I was late. Shouldn’t have stayed up all night playing fucking video games only to get killed again and again. As soon as I got to my desk, after one and a half cups of life-sustaining coffee, the other half still in my hand, there was a note on the phone, it was from Rourke, my partner, who didn’t seem to believe in cell phones. There was a murder scene, we were up and Rourke was already there, dispatch would give me the address. Cursing under my breath, I picked up the phone, dialed Dispatch’s extension, wrote down the address, sat there for a second or two pissed off about not being able to enjoy my second coffee in peace and quite and went out again.
As I neared the crime scene, I could tell this was just another routine killing in a city that saw its fair share. You could always tell if there was something different or special about a crime scene by the attitude of the attendees. Routine killings always had cops laughing, telling stories and talking loudly, coffee was being passed around and everyone was making an extra effort to ignore the body, lest they get saddled with some actual work, you know, just another day at any office. To the rubber-neckers, killings were always a morbidly fascinating scene, something to relish and fear and be disgusted yet hypnotised by. For homicide cops, it was just routine, more paperwork, more filing, more clearance rates to worry about. Nothing special. It’s not like in the movies where the dashing hero (that would be me, by the way) gets obsessed with the case and gives up his career because this one got under his skin or some other shit. You work it, you follow leads, you clear the case, or not, you do your job.
I spotted Rourke by the body and approached him.
“Just another day at the office, Harry? How ya doin’?” I asked in greeting.
“Hey, look who decided to show up. I can’t complain Tom. At least I’m in much better shape than this one” replied Rourke gesturing at the body with his chin.
“What you got here, any ID?”
“Nothing on him, Asian male, early twenties, shot to death.” said Rourke. “So, you have a hot date last night or forgot to set the clock?” He asked.
“Actually, I stayed up late playing Rainbow Six Vegas 2 till the wee hours of the morning. It might be kinda old but it’s still a hell of a game.” I answered.
Rourke shook his head, “There’s something very wrong about a grown man playing video games, man.”
“U-hu, what about him?.” I said, not bothering to get into this old argument again. You either got video games or you didn’t. Rourke was one of the miserable unfortunates who didn’t.
“What you see is what you get, my friend. Asian boy, shot. Wearing some nice colors too. I’m thinking some gang shit.” he said.
“Could be.” I said, looking at the surroundings, “Looks a little clean though.”
“What, you were expecting gang graffiti? Maybe the perps sign their name too while they’re at it?”
“No, I mean, I think the crime scene is a little too clean for a gang drive-by, or even an execution. Usually we see a lot of bullets sprayed all over the place. You know these guys favor Micro Uzis and Mac 10‘s, shit like that, small automatics. The old spray and pray trick: just close your eyes and pull the trigger, 1700 rounds per minute go out in all directions and you hope some of them hit your intended target.”
“Hmm.” Rourke wasn’t ready to concede his gang theory, he was more of the “the butler did it” camp than anything else.
I squatted and inspected the body without touching it.
This was definitely no drive-by, the guy was shot three times very cleanly. “Seems like he was shot just three times. That sound right?” I said.
“Sound about right from where I’m standing.” replied Rourke.
“Just three shots Harry, that’s all he has, and they seem pretty clean. I mean they’re almost in a perfect line, two to the center mass, one to the head. Body wasn’t moved either. He fell right here, look at all the blood stains. I’d almost say it looks professional.” Rourke had more time than me in the force, I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know, but sometimes Harry just wasn’t up to solving crimes, he had to be prodded a little, I guess the more time you spent around dead people the more tired and lazy you got.
“Maybe the gangbangers are getting some outside help, or learning new tricks.” he said.
“Maybe…” I said, thinking bullshit. “When’s the M.E. due?”
“10 minutes ago.” replied Rourke. “Should be here soon I reckon”.
I pu ton a pair of latex gloves and inspected the body some more, then got up and searched the immediate surrounding area, not sure what I was looking for. Rourke was used to all this so didn’t bother to say anything. To him, I was always looking for something extra, always wanted more, never happy with the most obvious conclusions as I should be, and he was probably right… But I couldn’t help it, I was a prick like that, always digging around, looking for the hidden messages, prodding the wound, no, pricking the wound, ha. Tom Harding, irrepressible pricker. Or just irrepressible prick.
The M.E. appeared and Rourke said, “Ah, here comes our creepy friend, just in time, twenty minutes late. Hey chow-chow, how’s tricks?”
“You know, that one never gets old Rourke.” replied the M.E. making a face.
Medical Examiner John Ming Chao was second generation Chinese. His parents had moved from China long before he was even born, but to the boys at the station he was still a chink. His English was flawless, better than a lot of the born and bred guys at the precinct but his Asian features and short stature singled him out in a room full of cops. Chao didn’t mind, he was proud of his heritage and even insisted on learning Mandarin, even though his parents had wanted him to speak only English so he could “fit in better”, as his mother put it. The little fucker was tenacious too, like a terrier with a bone. I liked him, though his sense of humor was a bit weird.
“Hey Ming, what kept you?” I asked.
“How does the old cliché go: ‘Traffic, officer’. Truth is Tom, I was in the middle of a difficult level of Halo when the call came in and couldn’t leave the game halfway unfinished.” replied Chao with a smile.
“Very wise, Ming. Very wise.” I said, I knew exactly what he was talking about, a man’s gotta have priorities in life, you know.
Rourke disagreed, “Another one with the video games? Man, you two should get a room. I thought you Asian types where supposed to be good with numbers and shit and you’d be working on some algebra or somethin’.” He said.
“And I thought you Irish types where supposed to be ugly drunks… Oh, wait, in your case, Rourke, it’s completely true.” replied Chao.
“Hey, Maybe chow-chow here can help us identify the victim.” said Rourke.
Chao was surprised, “Why would that be?” he asked.
“He’s Chinese, like you.” said Rourke.
Chao stared at Rourke for a second or two then said, “He’s Korean.”
“So? Maybe he’s your cousin or something.” Rourke was laughing now.
“Ok girls, enough with the tea-party, let’s get to down to business.” I didn’t want to stand there all morning while these two tried one-up each other, Ming wasn’t Rourke’s favorite person and vice-versa. “Ming take a look at these wounds and tell me what you think.” I said.
“With pleasure” said Chao as he bent down ignoring Harry, placed his satchel on the ground away from the body and put on a pair of latex gloves.
He proceeded to inspect the body thoroughly, taking its temperature, looking at the lividity marks and bruising, inspecting pupils, digging around the mouth, and probing around the wounds. Chao got out a notebook and wrote some information down. Though this was unusual for an M.E. since their only job at a crime scene was to make sure the body was actually, dead which wasn’t too hard, really, pronounce it, then take custody of it until it was delivered to the coroner’s office where the actual full examination and autopsy took place. Chao liked to diagnose and speculate at crime scenes, it was a kind of game to him. He would write down his hunches then compare them to the findings from the autopsy to see how accurate they had been, kept him sharp, I guess, or maybe it was just a way to deal with all that death, who knows. Of course, he never shared them with anyone, it was unprofessional and in some places could get you fired. Except with me. I was one of the very few cops, if not the only one, at the station who was also into video games and openly admitted it, an out of the closet videogame-phile, this had generated an instant bond between us, we’d often debated endlessly about the virtue of one system over another, game design, who was doing it right, who was just wasting our time, the best developers, all the important issues in life. Chao took his video games very seriously. I had also earned his respect and admiration for being accurate, thorough and dependable when it came to murder investigations, or so he told me, so Chao would often share his hunches with me and we’d compare notes, we’d turned the whole thing into yet another game. I never spoke about this, of course, not even to Rourke, especially not to Rourke, he may be my partner but had no patience for ‘all that ass-grabbing’ as he eloquently called it, for him, a lot of the stuff he wasn’t involved in or interested in was ‘ass-grabbing’.
Chao really enjoyed our discussions. He loved video games, the more violent the better and played shooters exclusively, it was amazing the amount of facts you could pick up by playing video games, especially shooters where they treated guns like gods. Any discussion involving real guns and their impact on the human anatomy was a delight for him and the bastard knew a lot about it, not only was he a very good M.E. but if he ever got tired of all those corpses, I’m sure he’d make an excellent ballistics guy. Paradoxically, Chao had never owned a gun and never wanted to. His interest in them extended only to the professional and virtual worlds.
He got up, put his notebook away and looked at the wounds again from different angles. Then looked at me, turned and walked a few paces away. I took it as my cue and said to Rourke “Be right back Harry” walking to where Chao was standing away from the corpse.
“Oh, going to have one of your private chats again, huh? Maybe compare game scores and dick size. I got ya. I’ll mind the corpse, don’t worry.”
Rourke was used to these quick private talks between Chao and me and didn’t seem to mind. The less involved he was in things, the happier a camper he was most of the time.
“Alright Ming, let’s hear it.” I said.
“Ok, he died of massive blood loss caused by the gunshot wounds, that much is obvious. The shot to the head would have probably done it by itself, since it incurred brain death but someone wanted to make damn sure he didn’t get up again. The shots to the body were very well-placed, one to the stomach area, one to the chest area, looking for maximum damage in the torso. We have two exit wounds, one for each entry in the torso, none for the headshot. Id say he was shot right here on this spot, you can tell by the pools of blood. You’re the detective Tom, but this looks like it was done by someone who knows their way around a gun.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. This looks like a military-style execution. Spec Ops or something like that. Or someone trying to make it look that way, but it’s actually harder than it looks to get right.”
“No shit?” said Chao raising an eyebrow.
“Did you find any casings?”
“None so far” I replied “and I really doubt that we will. That’s another professional signature, retrieving the cartridges. Still, because of the way he was murdered, my guess is it was a big caliber, .45 probably, military types tend to favor the big calibers, I guess it makes them feel more macho or something. Let’s see if ballistics can retrieve any of the slugs.”
“Hmm… I think you might be right. I’ll know once I get him down to the office and do my thing.”
“How long you figure he’s been dead? I’d say at least 4 hours from the pooling and congealed blood and the lividity of the tissue.” I said, feeling proud of myself.
“You’re using words like ‘lividity’ now? You’re not gunning for my job are you?” said Chao with a smile.
“Hey, you taught them to me. The pupil seeks to surpass the master, remember?” I answered.
“Ha, ha. That’s true. I’d say more like 6 hours. I’ll know for sure later, but 6 hours is a pretty good guess.”
“Alright Ming, you da man. Let me know once you have something ok?”
“Sure will Tom, take care.”
All the evidence was bagged and tagged by the time I’d arrived and we had already inspected the body and surroundings. In truth, there didn’t seem to be much else for us to do. I went back to Rourke, “Ok Harry, I’ve seen enough, let’s leave Mad Madame Ming to it. Who’s canvassing?”
“The blonde uni, what’s his face?”
“Jones, Kai Jones. He’s a good kid.”
“Yeah, for being from the Left Coast.”
Kai Jones was the quintessential California surfin’ dude. Blond, tanned, lean and handsome, with a permanent smile on his face. He was eager to please too, and that went very far with the rest of the guys on the force. This was a kid who one day would probably end up being spokesman for the department or a high-flying liaison or some shit like that. Some of the guys were jealous of him, his good looks and his easy personality made him popular with just about everyone. I was fond of him, he wouldn’t win any science fairs, but didn’t need to. He did his job well and was always courteous and helpful, never gave you any shit. The perfect uniformed cop as far as I was concerned.
Rourke and I made our way towards him.
“Hey Kai, how’s it hanging?”
“Long and to the left, dude.”
Kai also had a penchant for exploiting the stereotypical part of his surfin’ dude persona, he called everyone ‘dude’ if he could get away with it and used expressions like ‘whoa’ in a very good Keanu Reeves impersonation. It seemed to endear him further with the rest of the force.
“You got anything useful?” I asked.
“Nothing much, dude. Though some people say they saw a guy dressed in black hopping into a big black SUV, but it could be nothing right? I mean who doesn’t drive a big black SUV these days?” answered Jones.
“That corner right there, Lexington and Fifth” said Jones pointing at the corner at the south end of the street we were on.
“What time was this?”
“Let me see,” Jones consulted his notes, “dude who owns the Deli, ‘round the corner? says he was coming in to open at around 4:30 a.m. and the screeching of tires caught his attention. So he glances in the direction of the sound and sees this black-clad dude hopping into a black SUV. All around a very black morning.” He finished with a satisfied smile.
“That’s it? Nothing else?”
“Well, dude also says it’s pretty dead at that time of the morning, so it’s not surprising that no one else saw very much.” he sounded a little apologetic.
“And he didn’t see the victim at any point?”
“Naw, the couldn’t see this street from there.”
“Alright. Well, you know the drill, bring the Deli owner in to make his statement. And let me know if you get anything else.”
“Sure thing dude. Hang loose.” He said, giving me the thumb and little finger ‘hang-loose’ gesture.
“Always, dude. Later.”
We made our way back to the body, leaving Jones to continue his work. Rourke was uncharacteristically silent this morning, no pithy remarks for Kai, which was odd.
“So, big black SUV, guy dressed in black. Could be nothing, but it could be related. Doesn’t much sound like a gang thing does it Harry?”
“No. But, like you said, it could have no relation to our dead boy here.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll know more when Ballistics is done. Not much else for us to do at the moment, I think. You have breakfast already?” I asked.
“Yeah, some of us can actually tell time and get to work when we’re supposed to, ya know.” Said Rourke.
“Yeah, yeah. How about a bagel? I’m buying.”
Rourke was never one to pass up free food, he made a sweeping gesture with his arm, “Lead the way then.”