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Authors: Hilary Norman

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BOOK: Caged
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Besides which, this was very different.
It might yet turn out not to be unique, for all they knew, but neither of the Miami Beach Police Department Violent Crimes detectives had ever seen anything like it.
‘It’s not the ugliest,’ Elliot Sanders, the on-call ME, already on the scene, said to Sam, ‘but it’s certainly damned nasty, not to mention downright weird.’
There were two naked bodies, one male, one female. Both Caucasian, perhaps mid-twenties, the male dark-haired, the female blonde, her hair long and tousled, a tiny tattoo of a willow tree near the base of her spine.
From a distance, they might have appeared to have died in the act of intercourse, still united, faces contorted. But closing in, the detectives saw the edges of two gashing, bloodless wounds across both their necks.
‘Cause of death probably asphyxiation or haemorrhage or both,’ Sanders said.
‘But not here,’ Sam said.
Looking again at the arrangement of the bodies, he thought first of sculpture, a grotesque parody, perhaps, of a Rodin pair – though then again they might almost, his mind swam on, be a pair of cruelly conjoined twins, attached at the loins.
Yet that was not the strangest thing about the scene.
They were lying in the middle of the lawn beneath a large plastic dome-shaped cover measuring approximately eight feet in diameter and less than five feet high at the centre.
‘The doc’s right,’ Martinez said. ‘It’s a weird one, man.’
‘They look like exhibits,’ Sam said, pulling out his notebook and starting a sketch of the crime scene. ‘Maybe specimens.’
It was customary for Crime Scene, where possible, to complete the preliminaries before the ME’s arrival, but though the technicians had been here a while, they were still working, measuring the location and collecting and zipping into plastic bags anything that might hint of evidence: a piece of tissue, maybe, a thread or cigarette butt, or – nothing so providential here – the murder weapon itself. Their photographer still taking her pictures of every aspect, anything to help record it all before the dome was raised to allow access and before wind or rain or other elements might alter the scene forever.
Sam looked back toward the mansion, including it in his sketch.
Whatever might or might not have gone on in there would have to wait for a search warrant, unless the owner could be located first. Though even if consent was given, they’d probably choose to wait. Time-wasting as the procedure was – Sam and Martinez had known it to take anything from two to ten hours – that was still nowhere near as frustrating as seeing potential hard evidence rendered inadmissible in court.
They did not, at least, need a warrant to look at the tracks in the grass. Wheel marks, no more than two inches wide, leading from the gate – closed, but not locked – to the centre of the lawn.
‘Some kind of dolly, maybe,’ Sam mused, while Martinez went across to speak to the patrol officers who’d been first on the scene. ‘Maybe a gurney.’ He made some notes. ‘What else do you have, Doc?’
‘Nothing yet that isn’t plain as day.’
On the other side of the garden, Martinez was using his cell phone.
‘The gardener who found them had himself a heart attack,’ Sanders went on. ‘The paramedics were still working on him when I got here, had him pretty much stabilized.’
Martinez, still on the phone, was already on his way back, moving carefully around the garden perimeter, eyes on the ground as he walked and ended his call.
‘Doc tell you about the gardener?’ he said.
‘Poor guy,’ Sam said.
‘Mr Joseph Mulhoon,’ Martinez said. ‘Comes here once a month, he told the EMT treating him.’ He made a note. ‘We’ll check him out.’
The Becket-Martinez partnership was informal but well established in the unit, the men taking their turn, same as the other Violent Crime detectives, as to who got appointed lead investigator on each case by Mike Alvarez, their sergeant. This one had gone to Sam, meaning he’d be the guy working the extra hours keeping up with the report-writing and the load of paperwork that came with any investigation. Other than that, he and Martinez divided the labours, pooled thought processes and tasks. Bottom line, though Sam had pulled through more than one bout of disciplinary problems created by his tendency to act on instinct rather than by the rulebook, and though Alejandro Martinez had been criticized for a lack of ambition, together they made a fine investigative team, and Sergeant Alvarez and Tom Kennedy, their captain, recognized that.
‘Mr Mulhoon is seventy-one years old,’ Sanders said now, ‘and I’d be surprised as hell if he knew a damned thing about this before he happened on it.’
‘Do we know who pays him?’ Sam asked Martinez.
‘Company called Beatty Management in North Beach takes care of the property. Their office is closed, but a woman picked up as I was leaving a message, and I told her we’d appreciate having the owner’s consent to search, and I don’t know how much luck we’re gonna have with that, but she said she’ll see to it that we get the keys soon as.’ He glanced at his wristwatch. ‘If we’re real lucky, the warrant might get here first.’
The go-ahead having been given for the domed plastic cover to be raised, the ME blew into a new pair of latex gloves, put them on, then donned coveralls, shoe covers and a mask. One investigator at a time being the general rule in order to minimize damage to the scene, Sanders approached the bodies alone.
Sam, watching the doc crouch to begin his examination, was in no hurry to don his own booties and move in.
The dead, newly slain, had always been difficult for him, his stomach still having an aversion to ugly death, not to mention his soul.
As it should be, he supposed.
He thought, now and then, about transferring to another unit or even of leaving the police department altogether, but he knew he’d probably never do that, at least not out of choice. The victims and those left behind needed all the help they could get, and though Sam knew there were plenty of detectives waiting to take his place, many of them smarter or sharper, certainly younger and fresher than him, he also knew that there was no greater asset in the job than experience. Every single victim of violence he’d dealt with over the years was logged someplace in his mind, as were the significant steps of each investigation, the changing methods over time, the eureka moments that soared suddenly out of the grind, the more solid leads that came from doggedness, and the interrogation breakthroughs. Most depressing of all, the cases that had eluded them, the victims they’d let down.
Leaving would be a simple waste of the resource that his mind had become. It would also, as Sam saw it, be a betrayal of his colleagues and those people he might have been able to help.
It would be giving up.
Anyway, however tough it got, he loved the goddamned job.
He sneezed on it, twice.

Gesundheit
,’ Sanders said, finished for now, pushing down his mask and taking a deep breath of unusually chilly Florida morning air. ‘You got a head cold, keep it to yourself.’
‘Doing my best,’ Sam said.
Sanders pulled off his gloves, which would be discarded to avoid cross-contamination, as every item of protective clothing was discarded each time they left any crime scene.
Martinez took two steps closer to the victims. ‘They really look like they were doing it when . . .’ His round face and dark brown eyes showed distaste for the crime. Several inches shorter than Sam, the forty-five-year-old Cuban-American had been known to be tough as a charging bull when roused.
‘They weren’t,’ the ME said flatly.
‘You do have something,’ Sam said.
‘Rigor still present,’ Sanders said, ‘but you know I can’t tell you more on that till later.’ He paused. ‘Definitely washed post-mortem, probably positioned before rigor mortis, then moved. The marks on both ring fingers aren’t very distinct, so they may have been married, but perhaps not for long, and possibly, though obviously not definitely, to each other.’
Sam waited. ‘And?’
‘I won’t know this for sure till I get them back to the office.’
‘Goes without saying,’ Sam said.
‘Glue,’ Sanders said grimly. ‘I think some sick bastard stuck their genitalia together with some kind of goddamned superglue.’
Now Sam and Martinez both felt sick.
FOUR
S
aturday was one of Mildred’s days for helping Grace out in the office.
Sam said that no one who’d ever seen her in the old days would recognize her now. Grace had never met Mildred back then, but Sam had spoken about her often, had said it was clear to him that what lay beneath the layers was remarkable.
Up until mid-June of last year, Mildred Bleeker had been a bag lady who slept on a bench in South Beach. Now, she was living in a Golden Beach house with Dr David Becket, a semi-retired paediatrician, though if you were to ask her, Mildred would probably have insisted that she was ‘just staying awhile’. And maybe that was true, but all the Becket family hoped that it was not.
For one thing, although David was only sixty-four years old and in good physical and excellent mental health, Grace was sure that Saul would never have felt entirely easy about moving into his own home if it hadn’t been for Mildred moving in.
It seemed to Grace that some things were just meant to be.
None of the Beckets knew Mildred’s true age because she wasn’t telling, and if she’d had a birthday any time in the last seven months, she hadn’t divulged that either, and as with most personal things relating to this lady, they’d all come to understand that they would just have to wait for Mildred to be ready to share.
Sam had first become acquainted with her because, as a homeless citizen, she had by definition been
out
there on the streets, eyes and ears open. And Mildred, having particular cause to wish the truly wicked – most especially those who profited from illegal drugs – off those streets, had few misgivings about assisting the police, if she happened to be in a position to do so.
Sam and Mildred (who insisted on calling him Samuel, his given name
and
from the Good Book, as she pointed out) had developed a mutual respect and, over time, something more than that, a real friendship. And then a killer calling himself Cal the Hater, fearing that Mildred might identify him, had struck late one night, and against all the odds she had survived, but after that Sam had hated the idea of her going back to the streets.
His father, having taken to visiting her in Miami General Hospital and having come to relish those encounters because of the lady’s courage and wit, felt the same way, and felt too that Mildred Bleeker harbored a secret wish to be needed again. So David had dropped in regular mentions of how big his house was for one old man, and how much he was coming to value their conversations, and finally he’d told her that if she would not agree to spend her convalescence at his place, then he’d be forced to find a lodger, since otherwise his younger son, Saul, would never grab hold of the freedom he badly needed.
‘A lodger sounds just the ticket,’ Mildred had said.
‘I don’t want some stranger,’ David said.
‘They wouldn’t be a stranger for long,’ Mildred pointed out. ‘And they’d pay you, which I could not, as you know.’
‘I’m fortunate enough not to need the money,’ David said.
‘Most folk seem happy enough to get more.’
‘I’d rather have your company,’ David had persisted. ‘Besides, like you, I’m fond of an occasional drop of Manischewitz.’
‘If Samuel has been casting aspersions on my good character,’ Mildred said, ‘I’ll be wanting a little talk with him.’
‘Samuel thinks you’re the bee’s knees,’ David said.
It was the first and only time he’d seen her blush.
Much more to Mildred than met the eye, though she was a striking-looking woman, her eyes blue, her face lined, but less weather-beaten since she’d come off the streets, and with a new haircut that accentuated her fine bone structure. And Mildred Bleeker had believed her own vanity long dead, yet now she secretly relished the flattery her new appearance had brought her, reminding her a little of the way Donny, her late fiancé, had paid her compliments in the old days.
Her new friends had changed everything.
Dr Becket, a wise, rumpled, craggy-faced, kindly warhorse of a man. Grace, Samuel’s beautiful, golden-haired psychologist wife, who seemed to grasp more than most that Mildred needed time and space and, above all, privacy.
Samuel, though, was her hero. The six-foot-three African-American cop, who’d always shown her true respect. Who’d gone to the trouble and expense of buying her a cellular telephone of her own so that she’d be safe from a stranger who’d alarmed her. A man with a precious family, good friends and a job that made a real difference to the citizens of Miami Beach. A man who faced danger and worked too many hours most days, but who’d still made time for her.
Who had made space in his own
family
for her.
Not that she’d found that altogether easy. Having people who cared brought responsibility. Having a room that David insisted was her own, yet had never entirely
felt
like hers, and walls still bothered her, and there had been – still were – some sleepless nights when she almost longed to be out there again with the ocean and the whole night sky to gaze at.
Though then she’d be alone again.
‘If I’m going to visit with you for any longer,’ she’d told David last fall, ‘I have to do something to earn my keep.’
‘You help babysit Joshua,’ he’d told her.
They’d been washing dishes after dinner in the kitchen that was as old-fashioned and well-worn as every other room in the house that he’d inhabited for over thirty-five years.
‘That’s a privilege,’ Mildred had said, ‘not a job.’
‘You don’t need to get a job.’
BOOK: Caged
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