After too many years in homicide, the last ten of those with the NJ State Troopers, I knew what to look for. There was no sign of struggle here. I glanced into the parlor to my right and looked longingly at the inviting fireplace which was of course, lit and burning warmly. A book lay flattened, its spine broken, on the plush gray sofa, a discarded blanket beside it. Someone had been cozy as bear in a cave.
My cell phone rang again. I pulled it out and glared at it. “Holmes.”
The coroner’s investigator was a bit breathless. He was still at least twenty minutes away. The exit at the Route 9 turnoff was closed with an overturned tractor-trailer
“Anyone hurt?” I asked, hoping he wasn’t going to get sidetracked at the accident scene.
The injuries seemed to be minimal, but the required detour meant they had to go back to Egg Harbor and go around. He asked if we needed anything.
“We’re fine. The vic is still out there in the snow with a patrolman watching over her. I’m in the house trying to determine if this is part of the crime scene.”
“The way this wind is whipping around, the snow will have her and any other clues covered up in no time.”
“I know, Bill,” I sighed, understanding his upset. “We parked the cars to block as much as we could – it’s too damned cold to do much else.”
He agreed and signed off, needing to concentrate on his driving so he would eventually arrive, investigate, and transport the then-frozen Mrs. Oberhauser to the morgue.
I returned to my task. There was no blood trail, inside or outside the house. If there’d been an argument in this house, someone had been very quick to cover it up. But then, that was not at all in keeping with what our tipster had relayed.
The kitchen was likewise, spotless. I moved to the door that led to the garage where the dead woman’s car would have been parked an hour ago. Nothing to indicate she’d been stabbed in there either.
The house was so clean it made me grimace. I’m not a complete slob, but even on cleaning day, my place didn’t sparkle like this one. I sniffed the air; no bleach, no detergent, no spray cleaners had been used recently. A faint scent of vanilla hung around…
By the time I’d walked through the entire thirty-five hundred square feet of house and garage, the coroner’s truck was outside. I closed the door behind me and hiked back to the road and the puzzle at hand.
I knocked on the window of the patrol car which by now was so steamed up the cop couldn’t see an ax murderer if he was standing next to him. “Yeah, Detective?”
“Why don’t you take Mr. Oberhauser back inside, Officer? Maybe put on some coffee? Stay in the kitchen if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Yes sir, I will,” he said, scrambling to get moving. Undoubtedly the idea of hot coffee had made the man nearly delirious. He opened the door and let Daphne’s husband out of the inescapable back seat of the cruiser.
“Knight, would you mind taking the husband’s statement for me? And I’ll want your report by tomorrow at quitting time, understood?”
The rookie almost stood at attention and saluted and I nearly laughed, but then my face would have cracked because I was so damned cold.
“I’ll try, sir. He hasn’t answered a single thing I asked him. He’s either in major shock or he’s deaf.”
I sighed. “Give it some time. He’ll come around in a little while.” I shooed him toward the walk. They disappeared in the blowing snow to the big house on the hill with the darkened windows.
I stomped my feet, kept my gloved hands stuffed as deep and tightly in my coat pockets as I could and tucked my chin into my chest to hide in the parka hood. Bill moved around as though it was a chilly fall night, not eight below. However he wasted no time. He took her body temp, checked her gorgeous blue eyes for broken capillaries and examined her alabaster throat and wrists for bruises. He took more photos, finally stood up and closed up his bag of tools.
“How long’s she been dead, Bill?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “With these temps, who knows? I have to get a liver temp back at the lab – that will give me a better idea.”
“Give me a guess? An hour? Two? Ten?” I was walking beside him, tossing out my smartass remarks as we moved to his truck.
“She’s not frozen stiff, or completely buried in snow, so I’d say she’s been laying there less than two hours.” He grabbed a folded sheet and looked Daphne’s way.
“Help me get her into the truck will you? I told the assistant I could handle it so we weren’t both out in this awful weather.” I nodded. We carefully rolled her and her bloodied fur coat to the side and slid the sheet beneath her. We repeated the procedure in the other direction. Bill tied the ends of the sheet, and we lifted her easily.
“What is she, maybe a hundred twenty pounds? No defensive wounds. She knew whoever it was that killed her.”
Bill shook his head. “Or she didn’t see him coming.”
“Or her,” he agreed quietly. I hadn’t corrected him to be politically correct. It was important that we both remembered not to make assumptions. We’d made that mistake years ago and a serial killer still roamed free.
He jumped down from the back of the truck and slammed the doors. I double checked them. We didn’t want to lose our corpse before we’d decided what had happened to her.
“Did you get a call this time?” he asked as he stomped his feet to get off some of the accumulated snow.
“Sure did. Woman called it in. Hung up before dispatcher could get any verifying information.”
He thought a moment and nodded his head. We’d been here before. He climbed into the SUV without another word and drove off.
What he didn’t say terrified me.
To be continued… October 26
October 13th, 2012 at 9:33 pm
Nice writing Nancy! I love it!!!