They call it the city that never weeps, but then they also liked to call me the man who never smiles – and yet the torrential rain washing all evidence into the gutter failed to wipe the smile off my face.
I never felt more alive than during raind and in the presence of death, it was my calling as much as my passion and most importantly I was good at it. Few people are made for this job, investigating gruesome murders and risking our lives for little reward. Fewer even can last until retirement and just a tiny fraction finds the work fulfilling, enjoyable even. Sure, many like the benefits, the status and free gas, the respect and the lonely housewives with a cop fetish. But when it comes to earning those benefits through hard work, late nights and looking at what makes you instinctively look away then the crowd thins out rapidly.
But that is okay, we need the pencil pushers and nine-to-fivers to have our backs so that us no-lifers can pull all-nighters, get the job done when it matters. It’s easy to lose respect for the risk-averse, the chicks who keep buying larger uniform pants and the guys who were never slim to begin with, but we need them as much as they need us and begrudgingly we make it work even though both feel superior to the other.
That night though, that back alley wasn’t a place for the weak and meek, that was real cop territory where the main color was black and the rain alone was enough to keep most anyone inside of their comfy homes.
I had felt Nina step to my side and addressed her without stopping or even pausing my own analysis of the place. We had been working together for just a month at that point, three months since she had transferred in from the Valley region and we had quickly found ourselves the last ones still working when everyone else was already home.
Soon realized we were working together quite well, too, bouncing ideas off of each other and offering a fresh view on a lot of things the other saw similarly, but different. Plus she was a good detective in her own right, good eye for detail and a way with people that complemented mine when we talked to them.
“Hard to say, not exactly a clean environment, is it? Can’t even tell if it’s the scene or just the drop point yet, my guess is the latter though.”
She was right, the place was such a mess that you couldn’t tell trash from clue, nothing would have looked out of order there except for maybe the murder weapon and even then it wouldn’t have surprised me had we found a couple other tossed guns as well. The alley behind Obie’s is hardly classy today and trust me, it somehow looked worse then. Couple dumpsters, couple metric tons of loose trash, cardboard everywhere, only bit of illumination came from the patrol cars and a dim neon Exit sign. Nah, if she’d come there on her own account she deserved a posthumous Darwin award and my take was that she had been dumped there.
Which meant we were wasting our time, but due diligence and all that crap. You never know what turns up by accident, but there and then there was little for the two of us to do but observe and hope one of the techs would find anything useful.
I’ve always liked those early hours at a crime scene, it’s the one time when being a Detective is really nothing but a luxury and you are paid to stand around, try to get a feel for a scene and listen to the results of other people’s work.
Our real work starts later, but for a short few moments you get front row seats to a spectacle a lot of people pay for to get it to their screens, but they will never be able to feel what you feel out there. That mix of loneliness, the fear of death and the unknown only suppressed by the strength of numbers, the swarm of cops around you. The way you are always too late, yet your work still matters, it’s a powerful mixture I can tell you. Lots of people break under it, but I – and Nina as well – have always thrived under it.
“Yeah, me too. She was a streetworker, that much is clear but I bet you she didn’t work this dump here. No sane person would, I mean what even is this mess?”
The fact that she was a working girl might surprise given the unusual attention her murder got from us, but it was a slow night and that November had seen more rain storms than murders. Not that anyone was really expecting to spend a lot of time on this case, it was only a matter of time before someone important died and resources would be shifted away from the woman of the night who would be briefly missed by her favorite customers and few others.
But then we got our surprise of the night when one of the officers cordoning off the scene came to us. I’d seen him before, couldn’t remember his name but I remembered that I had liked his work ethic. Took me a moment to remember why, but then I recalled how he had stopped a wife from seeing her dead husband by talking to her and god knows it’s not easy to talk sense into a woman who comes home to see police swarming in her apartment.
“Detectives, you have a moment?”
“Sure”, I said, “what is it?”
I guess he could tell I was having difficulties remembering his name because he introduced himself, but maybe because he hadn’t run into Nina yet.
“Officer Pauls, we met briefly before.”
“I remember, the Anderson family case, right?”
A slight smile crossed his face and I remember thinking that I had done my good deed for the day. A motivated cop is better than a good one and for an hour or so this Pauls guy was both.
“Right. Anyway, have you identified the woman yet?”
“Not so far, no ID or wallet found yet. Why, you think you know her?”
“Not until just now, but since it’s so silent here I allowed myself to go through the missing persons database of the past month and I think I found her. Here, take a look.”
As I said, good man. Most of the cops tasked with the admittedly horrible job of standing for hours at the yellow tape couldn’t be bothered to show the slightest interest, that’s why so many remain yellow-tapers. And it was her alright, the face matched even though she had died her hair blond from the dark brown that suited her much better in my opinion.
“Looks like her to me, good work officer. Nina?”
“Yeah, that looks about right. Different hair, but the face looks like her. So who is she?”
The image had been zoomed in to fit the screen, but the moment Officer Pauls pulled the phone back I saw the grave look on his face and suddenly remembered where I had seen that picture before.
“Damn”, I said, hoping all the way to be ridiculed for my hunch, “isn’t that the Mayor’s missing daughter?”
Pauls nodded, showing us the details of the missing persons report briefly but now we all remembered it good enough. She’d gone missing two months before, I recalled her picture being pulled up when I walked past the officer’s morning roll call one day but since then so much had happened that I had forgotten all about her.
I looked back at the woman on the street, her body needlessly shielded from the rain by a mobile tent that did no good at all with the damage already done.
Nina’s “Aw fuck, man” neatly summed up what we were all thinking.