Murder In Contaiment
Later that day, Doyle stood beside Acton and the coroner as they somberly contemplated the dead SOCO photographer, lying in her bleak stainless steel drawer in the morgue. Law enforcement necessarily involved personal risk; still, it was never easy to lose one of their own, and one would think a Scene of Crime Officer—and a photographer, to boot—would not be in any particular danger. Upon hearing the news, Doyle had sacrificed her lunch hour to visit the decedent—not much of a sacrifice, really, since she’d no appetite to speak of in the first place. And despite the fact he was hip deep in high-profile cases, Acton had offered to accompany her, and so here they were, taking a long, dispassionate look at the remains of the blonde woman in her thirties who’d evidently met a bad end. The lividity marks showed she’d died prone on her back, and the bruise patterns indicated one or more blows to the forehead. After a small silence, Doyle asked Acton, “Do we have a preliminary report?”
“Found dead in her flat; reported by a neighbor who noticed the smell. Possible domestic violence; the neighbor remembers hearing an altercation with a man.”
The coroner indicated with a finger, “Cause of death was blunt force trauma; fractures to the frontal bone and supraorbital process. Weapon was cylindrical; estimate three inches in diameter.”
Doyle nodded. Dr. Hsu, the coroner, tended to be very matter-of-fact about the most grisly of subjects, no doubt a result of his profession mixed with his Chinese heritage—Doyle had the vague idea that the man’s religious beliefs included the recycling of departed spirits. I suppose that would put a different light on death, thought Doyle, if you believed that the persons lying before you would come back to life under a different identity, good as new.
“She faced her killer, then. Defensive wounds?” asked Acton. If there had been a face-to-face battle, the chances were good that the woman would have helpful DNA on her hands or arms.
“None apparent,” was the coroner’s regretful answer. “And although we took swabs from under her nails, preliminaries indicate that she was wearing latex gloves, even though there were none at the scene. Some spot bruising on her forearms—nothing of significance.”
“Perhaps because she warded off the blows?” Doyle demonstrated by raising her arms and crossing them. “Otherwise, she just let someone come up and conk her in the face, which seems unlikely.”
“Only spot bruising on her arms,” Acton reminded her. “Therefore, not from blows.”
Doyle frowned as she considered this paradox—paradox being a vocabulary word—but Acton was apparently following his own train of thought.
“Was she reclining when struck?”
“Upright,” the coroner replied. “Then fell back.”
“Was she bound?”
“No—no bruising at the wrists.”
“Prelim shows no drugs or alcohol.”
Acton was silent for a moment, and Doyle took the opportunity to ask, “Who’s been assigned to the case? And have we any likely suspects?”
Acton replied, “DI Chiu is the Crime Scene Manager. No obvious suspects; no indication there was a steady boyfriend.”
Doyle made a wry mouth. “Not a surprise, my friend. She carried a crackin’ torch for you, you know.”
He did not disclaim, but remained thoughtful. “That doesn’t mean she didn’t have a boyfriend—or someone.”
But Doyle shook her head doubtfully. “With her, I’m not so sure—she was the reclusive type; I imagine she rarely went anywhere. She probably did those role-playing video games, and kept a cat.”
The coroner lifted the corpse’s hand. “The cat had started in on her fingers.” It was an unfortunate truism that when cats were hungry, they were not sentimental creatures.
“No sign that the motive was robbery,” Acton noted. “But it may be helpful to delve into that aspect, and take another careful look `round.”
Doyle wasn’t sure she followed him. “And why is that?”
Acton crossed his arms, his hooded gaze on the woman’s remains. “She was struck facing her attacker, yet there are no signs that she attempted to ward off the blow. What does that tell you?”
The penny dropped, and Doyle looked up at him. “She couldn’t see him.”
He nodded. “So it was either dark, or she was blindfolded. But she was upright, not bound, and we’ve ruled out sex play, so it must have been dark. He may have been lying in wait.”
Doyle knit her brows, considering this. “But there were reports of a verbal altercation.”
“Then—then I suppose we’re speakin’ of two different people?”
“Perhaps,” said Acton, who was not a leaper-to-conclusions.
At Acton’s signal, the coroner moved in to zip the bag and re-shelve the corpse, and Doyle took the opportunity to observe in a low voice, “I don’t know, Michael; it doesn’t seem in keepin’—that she had a fight with someone outside her flat, and then got coshed by someoneelse, waitin’ inside. Some people—” she tried to put her instinct into words. “Some people are lookin’ to get themselves murdered, and some people are not. She’s one of the nots.”
“Yet here she is,” he gently pointed out.
Stubbornly, she persisted. “I’m only spoutin’ your theory, my friend; if the facts don’t fit the usual motivations, then attention should be paid. The SOCO people are inclined to blather in their cups—perhaps she said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and this is a containment murder. It may be useful to take a peek at her recent caseload.”
Acton made no immediate response and she eyed him, aware that the dead woman was willing to work off the grid for Acton, so to speak, and on at least one occasion had manipulated evidence for him. Hopefully, I am not yet again investigating a murder that my own husband committed, she thought crossly, and briefly toyed with the idea of asking him outright. Instead, she asked, “Was she doing anythin’ for you on the side, Michael?”
He was amused, and glanced at her. “Is that a euphemism?”
“No, it is not.” She was not in a joking mood, a rarity for her.
“No, on both counts.” He paused. “I discouraged any attempts to communicate outside of work, and she was someone who didn’t want to be rebuked.”
No, thought Doyle; she was the type who was content to entertain fantasies, rather than act on them. “Can you put me on the case? I always felt a bit sorry for her, and now I’m sorrier still.”
He met her eye, and Doyle knew exactly what he was thinking. “I’ll be safe as houses, Michael—and I’m dyin’ for a new assignment. I’ll just go ask a few questions, have a look ʼround her flat, and see what there is to see.” Inspired, she added, “I need somethin’ to take my mind off the mornin’ sickness. I’ll feel better if I’m doin’ good works.”
“Right, then. But no heroics.”
“Not to worry; I am in no shape, my friend.”
Acton had to leave after taking a call on some urgent matter, so Doyle rang up DI Chiu with an eye to going out immediately to interview the neighbors—it was important to move quickly, before any leads went cold.
But when she picked up, DI Chiu was not necessarily pleased to hear that Doyle was to join her team. “The PCs already did a preliminary, DS Doyle.”
“I know, ma’am, but I knew the victim, and I’d like to lend a hand.” Doyle then played her trump. “DCI Acton is the SIO, and he’s given the go-ahead.”
There was a slight pause. “I will meet you there, then.”
Doyle copied the address, rang off, and then immediately rang up Williams, as she made her way up the stairs from the morgue. “Hey.”
“Can’t talk long; I’m heading into the interview room.”
“I’ll make it quick; tell me about DI Chiu.”
“Smart. Doesn’t suffer fools.”
Oh-oh, thought Doyle. “Well, aside from that, why wouldn’t she like me?”
“Not a clue, Kath; maybe she’s territorial, and doesn’t like the Acton connection.”
“There’s not the smallest chance I’d be promoted over her, for heaven’s sake.”
“I’ve got to go—I’ll ring you later.”
“It’s not important, Thomas, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Thoughtfully, Doyle rang off and headed outside, hoping the victim’s flat had been aired out—the scent of decomposition always set her off, nowadays, and she didn’t want to give her husband any excuse to take her off her only remaining case.