by Sharon Arthur Moore
The Bloody Knife took second place in the “unpublished short story” category in the 2014 Public Safety Writers Association writing contest.
When the cleaning service woman arrived from Land’s End Realty to ensure that the condo was in rentable order, she screamed at the blood splatter on the closet door next to the body of the dead man. Trembling she picked up the knife and examined it in horror, then dropped it, as if aware all at once that she shouldn’t disturb a crime scene. Shaking and crying, she picked up the phone, leaving bloody fingerprints on the receiver, and dialed 9-1-1.
A half-hour later, Detective Jenkins lumbered up the steep stairway from the landing, ruing yet again the weight he carried on his 5’9” frame. But, hey, eating was his favorite sport. And last night, his over-the-hill birthday dinner had included all his favorites. Still, as he climbed, he thought if he could afford $750K for a place like this, on the beach, he’d lose weight just going up and down the stairs a couple of times a day.
At the top of the stairs, Jenkins found himself in the living room/dining room, facing a sliding glass door wall opening onto a small deck and a view of the Atlantic that would catch anyone’s eye. He noted the deep blue contrast with the white light bouncing off the tops of the gentle waves, sparkling like glass shattered on a carpet.
Sighing, as he realized this wasn’t the crime scene, Jenkins walked past the small kitchen on the right, and trudged up the next set of steps to the bedrooms above. Two bedrooms–the master in the front with another sliding glass door. A guest bedroom in the rear overlooked the tennis courts and the trash bins. He noted with some satisfaction that even the rich couldn’t get away from the nitty-gritty of real life.
Jenkins walked into the master bedroom and scanned the room. He automatically recorded the location of the body, the knife and the blood splatter. He knew the forensics team were taking all the measurements and would help re-create the events, but he had always had an intuitive sense about crime scenes. In fact, forensics rarely surprised him with their analysis. It was almost as if he could absorb the same facts they laboriously accumulated, not that he didn’t think forensic analysis was necessary. In fact, he always felt some pride that he could come to the same conclusions as them; it was affirming.
Jenkins walked around the body, noting that the position was inconsistent with the blood splatter. Plus, the amount of blood on the carpet didn’t jibe with the wounds. He wrestled his small notebook from the tightness of his back pocket, licked the point of his pencil and began writing questions to ask the cleaning lady who was waiting in the guest bedroom.
* * * * * * *
“And so tell me again, I know, I’m acting dense here, but what did you do with the knife when you realized you shouldn’t have touched it?” Jenkins asked Nancy, the cleaning lady who’d called in the murder.
“Well, I just like, you know, like looked down at it in my hand and thought, ‘Nancy, you stupid fu…uh, dingbat. Why did you pick that up? And so then I just, like, put it back down, you know, and called you guys.”
“Nancy,” he began again. “When you put it back down, did you place it where you first saw it? Did you drop it? Had you moved away from the body with the knife? What I’m trying to get at here, Nancy is, where was the knife when you walked into the room?’
“Umm. I…I’m not real sure. Here?” She pointed at the diagram he had placed between them.
“So the knife was here, on the left side of the body. Closer to the closet or the body?” he asked patiently.
“Umm. The body, I think. Yeah, that must be right. It was closer to the body.”
“Then, Nancy, did you step over the body to get to the knife? See, if the knife was here–” the detective pointed to the “x” he had made when Nancy had pointed out the knife’s location, “–then, you would have had to reach over the body or step over it or walk around it to get to the knife. Which was it?”
* * * * * * *
Jenkins pulled his wheezing car into Land’s End Realty, the company that managed the property. His mind worked on the first, he was sure, of many interviews with Nancy. “Too many holes,” he thought. “Maybe I can plug some here.”
He heaved his body out of the old tan Buick Regal, running his fingers through what was left of his graying hair in an unsuccessful attempt at tidying his appearance. Detective Jenkins was known throughout the Narragansett Bay area, and Cindy greeted him with a warm smile as he pushed through the door that always kind of stuck in the humid ocean summers.
“Well, hi, there! Come to take me to lunch?”
“Not today, Cindy. Raincheck? I’m working a case that took place up the road at the condos you guys manage for the rich folks. Can you give me some info on who rented Unit #4 this week?”
“Yeah, I heard. We just had some folks in here real steamed. Seems some cops wouldn’t let them in their $2500 a week rental. Know anything about that? Let me get Bub. He’ll want to know what’s going on. Hey, Bub?” Cindy yelled toward the back of the tiny office area. “Just go on back, Frank. I’ll get the records pulled and bring ‘em back.”
Jenkins walked back behind one of those beige metal office dividers and plopped himself into the bright orange plastic bucket chair in front of Bub’s desk. Cindy appeared with a folder which she handed to Bub. Jenkins told him the situation and asked for any information in the files that might help.
“Guy didn’t have a wallet in sight, no car to check registration, so here I am. We gotta know who the poor sucker was,” Jenkins finished.
“Okey dokey. Let’s see what we have. Name of Smith, John Smith. Address in Providence. Here let me get the info down for you,” Bub replied, scribbling on a piece of scrap paper. He snickered. “He musta got a lotta sass about this address. And it says here he paid cash, both for the rental deposit, security deposit and for the final payment. Lot of little bills. I mean, we don’t usually write down details, but it’s kinda unusual to have an all cash payment. Counting all the ones and fives musta pissed Cindy off, so she wrote a note here.” Bub snickered again, presumably at the thought of what could happen when Cindy was pissed off.
Jenkins handed over a photo of the dead man. “That him?”
“I dunno. Cindy does all the dealings with renters. Hey, Cindy,” he yelled over the illusion-of-privacy wall divider.
She popped her head around the corner immediately. “Yeah?”
“Gimme a break. You know what’s going on. This guy look familiar?” Bub held out the picture to her outstretched hand.
“Umm. I’m not sure with his eyes closed and all, but it kinda looks like the dumb ass that brought in all the ones and fives. Both times!” she fumed.
“What about Nancy?” Jenkins asked. “How long she been here? Reliable?”
Cindy threw Bub a glance and tilted her head his way, “Well, this one likes her okay, but she don’t overwork herself, in my opinion.”
“She’s been here, what Cin, since late April? So a few months. Just come off a divorce, moved here to get away from him. Shows up one day, asking for work. She does good enough. Nobody yet called to complain it’s not clean there. But she does get rattled some. Have a hard time getting a story out of her in some order you can make sense of”.
Jenkins nodded at that insight. He had the same take on Nancy.
“Ask me, the light’s on, but nobody’s home,” Cindy sniffed. “But, yeah, she shows up on time and she cleans forever, not a quick one, but her places got no complaints. Got a new boyfriend, I guess. I seen him pick her up a coupla times out front there.”
Jenkins heaved himself from the chair, using the desk for leverage. “Okay. Thanks for the info. I’ll check the boyfriend out. Oh, and you better cancel renters for the next couple of weeks. Crime scene. The folks who showed up while we were working the scene kinda pitched a fit.” Jenkins moved past Cindy into the reception area. “Lunch Friday?”
* * * * * * *
“I know, I know, you don’t make mistakes, but just do me a favor and check it one more time, Cindy.” Jenkins let out a big sigh waiting for Cindy to come back on the line. No such name, no such address in Providence. So who the hell was this guy? Why a fake name? How in the hell was he supposed to track him down? Geez Louise!
“Just as I wrote down, Detective Jenkins, ‘John Smith, 1234 Mary Jane Lane, Providence”. Satisfied?” Cindy harrumphed into the phone.
“I hafta check, Cindy, you know that. Nothin’ personal.” Jenkins sighed again. “Thanks for looking it up. Now I have to find out who he really was. See you around.”
Jenkins disconnected from Cindy and punched in the number for the coroner to see what he found, and then he called the forensics guys and told them to check out identity files on the guy. He had to be in somebody’s data base–dental, armed services, criminal records, someplace.
Jenkins clasped his hands over the bald spot on back of his head and put his feet up on the chair to his left, his best thinking position. What was niggling in his mind? What didn’t jibe? He was missing something.
* * * * * * *
“Nancy, tell me again, from the beginning, exactly what happened.” Jenkins flipped open his notebook to record her recall of events.
“Could I, like, have a smoke? Is that okay here?” She looked around the station house room as if for an ashtray. She tapped her fingers on the table, fast and irregular.
“Maybe later, when we have a little break. You know how these damn health nuts are, wanting to keep the air clean and all. We have to go outside these days. But, we’ll go as soon as I get this stuff from you. Just a few questions. So, from the beginning. What happened?”
“Uh, okay. So I like went upstairs and there was the dude on the floor.”
“Wait, wait, back up. Did you drive there or did your boyfriend drop you off? Walk? What?” Jenkins noted that Nancy’s head jerked when he said “boyfriend.”
“Didn’t I tell you all that before? I mean, can’t you look up what I said?”
“Yeah, I could, but my notes are back in my office, so just tell me again.”
“Uh…ummm. I think I…I uh…walked. It’s not far, just a mile or so from Bub’s office. It’s kinda hard to remember all the details now. And why is it important?”
“Okay, so you walked to the condo from the rental agency.” Jenkins wrote that down. “Was the renter’s car in the driveway or garage when you arrived?”
“No. His truck was gone when I got here, so I thought he had moved out or I wouldn’t have come in. See, the policy is we don’t come in to check or clean if the renters are still here. We are supposed to call Cindy and then she calls them or comes over to tell them they’re late and they have to pay a late fee. Then she tells them to get their asses out of there,” Nancy gave a giggle that sounded nervous to Jenkins.
“Then what did you do?”
“Well, first I check the downstairs to make sure it’s clean enough. If not, then I clean it up, and see the money for paying me gets deducted from the security deposit. Land’s End Realty makes sure the place is clean for the next renters,” she recited the company mantra.
“So how long were you downstairs before going up to check those rooms?” Jenkins leaned forward, holding Nancy’s eyes.
She looked down at her clasped hands. “Umm. I guess about 15 minutes. I mean, I check the half bath on that floor, under the sink for garbage, the fridge, you know, stuff like that. It was pretty clean.” She looked back up at Jenkins.
“Did you hear anything, anything at all? The coroner says the guy was barely dead when you found him. So, did you hear any movement upstairs or yelling or moaning, anything like that?” She glanced away, looking off to the left as if trying to remember. Looking to the left meant she was about to tell a lie.
“No, nothin’. Nothin’ like that. See, I wouldn’t go upstairs if I thought somebody was up there. Company policy. Say, could we go get a smoke now?” Nancy’s fingers danced on the chipped Formica table top.
“Not quite yet, Nancy. So, you heard nothing. You just went upstairs because it was time to check out the upstairs rooms, right?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Hey, I gotta pee. Can I go to the little girl’s room?”
“Try to hold it a little longer, Nancy. Use those sphincter muscles. You’re young. They haven’t given way yet. Now, one more thing.” Jenkins leaned back, like he was relaxing.
“Tell me why we found prints from both your hands on the knife? Why not just pick it up with one hand? Why did you need two? And, Nancy, how did you know the victim had a truck? Had you visited him before?”
She stared at Detective Jenkins. Nancy’s eyes rolled back into her head, and she slid sideways off the chair. He noted the puddle beneath her mini-skirted bottom with some disgust.
* * * * * * *
Frank and Cindy’s Friday lunches at the Crazy Burger Cafe always ended with pie. Cindy dabbed at the last bits of the raspberry key lime piecrust with the tip of her index finger. “Now what, Frank? You have a dead guy, you have a time frame, but you still haven’t even ID’d him.” She stuck her pie-crusted finger in her mouth.
“I think we’re getting close. The Providence Police suddenly got interested when we contacted them with the pictures. Seems they know something, but they’re keepin’ a lid on the info. The last time I talked to the homicide captain, he said they were told not to tell us anything and he couldn’t tell me any more than that.” Frank shook his shaggy head.
“Hey, Big Guy. Time for a haircut. Wanna come by tonight for a clip? Hey, stay for dinner, too.”
“Yeah, sure, but it could be late. Seven okay? But, back to this thing with Providence. Makes me think the feds are involved somehow. I mean, think about it. Providence can’t tell us anything because they’re told not to say anything? Who has that kind of authority? So, I’m thinking drugs, maybe, or mafia.”
“Or the guy could be a prominent local, here incognito to do some dillydallying away from the little woman.” Cindy shrugged. “Could be lots of things. Thanks for lunch. Gotta get back to make sure Bub makes some money today. The beer’ll be cold at seven.”
Frank watched Cindy exaggeratedly sashay out of the Crazy Burger, turning around to toodle her fingers at him. What a card! And what a mess this case was–is–he corrected himself. Frank held a finger up for more coffee and then pulled out his notebook to re-read the few facts painstakingly accumulated.
Nancy gave up some info on the truck and he had spent hours going through DMV’s files hunting for late-model white Tahoma trucks registered in Rhode Island or Massachusetts. He had thousands of names to check out. A sudden thought struck him. Rental agencies. If this guy were trying to keep a low profile for some reason, maybe he rented the truck. If so, it was either returned or overdue.
* * * * * * *
“Yeah, I’m Detective Jenkins, working on a case in Narragansett. Do you rent Tahoma trucks? Great. Did you rent a white one recently, maybe Saturday a week ago that was due back Saturday last? Yeah, I can hold.” Sure, Jenkins thought, after three hours on the phone with rental agencies, what was another 20 minutes? He was surprised by how many rental agencies there were in the Providence area and at how few of them rented trucks. It coulda been worse.
“Yeah, I’m here. Really? That’s interesting. What’s the address of the impound lot? Thanks for your help.” This could be the break. I’ll just take a little trip into Prov-Town and see what we have. Maybe get Gail in forensics to lift some prints. Maybe I can get this to break without help from Providence’s best.
Jenkins broke into what passed, for him, as a smile. And, he made a note to himself, check out Nancy’s boyfriend. Where was he during the murder time frame? Other cops had checked the neighbors on both sides, but he wanted to go over those notes again. Maybe the forensics guy would drive so he could work on the way over. Those guys weren’t usually too…
Meredith took her fingers off the keyboard. “weren’t usually too talkative” ? “loquacious”? “talky”? How would Frank say it? She got up from the card table where her computer rested, near the glass doorway looking out on the ocean.
She picked up the catsup-coated knife again, walked across to the floor in front of the mirrored closet and jabbed the knife into the pile of stuffed trash bags on the plastic drop sheet that was roughly the size and shape of an adult male. Different blood spatter pattern this time. Damn.
Leaving the knife on the floor, she examined the position of the “body” relative to the spatter pattern. Where would Nancy have found the knife? “Talky”. That’s what Frank would say. Meredith typed that in, closed down the computer, and packed it up for her trip home. After cleaning the catsup off the wall, Meredith lugged the trash bag body out to the trash bin in back. Then she fetched her suitcase and computer bag to put into the car.
If she could only have had just a few more days in this condo, she was sure she could finish the short story in time to submit it for the contest. Now, who knew when she could get back to it, what with work tomorrow.
Preoccupied, she didn’t remember leaving the “bloody” knife at the edge of the bed skirt. But it would give a start to the cleaning crew later that morning.
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