The thought of crossing this line fills me with dread.
I feel rooted to the ground. I know that once I move I will be changed forever. Steeling myself—or am I just delaying the inevitable?—I look up at the trees. They are old growth, moss covered monsters that have stood here for centuries. With enmity they glare down at me through the forbidding early light, knowing that I am a member of the species that has just profaned their woods. I can not suppress a shudder as I lift the yellow tape and stoop under.
At twenty paces, facing away and clad, like me, in crime scene clothing, heads tilted forward, they look like alien prisoners about to be executed by a bullet in the back. Five of them are standing in a semicircle looking down at the sixth, a man, crouching over something on the ground. Cops at a murder scene often indulge in gallows humor, a futile mechanism to try and erase their horror at the brutal theft of a human life, but as I approach I note that they are silent.
I take my place beside my minder at the left hand end of the group as a distant peal of thunder announces my arrival. In an effort to delay the inevitable, I exchange looks and nods with each person present. Glad of the excuse, they fix their eyes on me. Waiting for the reaction, I suppose.
At last, I force myself to look down.
In my years as a cop and during the time I was living on the streets of the downtown east side, I have seen violent death in all its forms: faces blown away with hollow point bullets; guts spilled through knife slashes; the arched bodies of overdosed junkies; once a blood-drenched garrote victim. I have even seen the murdered bodies of two people whom I loved.
But nothing has prepared me for this, the crime scene that every cop dreads.
The gray light filtering through the forest canopy is just enough to illuminate the body. He is wearing funky yellow and green sneakers and gray sweat pants bearing the red Nike swoosh. They are muddied and ripped. He is naked above the waist and is drenched in blood. He looks to be about nine or ten years old, the same age as my darling Ellie, forcing other unwanted images into my mind. There seem to be five wounds forming an approximate circle with his belly button at its center. As if this were not enough, on his face there are two knife slashes forming an X. Each slash starts on one cheek and finishes on the opposite jaw line, with the center of the X over his mouth. Both his eyes seem to have been damaged in some way. There is not a lot of blood on his face and I am praying that the wounds were inflicted after he was dead.
I can not stop my mind from picturing Ellie lying there, violated by some sadist, and I have to turn away, feeling the anger rising. The shiver that runs through me has nothing to do with the cold February morning.
“We’ll know more later but I estimate time of death at about six or seven PM yesterday,” says a voice in a Quebecois accent. I turn back and see that the coroner is on his feet and I am grateful that I do not have to look downward. “Cause is almost certainly the wound to ’is solar plexus. The facial wounds were post mortem and there is no obvious sign of sexual assault.” At this last, there is a sigh of relief from most of us. He nods towards my boss, “I should ’ave more for you later.”
“Was there any ID on the body?” I ask. He shakes his head.
It is time for the removal of the body and then the Forensic Services techs can take over. Before I clear the scene, I force myself to take a good look around the area. About five feet from the body is a yellow winter jacket and what I guess to be the remains of a green t-shirt. Nothing else on the forest floor seems to be out of place but, if anything is, the techs will find it.
I somehow bring myself to take a final look at the body. Three lone rain drops fall from the leaves above and I watch them spatter on the boy’s bloody torso. Claudius’ words spring into my mind, Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens to wash it white as snow?
No, Claudius. There isn’t.
I pull out my mobile and call Missing Persons as I head back towards the trail where the cars are parked. The not so sweet heavens open and, as bad as this day has started, I know it is going to get worse. By the time it draws to its close I will be longing for the sweet release from the images of the day that only heroin can bring.
—— o ——
Oboe is the sequel to the first Cal Rogan Mystery, Junkie. It will be available in the fall of 2012.
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