Melting Steele: Book 2 of the Jasmine Steele Mystery Series
We all deal with some kind of obsession. Some so much so, they have issues living their daily lives. Some end up in prison for their obsession. The rest of us have the thoughts permeate our brains consistently. We sit in basements and stare at string tied from one case to another in varying colors. We try to connect the dots from things that may or may not be related. We have lives. We have the ability to intermittently turn the obsession on and off depending on the time of the day, week, or month.
We simply function within the confines of our world.
Sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for my shift to start, I can see all the obsessions oozing out of people’s bodies. They want a large half-caf-iced-no whip-two cups-not too hot, and the barista obsesses to ensure the drink is perfect so the customer comes back. Someone sitting behind their plethora of devices all with the newest chips, name branded and all on display – that person obsesses about filling their void within. It’s easy to spot all of these things if you just take a moment to watch.
It’s the greater loss of mankind. We hide behind these devices, these needs and desires to fill, and we effectively give in so much to our natural obsessions that we lose sight of the real world in front of us. How many people can you pass by before you look up from your phone? The person waiting for the half-caf has yet to acknowledge anyone; he’s obsessed with whatever he is posting on his social media sites.
I do it all the time, but only on one topic. Maybe it’s the job and the inability to see the good in mankind I always thought was there. Maybe it’s the fear of what is or isn’t next.
As I stand in the shower, running my hand along my scars, crying in fear – I realize…
I am obsessed with death.
Connecting the dots had to be my favorite game as a kid. My mother would sit and make these long elaborate game boards on the back of envelopes. I can still see the perfectly spaced black ink dots of a specific height and width. My mother would shove a pen in my hand to play. It was a simple game, but it was our time. She always let me go first; my tongue sticking out as I would ponder the best move on the completely empty board. I swear I must have imagined millions of scenarios depending on which dots connected first. Yet somehow, I always started in the bottom right corner. Maybe after all my thoughts and conclusions, it was the safest place to begin.
I think it was my safe haven. Bottom right was the one I trusted. Not because I won the game with the most completed boxes by using that strategy, but because I felt I knew what came next. I had a false sense of security, power – frankly everything. All in a little made up game on the back of an envelope. I wish life was that simple now.
The red string lines along the wall, those are for the murders. The green ones for money that has changed hands, but seems to have fallen off the grid. The black, that’s for my brother’s case. For Garrison. For all of his moves, dealings, whatever I could find. It still baffles me how quickly my case was closed after he was killed. I was out of the hospital for a week, maybe two when Will told me everything was sealed. It was locked away from my prying hands, but not my friend’s prying eyes. The Internet is an amazing thing for those who know how to use it, but I digress.
This is my new safe haven. My basement, my strings, my case, my other life – it all sits in this basement. Leaning back in my chair, looking at the web of crime on my wall, I wonder if it is even connected at all. I have no idea. I want it to be, but I can’t make a case on desire and drive. Unlike the newest crime drama on television, I have to base it on evidence and facts.
I could fabricate the whole thing. I know enough people. Unleash people online, and I’m sure in a day or so I would have enough evidence proving the mastermind behind everything. I won’t though. I was raised better than that, and I won’t go against my ethical code just to get vengeance. But I’ve thought about it. A lot. Garrison’s father walks around with the air of suspicion around him, but nothing more.
I can study the strings, the moves, the motions just like I did the dots. I want to see the best way to capture the elusive white whale. Looking at the lower right hand corner, seeing Officer Garrison’s picture, I somehow know the best place to start will always be there. His father, Irving, he might be the only person in the web who’s alive that I know about.
My phone vibrates on the table pulling me out of my reverie.
“I’m outside; Captain sent me to get you and bring you to a crime scene.”
“It’s my day off.”
“Chase is with my wife and kids playing games all day. Frankie’s working. You’re sitting in your basement hiding.”
“Will, I’m working.”
That would be the million dollar question, wouldn’t it? Do I share with him what my basement has become or do I lie?
“I’ll be out in a minute.” Personally, I just ignore the situation and pray the world around me follows suit. Dropping the phone, I take one more look at my connected dots. It isn’t a win by any means, but my mother never let me off easily either. Sometimes I beat her and maybe someday I will beat this wall. Maybe.
Locking the door behind me, I reenter my world of happy moments and new beginnings. Everything negative in this world hits someone else or indirectly me. Nothing out here can hurt me anymore, at least I tell myself that. Closing the door to the house, I see Will waiting on me. Time for work.
The first thing I notice at every crime scene are the walls. Simple light khaki colored walls. They bring slight life to a lifeless wall, but offer nothing in the way of color or life. To me, they show the most death. The blood splatter is crisper on this color. The dried streaks, slightly pink, still showcase where the blood began. People always say white is better, but to me this color shows a hair of contrast which helps me see the truth.
“Mr. Johnson was shot first.” Victor, my trusty coroner, says from under the bed.
“His chest looks like an alien popped out of the cavity.”
“I didn’t eat spaghetti for months after that movie,” Victor adds to my train of thought.
“Considering the damage, I assume whoever did this decided to dig out the evidence.”
“That takes time; no one stopped him?” Will asks quickly without thinking.
Victor slides out from under the bed and looks up at me. His expression a mix of confusion and disbelief.
“Detective, one would assume no one heard the shot or his surgical procedure.”
“Mrs. Johnson is in the kitchen. The forensic team is trying to pry the cell phone out of her hand,” Will mentions as he pops into the bedroom.
“They’re doing what?” Victor screams as he jumps off the floor and out the room. Will watches him go, but I just smile. Victor never lets anyone touch a body before him. He gets very jealous in a green eyed monster kind of way. He swears it’s due to his desire to have things done well the first time. Personally, I think he loves being the person to find the evidence that may or may not break a case. I know I would.
Reaching over to the end table, I grab Mr. Johnson’s wallet and open it up. Credit cards and cash all here. Placing it back down, I notice an identification badge. Mr. Johnson smiles in the photo, but it’s the name of the company that gets my attention – Garrison Developments. This man worked for Irving Garrison, and my heart begins to race. Turning to see Will standing there, concern on his face. I hold up the badge, and he immediately understands.
“How does it look down there?” I mutter trying to slow the racing of my heart.
“Not good,” Will looks around the room, “it gets worse.”
“How does it get worse? Two victims, one shot while he was sleeping. His wife was murdered in the kitchen trying to call for help. I think that’s pretty bad as is.”
“Son was found in the closet.”
My heart stops in my chest, my breath grabs, and I feel sick. You can show me bodies all day, floaters, whatever – but I have never been able to handle kids. I might not have faith in humanity, but I will never understand hurting a child.
Walking down the hall, the big letters spelling DANNY stand out on the stark white door. Using my left latex gloved hand, I push the door open. Action figures litter the floor, the bed is unmade, clothes for today sit folded on the dresser, and a book bag rests by the door. Everything looks as it should for a young boy’s room – except for the bloody red prints on the floor leading to the closet. I’d say they were shoe prints, but it looks like something was over the treads to prevent markings. Basically, they are smudges useless to any investigation.
Slowly, one covered shoe in front of the other, I make my way to the closet. I take a deep breath trying to prepare myself for the carnage my eyes will dissect in a few steps. Pulling the door open, my eyes see a small boy about nine, lying on his side, a Mickey Mouse doll in his arms, and a peaceful expression on his face. His lips blue, along with his fingers.
“You didn’t touch him?”
“Saw the stains on the floor, figured Victor would want to look at him first.”
Leaning down, I get a better look at what might be his fatal injury. No gunshot wound. No hand prints on the front of his neck. It looks like he just went to sleep in the closet. Using my small flashlight, I highlight his neck, and that’s when I see the bruising towards the back. His neck was snapped. Quick, simple, and some say it’s painless. Nothing is ever fully painless; death sure as hell isn’t. Turning off my light, I stand up and try to center myself. There’s this rage that builds up deep inside when kids are hurt. Maybe it’s because I have Chase. Maybe it’s because the majority of kids are innocent. Maybe it’s because I can’t handle it. Either way, I am going to hate this fucking case.
Backing out of the scene and into the hallway, I lean against the wall and let out a breath I was holding in for what felt like an eternity.
“Snapped his neck. I don’t know whether to say it was kind or cruel. Probably placed him where he found him.”
“Still killed him.” Will was right. Regardless of the procedure of death, the end result was this murderer wiped out a light before the flame was fully lit.
“So the killer shot Dad but not the boy?”
“Won’t know until Victor gives us more information to work with.”
My eyes look from him to the other side of the hallway wall. Realization hits me like a ton of bricks. My day was about to become a nightmare, and there was nothing I could do about it.
“Get Udall on the phone.”
Will looks at me quizzically as I reach forward and pull a family photo off the wall. I turn the photo towards Will, his eyes widen in surprise.
“How the hell did we miss that?”
“Because we were off today and the B team came in?”
“That’s not an excuse.” Will pulls out his phone and clicks a name in his contact book. “They can figure out the victims’ names but don’t fucking look to see if the daughter is missing? That’s called basic officer training 101.”
“Either way we need to find out if the kid is missing or just at a friend’s house.”
The other line picks up, and I can hear Will’s voice running off a mile a minute. He’s not happy and neither am I. This was a big mistake and someone should lose their job over it. If she’s at a friend’s house, great. We should have had her at the precinct with child services assisting. Instead, we are now battling time and a whole new set of crap.
I can feel the scapegoat conversation coming when we hit the office. My sense of sound seems to fade out of focus as my body walks down the hall. My eyes dart around, taking in everything. The door opens and the image of a young girl comes into view. Posters on the wall of some band I know nothing about. Pictures on a corkboard of friends laughing in unison. Her name, Kaley, plastered on anything with glitter glue. Everything is neat, untouched, and calm, like she wasn’t even here. Either she wasn’t here or she was the target.
Looking around the room, nothing seems out of place, but it doesn’t feel right either. Chase’s room is a perpetual mess. Hell, my room is a mess. If not for Frankie, I doubt I would know what color my carpet is. My gut is screaming at me; this isn’t right.
“Captain wants us back at the station. Victor is handling everything here and says he’ll call us when he has something.”
“Make him get the techs to go over every inch of this room.”
“He told me to tell you, ‘I was planning on it.’ Don’t kill the messenger.” Will says like a robot reading the movie times.
Leave it to Victor’s cockiness to give me some hope for a lead in this case. I try to be an optimist. I have good moments too, but my gut is a pessimist by trade. It’s rarely wrong. I know we’re already against the clock, and whatever she was wanted for, she’s already gone. Either dead or worse. I prefer not to think about the worse ideas. Truthfully, death is a nicer outcome than what I can envision. Call it intuition or just plain pessimism. One way or another, Kaley will never be found alive.