. The mayor and his cronies do too much of that as it is. That’s why I like dealing with cops. They tell it like it is, like real men. Em asked you to ferry her car so we could talk while I drive you back to your office. I’ve been eyeing you for a while. I’d like to hear about your current cases, just to get a feel for how you think.”
“Of course, sir. I’d be hon… yes, si… gladly, sir.”
With that, Mike guided him towards the waiting limousine. Doug turned to Em, his mouth moving like a guppy, looking for an explanation.
Em shrugged. “It’s a long story. I’ll get to it in a minute. But first …” She proceeded to outline what they were facing. As they ascended the front stairs, both detectives reviewed the building, looking for any subtle external clues, but nothing stood out.
“No police tape, no seal on the door, no one in uniform and the only two police vehicles are parked away from the actual crime scene. But the solid oak door is freshly polished and the steps and door fixtures are immaculate.” Doug shook his head. “Just one of the privileges of wealth and prestige, yet it didn’t keep crime from walking in the front door and murdering them.”
Em entered, guiding her partner through the door. They encountered an older gentleman, bent over the crime scene marked by a large dried bloodstain and several fresh nicks at the base of the ornate but narrow wooden staircase. The man glanced up and smiled, standing as he sealed the sample he’d collected.
“Ah, the mysterious Detective Em. I’m Sergeant Detective Walter Thomas, the man in charge of this ragtag but excellent group. We’re still collecting data, but we’re ready to give you an initial overview.” He turned and called out, “Detective on the premises!” before turning back. “We were specifically told not to run any tests until you authorized them, so we’ve spent our time examining and labeling everything. Since I’ve never heard of you, I assume this is a special case, beyond who the victim was.”
Walter was an older gentleman, clearly familiar with the gritty aspects of murder, but still removed from the dirty underside of humanity most cops faced on a daily basis. He had short white hair and, like the other two detectives, wore civilian attire. His eyes bore wrinkle lines from squinting too much, though he had large wire-rim glasses perched on his nose. As he finished speaking, a nervous young woman descended the stairs, stepping carefully to avoid contaminating the scene.
The two detectives approached and Walter handed them protective booties and gloves, which they donned like the others already had. “I’m glad I have you all together so I only have to explain this once. I assume you trust your team?”
Walter arched his brow, looking them up and down. “More than either of you at the moment. I realize the commissioner wanted you in charge, and I’m sure he had his reasons, but these people have proved their loyalty time and again.”
“Don’t worry.” Doug indicated his partner as they approached the stairs. “Em will prove just as loyal, and for the same reasons. She may be a little gruff, but she puts in the time and is dedicated to her job.”
Walter waved at the woman standing above him. “This is Juliana Ashcroft. She specializes in blood splatter, which she’s been wading through.” He gestured to indicate the bloody scenario before them. “She was examining the initial attack scene, where the bloodstains tell more than this … blood pool does.” He turned to highlight another gentleman approaching from the hallway. “Bob Wellis is a jack-of-all trades, but his forte is computer forensics. Since we didn’t find any computers, he was collecting the fingerprints of the maid, who discovered the scene and worked here. I manage everyone and cut through red tape.”
Em introduced themselves; reaching over Walter to shake Juliana’s hand. “Commissioner Eddleson had his reasons for selecting me. You need to understand upfront, his prints, hair and semen stains are in many of the rooms. Mike’s been having an affair with the lady of the house, a minor detail no one bothered to inform Adrian about.”
Walter removed his glasses, taking a moment to absently clean them. “Yeah, I can see why he’d prefer keeping a lid on that.”
“Don’t misinterpret this. This is an independent investigation. I’m free to take it wherever it leads, including arresting him if necessary. But he didn’t want the information to leak out prematurely and become a political witch hunt which damages his career and blackens the reputation of the entire NYPD.”
“Not to mention slow our work as the whole force comes down with the flu,” Bob mumbled. Juliana nodded her agreement.
“As you can imagine, he’d rather we not run his fingerprints or samples through the system, lest anyone notice.” She pulled papers from her jacket pocket, handing them and a small vial to Frank. He held it up to the light as she continued, revealing a standard cotton swab. “He provided a DNA sample and prints from his police record, so you’re free to run your own tests. He’s also promised not to hold it against us if we’re forced to charge him, but would prefer we wait until we have firm evidence before we do. He maintains his innocence, but hasn’t said anything which would influence how we proceed with the investigation.”
Bob Wellis glanced back down the passageway to ensure no one was listening. “The maid didn’t know where the wife, Martha Adams, is, and there’s no evidence she slept in her bed last night.”
“No, she’s missing and presumed kidnapped, though we’ll need to be cautious. She might be on the run. It’s doubtful, but certainly not impossible. However, given the brutal nature of the attack, this seems to be personal. It makes sense she was targeted just as the councilman was.”
“I’ll put a trace on her phone,” Doug said.
“Good, the commissioner didn’t want to do it himself. Since he’s implicated, he’s taking a hands-off approach to the case. We should also send out her car description and license number.” Em handed him another paper. Doug smiled as he accepted it. “From what I understand, there was no break-in, so either they were familiar with the attacker or he talked his way in.” Walter nodded that her information was correct, so she didn’t pause. “We need to put out an all-points bulletin for Martha, so every cop in the city will be on the alert. We’ll release the information at a news conference, tomorrow morning, so dust off your dress blues, Doug. For now we’ll treat her as a potential victim and avoid mentioning she’s a suspect until we have evidence implicating her. Either way, it shouldn’t take long tracing her if she’s on the run. She’s high profile and the press will make their own assumptions, even if we don’t confirm them. If she’s running, she won’t be for long.”
Frank knelt and extracted a sample bag, holding it for the others to see. “I found a couple blond hairs in the victim’s blood splatter. I’m assuming they came off of the assailant, which reinforces that Martha was attacked as well, but there’s no sign of a fight in her case.”
“It could also mean she knew the attacker or had another boyfriend,” Doug pointed out. He and Em were slipping on gloves and booties so they could examine the evidence.
“No, one hair contains the root follicle, so it was forcibly yanked out. They either had violent sex—and there are no fluids or other evidence to support it—or she was subdued before Councilman Adams arrived home.”
“Good, if the media demands an explanation, it supports our position. Walter, we need to check her bank accounts. See if she withdrew money recently. Anything she might have used to run, or any large payments. It’s not unreasonable to assume she paid to have her husband killed and the person she hired decided he wanted a bigger piece of the pie. Doug, here’s her account information.”
“Personal financial details?” Walter asked, glancing over his shoulder and raising his brow. “A complete list of their IDs and passwords? Strike two for our boss, I’m afraid.” Walter shook his head.
“It’s not as bad as it looks. The Adams had a break-in a while back. Nothing significant was stolen, but shortly afterwards one of Martha’s accounts was accessed. She maintained investment funds for some of her charity organizations and someone entered her account. It seems the break-in was either an attempt at identity theft or they were targeting the passwords. They never took anything, but the Adams asked the commissioner to look into it and he kept the list of accounts in case anything came of it. Since it was never repeated, nothing else came of it.”
Walter nodded, satisfied at least one motive was removed from the table.
“Did you interrogate the maid?” Em asked Bob.
“I did,” Walter admitted. “Her name is Opal Milders. With no police to conduct the interview, we needed to isolate the evidence. She discovered the body but didn’t know anything useful. We haven’t found any personal computers, which supports the idea of an inside connection who might be exposed by what’s on them.”
“Mike also has authorization to track Martha’s phone, but not Adrian’s. He tells me her phone has been turned off since Opal called him, so he can’t locate her. Her last recorded location was here in the house around seven yesterday evening, so we have a rough timetable for the attack. There were no further updates, so the phone’s battery either died or it was shut off.”
Walter shook his head again. “Strike three. It’s not looking good for the commissioner. Damn. I’d hate being the one to put him behind bars.”
“Then let’s ensure he did something before we take any action. We won’t ignore any information or refuse to pursue leads, but people’s lives will be impacted if he’s falsely accused.”
“Not least of all, ours,” Doug added, shaking his head.
“All right, let’s finish off the evidence collection. Walter, can you describe the weapons used, and Juliana, could you explain how the attacks were carried out?”
“Actually, I’ve got everything set upstairs.” Juliana indicated where to step to avoid the blood spatter evidence. She led them to the top floor where they saw more scenes of a fight with a lot of blood stains. She lifted up a large evidence bag, holding it before her. “This is the sword used in the initial attack.” Juliana held it aloft and took a step forward, imitating the assault. “The maid tells me it’s a valuable historic artifact. It seems ceremonial because it snapped off when it struck Mr. Adams’ shoulder.”
“I concur,” Walter agreed. “If it was a proper weapon, the initial blow would have killed the victim immediately. The blade wasn’t sharp enough to cut very deeply.”
Em nodded. “Which direction was Mr. Adams facing?”
Juliana replaced the evidence bag, picked up a broom handle she’d prepared earlier, turned Em around, positioning her and repeated the demonstration using the broom. “I’m guessing he turned, hearing the attacker, so it stuck him at an odd angle. The first blow didn’t dismember him, as a samurai blade would, but was still substantial enough to kill him. Virtually any of the blows would have been fatal.”
“The evidence tags and blood splatter indicate the body was badly hacked up,” Em said. “How many times was he struck before he fell down the stairs?”
“Only two. Though the number of subsequent attacks implies the assault was personal, most were made with an antique Bowie knife from the councilman’s private office. The attack with the sword only lasted a few seconds. At this point, it’s pure conjecture which happened when, but from the splatter and motions involved, I think I understand what occurred.”
As Em turned, Juliana lifted the broom handle with both hands and lunged, delivering a two-handed samurai attack, stopping just shy of Em’s head. Em never flinched.
“The sword actually entered the shoulder. If you’d reacted normally, you would have recoiled to the right, recreating the cut. But you can see the intent. The attacker was clearly trying to cleave the councilman’s skull, but Adrian countered, saving his life for a few moments but losing the use of his arm.” Juliana repositioned the stick to illustrate where the second injury occurred.
“You mean his shoulder, don’t you?” Doug asked.
“No, the damage inflicted on the shoulder would have rendered his entire arm useless, a fact evident by the damage inflicted on it during his fall down the stairs.”
Doug nodded. “Ah, that explains the weird angle of his arm in the evidence photos.”
“Go on,” Em urged.
“The murderer didn’t comprehend how to utilize the weapon, which is more a stabbing foil than a blunt hacking tool. Thus when it entered the shoulder, it embedded in the clavicle, or collarbone. Again, Adrian’s defensive actions and his attacker’s sheer stupidity kept him alive for a short time. By twisting away, he caught the blade and twisted it. A stabbing weapon isn’t designed for those strains, so it bowed, preventing extraction. When the attacker yanked it back, the back splatter on the ceiling reveals it was released with substantial force. The portion of the blade stuck shattered, and the release of energy sent the councilman tumbling down the stairs. The big blood stain shows where he slipped in his own blood as he fell.”
Doug stepped closer to the steps to examine the bloodstains on the floor. “So, aside from a massive, overwhelming, angry attack, the killer had no clue how to use the weapons at his disposal? Is there any evidence whether he picked them at random, or was there some symbolic message to their selection?”
“The sword was mounted for display behind the councilman’s desk, so it wasn’t easy to reach. If it was a weapon of convenience, it might have been the first thing the attacker saw, but he’d need the lights on to take it down. If he’d done that, Adrian would have seen it. I’m guessing the murderer knew the layout of Adrian’s office and prepared the weapons in anticipation of the attack.”
Em turned from the bloodstained stairway and studied the distance to the office. “So odds are the choice of weapons was supposed to symbolize something, either for the assailant or the councilman?”
“That’s my guess. Although the nature of the assault shows anger, the details demonstrate otherwise. It’s clear the attacker saw the damage done to the blade, halted his ‘angry’ attack, and returned to the office to find another symbolic weapon. The secondary weapon, which I’m told was actually an early Bowie knife, was displayed in a case, which would have taken time to free. A more sensible weapon would have been a golf-club, stored in the closet, or the baseball bat the councilman kept by the door for defense.”
Doug stood, shaking his head. “Wait? You mean the attacker made two separate killing blows and the victim might already have died from his fall. Yet he halts the onslaught to find the least obvious weapon? I’m guessing he knew he had as much time as he needed. This doesn’t sound like an impassioned assault. It sounds more like a ‘message’ attack, committed by a seasoned professional to warn others while disguising the nature of the murder.”
Juliana nodded. “That’s my thinking. This is definitely not what it looks like.”
Doug glanced at Em. “This doesn’t clear the commissioner, but it puts the crime in an entirely new light. Whoever did this planned it carefully.”
“All right,” Em said, skirting the blood stains and heading back down the stairs, “before we get caught up in speculation, let’s continue with the evidence. What happened next?”
Juliana hurried to catch up with the impatient lead detective, pointing out a broken stair railing marked by a red numbered tag. “The victim hit his head here, after sliding down the steps. He would have suffered a significant concussion, but there’s no telling whether he was conscious at the time or not.”
“I’m assuming he tumbled down the stairs. There’s blood splattered all over. Can you get anything from the other unlabeled samples?”
“It’s unlikely. They’re from the victim and not expected to contain any of the attacker’s DNA. We’ll examine them, but we aren’t expecting to find anything else.”
“What about the final attack with the Bowie knife?”
“It was quite brutal,” Walter said. “The puncture wounds were deep, requiring a lot of force. And he hacked his chest and genitals so much, it’ll be a jigsaw puzzle putting them back together. But … again, the evidence doesn’t support the initial assumptions. The blows with the heaviest bleeding were to the heart, killing him immediately. Those to the chest only bled marginally, suggesting the heart stopped beating, the static blood splattering. When he attacked his crotch, the only blood was spatter from the blade. It was clearly a staged attack, with careful planning and even a degree of humanity for the victim.”
“It’s even more interesting than that,” Juliana explained. She held the Bowie knife, contained within another clear evidence bag up for them to see. “You’ll notice the blade was heavily damaged, chipped and split. The damage was from an Indian attack back in the early eighteen-hundreds, so it was never sharpened as that would diminish its investment value. As a result, it was a terrible choice for this type of assault. The attacker was pummeling the victim with a fouled blade, rather than accomplishing his task quickly. Even if he hadn’t noticed the condition of the blade before the onslaught, it would have been immediately obvious it wasn’t working once he began. Yet, the attack continued in a frenzied manner.”
“Well, that complicates things, but it doesn’t point to a particular attacker. You wouldn’t think the commissioner would chose such a poor weapon for an attack, but the fact the murderer didn’t alter his plans shows the damage inflicted wasn’t his primary objective. After all, he knew Adrian was already dead. I’m guessing the weapons were meant to point directly at either the commissioner or Martha herself, and their historic value would mean more than how quickly he died. Let’s see if the evidence tells us anything else, but I suspect, with the attack this planned, the attacker wouldn’t leave much incriminating evidence. You finish up here, Doug. I’ll interview the maid. We still have a lot to accomplish.”