Southern Suspects – Chapter Two
After a moment of hesitation toward my next move, I put in a call to my only trusted field officer, Officer Stevens, and told him to come around and take me to the crime scene himself. Officer Stevens seemed to be the only officer that took me and my job seriously.
Officer John Stevens had dancing brown eyes and dark hair that he always kept slick- a nice break from most of the officers, who were graced with baldness or gray hair in this “end-of-the-line” job. The way I describe him makes him sound like I find him attractive, but I don’t. He’s just the only guy near any sort of attractiveness that I come into contact with. He was about 30, and had just settled down with his wife.
I made my way to the back door- the “cop door”- filling up a new coffee for myself in the breakroom since mine was long gone. I quietly sipped, looking out the window and anticipating the coming hours, days. I had never done something like this; never seen a dead body, or blood on a crime scene at all. Inside, I was scared, and while I think anyone in my position would be, I couldn’t show it. Too bad Stevens and Bradley would figure it out anyway.
Officer Stevens pulled up in what was arguably the most beat-up car on the force- I felt bad for him, but he loved that car with all his being. As one of the younger officers, he always had to work with the “crap from last season,” as it was referred to. I finished my coffee and dumped the drips left in the bottom of the mug in the sink, walking quickly to the car door, but it was like Officer Sanderson had been watching me.
“Where are you off to, Davies?”
“That’s none of your business, Sanderson. We’ll meet in an hour.”
“We can’t wait to be briefed!”
“Then come to me in half an hour, I’ll tell you then.”
“I think one of us ought to come with you…”
“I can fend for myself, thank you very much. And Stevens is escorting me.”
“Fine- go off, princess. Have your fun ‘til you need us to rescue you.”
I glanced behind me and could see Stevens was giving Sanderson a death stare- that must have been what was pushing him on his way so quickly. I sat down in the passenger seat and we took off.
“Have you seen the scene at all?”
“Hardly in the pictures… man, our CSI unit sucks.”
“You’re smart for double-checking, Davies.”
I let my mind drift, passing through the streets in town. It was far too quiet for nine on a Friday morning- usually you would see elderly runners or children skipping off on their way to school. I guess when something scary like this happens in such a small town, everything stops. Going by the grocery store and the library, both lots were empty. Pulling into the high school, their lot was empty too. That was a bit more understandable- you couldn’t have kids that close to a crime scene, it could mess a lot of things up. At least my team was smart enough to figure that out.
We both hopped out and made our way onto the quiet field- the forensic clean-up crew was set to arrive in another twenty minutes, and the CSI team was long gone. The blood was visible from a great distance, just seeping and seeping into the ground. The muddy footprints seemed bigger in person. I crouched, my boots sinking into the dirt of the field. I could just feel a bad presence around me.
The killer made this deliberate. They knew they could chase him on the field despite his wounds, and they wanted him to collapse right there- right in the middle. It would be symbolic- maybe of why he died, but also just the irony of where. He would no longer be a star; he would taint the feeling of this field forever.
“Stuff gets creepy, doesn’t it?”
“Anything you didn’t catch from the photos?”
“Well, I won’t get much without a body. That’s next.”
“It’s an awful shame, he was a good kid. Saw him in the paper all the time- heard he was being scouted by Ohio State at the last game.”
“Model student, citizen, star athlete… I can see the motive, but I don’t understand it.”
I retreated to the car, leaning against the window where I closed my eyes, trying to put myself in his shoes on this field. The loud crowds cheering you on as you run and run… praying you’ll make that touchdown. And when you do, you’re on top of the world. Who would want to kill you when you put the school on the map?
Stevens returned and we began the drive back- all that journey for just a few minutes.
I was still relatively tuned out by the end of our press conference- a lot of the time, I would tune out while talking with other people in the office. I needed to forget about their judgments of me sometimes. Chief Barnstable was waiting in his car to take me over to the coroner’s office following the meetings. I think he could tell I was nervous to see the body. He tried to be a mentor to me when he could, so this was his chance if he had one.
“You all right?”
“I guess so.”
“Have you ever seen a body?”
“Only in pictures.”
“You’ll be okay. Coroner does all the work- you just watch.”
He definitely wasn’t as assuring as usual. When we pulled into the station, I took several deep breaths. I knew no matter how calm I was, or how prepared I felt, I would still be shocked.
“The parents are in the lobby- you need to help me reassure them, Davies. You have a good presence for that. They’re desperate to know, as any parent should, why this happened.”
“I understand, Ron.”
We stepped into the air, cooling by the hour, and made a quick entrance at the office. The coroner, James Scott, was always working, but never on a case like this. You could see his internal excitement to have a cause of death that isn’t simply cancer, heart failure, or old age. This was violent, different- he could use his expertise.
Daniel’s parents were outside the observation window of the coronary office, his mother crying into her husband’s shoulder, only a blank stare emitting from the father’s face. Chief Barnstable made the first move.
“Jane and Harry Warsaw, I am Chief Ron Barnstable, and this is Lead Detective Samantha Davies. She will be heading up the investigation regarding your son.”
The mother wouldn’t shake his hand, the father acting instead on behalf of them both. He hesitated to shake mine, but greeted me with a light “thank you for coming.”
Coroner Scott entered on the other side of the glass with one assistant, pushing what presumably was Daniel’s body along on a gurney, covered in a sheet. Mr. Scott wasn’t quite smiling, but his expression was awfully close to it.
Upon the removal of the sheet, the wounds to his neck were blistering to the eye. There was just a big slash at the point where his chin met the neck, and signs of choking by intensely mudded handprints. The prints would be too muddied to get fingerprints, and the removal of the blood had swept small drips of it away. It was a gory sight to behold, and I dreaded seeing the chest wound.
As the sheet came down further, I quietly winced along with the parents- the blood stained on his skin, making the wound look worse than it was. As Coroner Scott pulled out a hook and jabbed it inside the cut, it was easy to see it was a simple, deep slice. Scott drabbled on with intense and graphic narration of the damage, but I just kept picturing the attack. That wound was so deep that he wouldn’t have been able to run afterward, but it was not given in a time of extreme struggle- the cut was too perfect. I formed a new theory that his neck was slit before he ran, and upon his collapse, he was stabbed through his chest so he couldn’t recover.
I decided to study the faces of the parents instead. Jane had green eyes that could hardly keep open, like her tears and embarrassment were pushing them closed. Harry still seemed icy cold, his grip around his grieving wife’s waist growing tighter with every jab at his son’s body.
I had heard of his parents and seen them often- his father was on the Jezebel Island City Council, and his mother was always in the grocery store or heading to yoga class from her Range Rover. Those were always the best and worst kind of families- for some reason, their lifestyles, intermixed with excess free time, never left enough time for the children, so they gave their children the most material goods to fill the void. Daniel had a decent life, especially as an only child, but there were already signs that he wasn’t given enough attention. This lack of attention could have been the detriment to bring about his end.
I awoke from my web of thoughts upon hearing Scott declare the cause of death:
“Asphyxiation by choking.”