By DeAnna Knippling
You’re looking around the room and thinking, I should be noticing something else. The victim was shot in the kitchen. It’s the kind of apartment where as soon as you open the door, you’re in the kitchen. But the body has been dragged out of the kitchen and into the utility room, where it has been doused in kerosene and set on fire. Why move the body? Why set it on fire? The killer disabled the fire alarm. In the kitchen under the fire alarm bracket is a chair.
You have Murkowski and Simms putting together a sketch, Murkowski doing the drawing and Simms doing the measurements, calling them out as they work. The forensics people are impatient to get to work. The photographer, Daye Davis, has been taking about a million photos, and what you want her to do is lean back on her heels in her Tyvek suit and go, “Hey Richardson, take a look at this.” But she doesn’t. She doesn’t pick up on anything that you haven’t already pointed out to her. She photographs the blood in the kitchen where the victim was shot; the bespattered groceries dumped all over the counter and into the sink; the drag marks from moving the body; in the trash, an empty gallon jug of kerosene, a revolver, the missing fire alarm, and a pair of bloodstained brown cotton work gloves; the drag marks into the utility room; the cap of the kerosene jug lying near the stairs; the body in the utility room, from the left side, from above, from the right side, at every angle. The victim wore gray sweatpants and a charred gray sweatshirt. The killer doused her, but good. From head to toe her corpse is a black mess. The killer must have been an idiot if they thought burning the corpse would hide a bullet wound.
You’re missing something and you know it. A part of you feels like you’d rather not know, as a matter of fact. It’s not that important, whatever it is. Which is a strange thing to think during a murder case.
In a minute you’re going to start sorting out the victimology and talking to the first witness, a neighbor who smelled something burning. But until then you have to try to think. Have you met the victim before? She has an asymmetrical, poorly arranged cluster of photos on the wall, but you don’t recognize anyone in them. The furniture in the apartment is nice, too nice for a fourth-floor apartment in a building on this side of town. Was she divorced? Was this a burglary? Drugs? Did anyone hear the shot? Was the jug of kerosene stored in the storeroom or did the killer bring it? Any chance of picking up a print from the kerosene cap outside the door, which might have been dropped after the work gloves were removed? What about the front doorknob?
How much of this was done in a panic? How much of this did or did not go according to plan?
In order to figure out what’s bugging you, you’d have to bark an order for everyone to get out. You’d have to turn off all the noises of the city around you, all the traffic, all the voices, the flashes from Daye’s camera. You’d have to exile everyone in the building, as a matter of fact; the more you try to focus, the more you can hear the neighbor’s TV cranked to full volume next door. You’d have to strip away the smell of kerosene and blood. To get down to the truth, you’d not only have to do all that but erase the fact that your kid is failing math. You’d have to remove the fact that you’re having an affair with one of your coworkers. You’d have to silence the ache in your back and your addiction to nicotine. You’d have to stop the whistle of your own breath. And even if you did manage all that, you still wouldn’t be able to get at that message from your subconscious.
Because whatever that thought is, you don’t want to know it. You keep trying to send your thoughts off in another direction. And yet, inexorably, the forbidden thought approaches. It will arrive at four a.m. and you’ll wake up with a sick feeling in your gut and a bad taste in your mouth, your wife moaning I’ll kill her in her sleep. You still love her.
Daye says, “Is that it, Detective Richardson?” Murkowski and Simms are almost done, too. In a moment the M.E.s will take the body.
Now. Now is the time to say it, to tell Daye to take a few snapshots of one more thing. You can almost put your finger on what it is. But you don’t.
“I guess that’s it, thanks,” you say, and she leaves the apartment, pausing outside the neighbor’s door to strip off her Tyvek suit, carefully turning it inside out as she goes so as not to contaminate the back stairs with trace evidence she picked up in the apartment. She heads down the back stairs, carrying her heavy camera around her neck and the inside-out suit in a plastic grocery bag along with a sharp-edged notebook. The front stairs have been taped off as part of the crime scene. Daye walks across the parking lot; she lives in a different building across the street. You can see her bedroom window from here.
Murkowski and Simms are finishing up the bedroom. The body lies in front of you. The M.E.s are waiting. You stare at the dead woman again. Nothing.
“Go ahead and take her,” you tell them. And turn your back on the body as the fingerprint tech dusts the front doorknob, saying, “Nothing, Detective Richardson, it’s almost like the killer was wearing a spacesuit,” when you give him a questioning look.
The thought is coming. Soon it will arrive.
And when it comes, it’s gonna be a doozy.
DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer and editor in Littleton, Colorado. She has recently been published in Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Penumbra, Crossed Genres, Black Static, and more. She received honorable mentions in BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR, Vols. 3 & 6.
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