Murder in the Neighborhood

By: Janis Lane

Chapter 1

Fowler supposed it was as good a day as any to die. He had seen bodies frozen in the snow, rotting in the rain and in sun so hot the flesh cooked on the bones before the vultures could find them. This death was almost dignified in contrast. The woman looked as if she had decided to take a rest on her front steps and someone had come along and taped her face. There was no sign of a struggle. The body was still stiff with rigor mortis.

The detective bent down and studied the corpse closely and carefully, imprinting it on his brain.

One brown eye bugged out, staring sightlessly up at the blue sky. Wide gray duct tape crisscrossed the lower half of her face, covering her nose, mouth, and one eye. Dyed blond hair, roots showing an inch of gray, stood thinly away from her scalp. Pudgy hands with candy pink fingernails curled into claws. Her face, what was showing of it, a vivid purple, so swollen her ears jutted out from a head on fat-padded shoulders.

Wide jeans were rolled up at the ankles and a pair of scruffy bedroom slippers stuck out at right angles. A sweatshirt reading, ‘Gentlemen prefer blondes,’ undulated across the mounds of her breasts. Sitting to one side on the top step with dried grass sticking out of its head, a plastic jack-o-lantern grinned grotesquely, signaling the season.

Behind him, Eddie, the rookie cop, pinned yellow crime scene tape to the nearby shrub causing small, golden leaves to rain down on the lawn. Overhead a canopy of ancient sugar maples radiated fall and dropped blood-red leaves. A vagrant breeze picked up and swirled them gently over and around the corpse where they collected in a pile underneath her outstretched arm.

It was a near perfect, early October day, the third on a Wednesday; temperatures in the mid 60’s, sun shining with a mild zephyr puffing by now and then. An expectant hush had fallen over one of the residential neighborhoods of the Town of Hubbard located in Western New York. The neighbors had to be peeking out their windows—two black and whites parked in the front yard—but were respectfully remaining inside for now.

Hubbard was, by and large, a town with mannerly citizens and good sidewalks. People walked out safely and often and it was unusual to see the scenery totally devoid of human activity.

“Duct tape again. The universal-versatile tool brought to a new use,” Jill, the uniformed policewoman, joked in the manner of cops who maintain their center of gravity when the acceptable became the unacceptable. She hadn’t been in on many homicides.

“The killer had to be a man. You males are all fascinated to find new uses for that tape.” She had drifted close to where Fowler was standing as he gazed down at the body. She pushed at her blond hair, tucking it around her ears, using that subconscious gesture to the face and hair women do when a virile man arrives on the premises. Eddie, watching her enviously, sighed.

“Yeah, a big roll of duct tape can sure come in handy,” Fowler answered absently.

“Photographer been here yet?” he asked and grunted with satisfaction when the answer was yes. He brushed a leaf out of the dead woman’s hair.

“Ambulance on the way?” He took a notebook out of his pocket and wrote a line or two, glancing over at the corpse.

“He’s a little late, but on the way,” Eddie answered. “Wreck out on Highway 40 with injuries. Crew’ll be here shortly.”

“How about the ME’s office? Anybody from there show up yet?”

“Nope. We called it in right away, and dispatch said they’re on their way. Haven’t heard a word since.”

“Get some bags on those hands, will you, Jill?” Fowler looked over at the officer, who jerked around to reach for her equipment, a flush staining her pretty face.

“Either of you move the body? Move anything? Touch anything?” They both shook their heads no.

“How about the photographer? He mess around with the evidence?”

Jill shook her head vehemently.

“He’s still here. Went over to his car to get another camera, I think.” She pointed to a van parked down the street.

“Took a lot of pictures though. Thought he’d never get finished. You’d think he’d never worked with a corpse before. You want me to get him?” she asked, as she slipped clear plastic bags over the victim’s hands and fastened them with rubber bands.