Thursday, March 28, 2013
The buzzing bothered her the most. No matter how many times she heard it, no matter the number of times she had seen what drew the insects, the sound still ate at the lining of her stomach.
“Cover him.” Carmen Rainmondi frowned and turned away, giving no outward indication of the discomfort within. Was she losing her edge?
A uniformed officer stood to her right. Tall and lanky, he looked too young to shave. He also looked a little green around the gills. “You don’t want to wait for the rest of the team?” He followed the words with a hard swallow.
Carmen gave the officer a glance, then shook her head. “It’s a public place. It won’t be long before parents will be walking by with their children. I don’t want letters telling the chief how we scarred their kids for life. Now are you going to cover him or do you want to jaw about it some more?”
“Got it. No problem.” He trotted toward one of the blackand- whites, its emergency lights tossing splashes of red and blue in the air. Carmen noticed that he moved with care, following the same path out that they had taken in.
At least the newbie got that right.
She forced herself to face the body again. Face down, arms and legs askew, the victim looked as if he had fallen from a lowflying airplane. She could see he was young. He wore only a pair of brown shorts—no shoes, no shirt, no cap. The same dew that covered the grass dampened the body and clung to his hair. There were no signs of gunshot or knife wounds, but she could see a series of dried blood drops covering his back and the one side of his face she could examine.
Studying the shorts, Carmen saw what she hoped to see: a bulge in the right rear pocket. With a latex-gloved hand she removed the wallet, which felt thin and light. Right pocket; righthanded. Nothing earthshaking in that realization, but details mattered. Sometimes the little things turned the whole case.
Like the officer before her, Carmen carefully retraced her steps and ducked beneath the yellow crime-scene tape that cordoned off a quarter-acre of ground. The smell of eucalyptus trees mixed with the perfume of a dozen different flowering plants followed her. The sun crawled up the blue San Diego sky on the same journey it had made millions of times before.
Many considered Balboa Park one of the most beautiful places in the city and Carmen agreed. She spent a summer of her college years working at the historic park. As part of her training, her employers pounded some of the park’s history into her brain. She knew more about the fourteen-hundred-acre area—complete with quaint cottages, spectacular Spanish Colonial buildings, museums, and stage theaters—than those living nearby.
The park was the jewel in the Chamber of Commerce’s crown. Having a badly beaten body lying on emerald grass dulled the gem.
“I used to love this place.”
The words snatched Carmen from her thoughts. “Huh?”
“Wool gathering, Detective?” Bud Tock had come up behind her. Tock worked homicide too, and they were often teamed together. He would be the number-two detective on the case.
“Yeah, I guess I was. I used to work here.”
“In the park or at the Botanical Building?” He motioned to the long, wide, wood-lathe structure with a rounded trellis for a roof.
“I worked at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. They have a gift shop. Those were some slow hours.”
“I’ll bet.” He paused as he looked beyond the cordoning tape. “Did you take a peek?”
Tock stood tall, lean, and somehow managed to look younger than his fifty-one years. Unlike many men his age, his dark hair had not deserted him, but it yielded to spreading gray. Carmen at forty-six, however, fought a relentless battle against a broadening waist and the appearance of new wrinkles. She did her best to look sharp, professional, and just attractive enough, but she wondered whether a day would come when she just quit caring about such things. Her brown hair showed a tint of red in the sunlight. It always had.
She let her eyes linger on Tock for a moment, like a dieter eyeing a piece of cheesecake, but those thoughts cinched closed. They had history, she and Tock. They had been an item. It began five years ago and ended with brutal honesty thirty days later. Every time she thought of that month she felt the bitterest pleasure and the sweetest regret. Three months later he married another woman. It was his third marriage. She had yet to have one.
“I asked if you took a peek. You okay?”
“I’m fine. Didn’t sleep well last night. Too much caffeine or something.” The lie came easily. “I’m having the body covered. Too many civilian eyes around here. Or there will be soon.”
“We probably have an hour before the crowds arrive. At least it’s Thursday, not a weekend. What have we got?”
“Male, white, young, maybe early twenties. My best guess is he’s been dead for six hours or so. I’ll let the ME give us a better estimate on time.”
Tock pursed his lips. “So someone did him in the wee hours? Three or four a.m.?”
“I think we should close the grounds to the public. The Botanical Building is a pretty big draw. I also suggest we have a couple of officers tape off the walkways.” He paused. “That is, if it’s okay with you. You’re lead dog on this sled.”
“Lead dog? I see you still know how to sweet-talk a woman.”
“My wife won’t let me sweet-talk other ladies. She says it just breaks their hearts.” He pointed at the object in her hand. “Is that his wallet?”