Flesh of the Martyr (Part I)

Detective Hannah Carter, still carrying the burden of her encounter with a brutal killer three months ago and his loyal fans who won’t leave her alone, investigates a seemingly routine murder. On top of this, a documentary maker is sticking his nose into her business; the last thing she needs. Carter thinks that’s the most difficult thing she’ll have to deal with, but there may be much more going on here than she realises.

‘Flesh of the Martyr’ features characters first introduced in the novella Red Muse.

Trigger warning: this story contains frank references to and occasional descriptions of sexual violence, including situations involving minors. Please proceed with caution.

Coffee and Bagels

Miguel remembered the dust, the heat, the blue sky so bright it hurt his eyes if he looked upwards for too long. He remembered the colour and the music, the voices, the laughter. He remembered the smell of his hometown, the gasoline stink of the dirty cars that struggled their way up the fragmented main street, the scent of sizzling meat on outdoor grills, the sharp tang of the tequila his uncle made him drink when he was small, laughing as he choked up the burning liquid. A joke. But Miguel took it hard, as he always did. Because, as etched into his mind as those early memories were, he was never truly immersed in them. He was apart. The other boys played soccer in a vacant lot off the main street, with goals painted onto one crumbling wall. Every time the ball hit, it knocked another chunk of adobe into the dirt. Miguel watched them play, but he was never invited to join in. Miguel’s eyes followed the movements of the boys his own age or a little older, looked at their brown bodies in the sun – skinny, sweating torsos bare in the heat, dusty feet kicking that half-inflated ball from end to end of their makeshift pitch, bright smiles on wide, laughing faces. He knew he couldn’t join in. He was small and awkward, too conscious of his own body, constantly feeling as if he was under the scrutiny of others. The thoughts that he had in his young head, the strange confusing things he imagined about his school-friends, seemed to ring so loudly within him that he was sure everyone else must be able to hear them too. Surely Julio, the eldest of the boys, with his piercing dark eyes and the body on the cusp of puberty, with shoulders and arms beginning to demonstrate hints of musculature and the faintest wisp black stubble on his upper lip, surely he knew how Miguel stared at him. It must be hard to miss.

As he grew older, these disordered thoughts of lustful youth began to cohere into something he was able to identify and which he, inevitably, began to loathe. While the other boys his age chased after girls, and games of soccer transitioned seamlessly into a different kind of game altogether, Miguel was left alone with his discomfort. Now he was perhaps fourteen or fifteen, sitting on the edge of a broken kerb, watching the bright, blaring bar across the road. He shivered in the cool night. From here he could see between the buildings, out to the desert. Ranks of cacti, misshapen arms raised like they were saluting the stars, marched off towards the pale yellow-blue streak where the sun had sunk below the horizon. But all his attention was fixed on the neon glare from the bar. The front was open to the street, and the customers would wander in and out as the mood took them, perhaps taking a seat outside for a while to talk to one or two of the old men who played dominos on the sun-bleached table. Off to one side was a crowd of girls about his age. They were flushed with youth and alcohol, laughing and smiling, in bright skirts and tops that left their shoulders bare. Miguel was not interested. Instead, he waited for what he knew would come soon: the low roar of engines.

The older men drinking at the bar looked up as the sound reverberated down the street. They skidded up on their bikes in a cloud of dust and smoke from the salvaged, refitted, patched together engines. The boys. They fancied themselves men. Their elders looked at them with smiling eyes and grins of condescension. They’d been like them once. It was good to see the same patterns being played out. Tradition was a strong force here. The same rituals repeated over and over, generation after generation. Julio was still the leader of the boys. His bike was the most impressive, as was he. Now a tall, lithe young man wearing a tight t-shirt and American jeans that had been a gift for his last birthday. He sported a full moustache now and his hair was gelled back from his forehead, combed back into a short tail at the nape of his neck. He swaggered around, moving his powerful shoulders gently in time to the music as the girls looked him over, sipping drinks through straws. Miguel watched him too from his spot in the shadows of the other side of the street, and he drew his skinny legs up to his chest. He was still small for his age. He had about as much chance of sprouting a moustache like Miguel’s as he did wings. Julio was talking to one girl in particular, Marta, and he saw how his fingers moved lightly down her back as she moved in closer to him, how he angled himself towards her. How did he know to do these things? How could he command the attention of someone he wanted so easily?

But then, the issue was not one of ability, but intent. Miguel did not want Marta. Rather, he wanted to be where she was, to feel Julio’s long, slender fingers make their way down his own spine, to feel his warm breath in his ear as he whispered…whatever it might be. Miguel rocked slightly as he watched in silence. He saw Julio laugh pull up his shirt slightly to reveal his stomach; the taut, rippling abdominal muscles he was obviously proud of. Dark hair covered his torso, but it couldn’t hide the obvious muscle definition. The girls hooted and batted him away playfully. Miguel could only stare. He could feel a tightness in his groin, a throbbing need, but one which he had no way to satisfy. He continued to stare a little while longer and then, as his desire began to feel like one of the motorbike engines rumbling away inside him, getting louder and more insistent by the second, he finally fled, back to his home.

At night, lying alone in bed, he would put himself in Marta’s position again, imagining how it would be to feel Julio pressing his hard, honed body against his. Pushing him against the bar, pulling up his shirt, holding him with those strong hands. He imagined kissing him. He imagined him reaching inside his shorts, searching eagerly, grabbing firmly what he found and then… Miguel jerked in bed as he felt his whole body surge and convulse. Warmth and pleasure rushed through him and, after a few glorious, agonising seconds, he collapsed sweating into sodden misery. He shared a small room with two of his brothers, but there was no change to the slow sound of their breathing. Everything was still. Quietly, as the moon rose outside his window, Miguel wept.

Life became a living nightmare. He worked for his father, painting houses, but he could never stop thinking the evil thoughts that lived in the darkest corners of his mind. His father was a loud, boisterous man. He would ask him about girls, even pointing them out when they passed in the street. He would call things out to them and nudge Miguel conspiratorially. He tried to pretend, but his brother Hugo soon proved to be better sport when he started working with them too. His father stopped trying to include him, and a distance grew between them. His mother worried about him too. He was a quiet, solitary young man. It wasn’t normal. But he couldn’t fake what they were looking for in him. He couldn’t be what they wanted.

In his despair, he went to the priest. He knew that was what he was supposed to do. He was old enough now to know what the feelings he had were, and he knew that he was supposed to confess things like this. Church was supposed to help with these things, to absolve his sins, to allow him to return to the light, as long as he was honest. He told the priest everything, and the old man frowned severely at him. He warned him about sinning and abusing his body. He told him he must try to forget the thoughts in his head and that, if he was honest about seeking the forgiveness of Christ and the Holy Mother, everything would be all right. “Perhaps try to spend more time around girls?” he suggested. “All this time alone is not healthy, Miguel.”

He tried. He tried as hard as he could. He liked the girls of the town well enough. Marta, especially, he became friends with. But nothing more than friends. When he looked at her, he felt no physical desire for her. That was still reserved for Julio, now her boyfriend, and he would stand to one side of them in the bar as they flirted and kissed, watching the object of his sinful obsession. The priest’s suggestion had, if anything, backfired.

Julio liked Miguel. He treated him as a little brother, perhaps because he just had sisters. The other young men would make fun of him, but Julio would defend him against their jibes. It only added fuel to the fire of his passion. Julio became a golden idol in his mind, a surrogate god at whose feet he worshipped. Not only was he physically perfect, but he had a generous soul and a kind, gentle nature. Or that was his fantasy. Even when he saw Julio fight with one of his friends, or chase after another girl besides Marta, he would ignore it and rewrite the episode in his memory. To Miguel, Julio could do no wrong.

“We need to get you a girlfriend, Miguel. You’d like that, eh?” Julio smiled at him over his bottle of beer.

“Uh huh.” He nodded. He’d hardly drunk any of his own beer. The girls weren’t there tonight, just the men. Miguel had only come out because of Julio.

“He wouldn’t know what to do with a girl,” Carlos sniggered.

Miguel said nothing. Julio watched him with his beautiful eyes, then smiled. “It’s easy. I’ll tell you what to say.”

Miguel shuffled uneasily. “Maybe…”

They went to the store at the other end of town. A group of younger girls sometimes hung around there, and it was no different that night. “It’s easier when they’re younger,” Julio explained, “women like an older man.”

Miguel didn’t look older. He looked like a child. Julio pushed him and he tottered towards the group uneasily, a gazelle being sent to the lions. The girls looked at him dubiously. He opened his mouth to speak, but only a croak came out. He wasn’t nervous – he had nothing to be nervous about. He didn’t care whether they liked him or not, but this was the childhood soccer games all over again. This was him trying to integrate, to fit in. This was his last chance to be normal. He stammered something ridiculous. He didn’t even know what it was he said, because it was drowned in the laughter. And he was a small boy again, coughing up tequila while his uncles patted him on the back and mocked him. He turned and ran, out into the night.

Julio found him, about half a mile from the town. He heard the sound of his bike put-putting its way to him in the dark, shining its pale lamp out across the arid ground. He sat underneath a tree, knees pulled up to his chest again, rocking. “Hey, Miguel,” Julio said softly, climbing off the bike and leaving the engine idling. “You okay, little brother?”

“I’m fine,” he lied.

“You know, it’s okay,” he said, sitting down beside him. That close, Miguel was again aware of how physically different they were, how his friend – his obsession – towered over him, how broad and strong his shoulders were, how well-muscled his arms. “Everyone’s different.”

“I know.”

“Not everyone can talk to girls the same way.”

“Sure.”

Julio put his arm around him. “You just need to find the right one, maybe. A nice, quiet girl who…”

Miguel lunged in and kissed him, full on the mouth. For just a moment, while Julio was still too shocked to resist, it was as if they really were kissing, as if he returned his affections. For that split second, he could imagine that all his fantasies were about to come true, but then he felt those strong hands on his chest, pushing him away and down onto the ground. Julio leapt up to his feet. “What the hell?” he asked.

“I…I…”

Julio was staring down at him. The only light came from the lamp on the bike and it lit his beautiful face from below. His expression was a mixture of confusion and rage. “What the hell is wrong with you, Miguel?”

What could he say? That he loved him? That he’d spent his whole life watching him, lusting after him, that each night in the darkness he pleasured himself while thinking about him? It was impossible. As impossible as expecting him to return his advances. “I’m sorry,” was all he could manage to get out.

“You…you…” And then he said a word Miguel hadn’t heard before, but which he would hear many times in the future. He spat at him and kicked him in the stomach. Then he left him, alone in the darkness. Miguel cried again as he curled into a ball and gently rocked back and forth.

Soon, everyone knew about him. He became a pariah. They threw things at him in the street, or even crossed themselves, like he was some kind of demon. His mother would cry when he walked into the house and beg him to go back to the priest to see if there was something he could do. His father, his brothers, they completely disowned him. Their eyes actually slid past him whenever they were in the same room. And he would hear his parents argue about it too. Even Marta, his friend, looked at him with undisguised loathing. To Julio, he was worse than dead.

“I told you to bury these feelings,” the old priest told him sadly, “but no man is beyond redemption. There is somewhere you can go. Someone who can help you.”

That man was Father MacKinnon, an American missionary at the youth centre outside the town. It was a place people could go for medicine and education if they couldn’t afford it themselves. Miguel’s family were poor but proud. They gave to the mission but didn’t make use of it themselves. Miguel presented himself to MacKinnon. The tanned blonde man with his sparkling blue eyes and creased cheeks seemed to know all about it. “A lot of boys come here with problems like yours,” he said in halting Spanish, “it’s quite normal.”

Miguel’s eyes were wide. “It is?”

“Oh yes. And there is a lot of help available. Techniques you can learn, to distract the mind, so you can be…healthy. Is that what you want, Miguel? To be healthy and normal, like the other boys?”

He nodded eagerly, and MacKinnon placed one of his pale hands over his. “Everything’s going to be all right now.”

MacKinnon had a programme. He said it had worked in Boston, where he came from. He believed the secret to banishing sinful thoughts was discipline and physical activity. They went hiking out into the desert. It was hard, thirsty work, and MacKinnon took off his shirt as the sun beat down high above. He was an older man, and his body was a little flabbier than Julio’s, but Miguel still stared as he stretched out his arms and patted his stomach. “I love the heat down here.”

They trekked up into the hills, where the red-brown cliffs formed winding canyons and hidden cave systems. The heat was oppressive as the sun reflected back from the rock walls, and MacKinnon suggested Miguel take his shirt off too. Nervously, he did so. They kept walking, until Miguel didn’t even know where they were, and wasn’t sure he could find his way back. Then MacKinnon began to talk about sin, and how Christ loved all His children, but that there were things that even He disapproved of. These things were urges that they had to be strong enough to resist, but it was normal to indulge in them now and then. Healthy even. That, after all, was what repentance and forgiveness were for. As long as they confessed their sins afterwards, they would be absolved in Christ. This was a lot like what the old priest had said, but Miguel began to feel uncomfortable.

“Sometimes,” MacKinnon went on, “there are time when a man has to go away, to a secret place, and do what he has to do. When he comes home, he’s still a man. He can even have a wife and a family. It does no harm. Less harm, anyway, than trying to kiss his friend. There are other men like you, Miguel.”

He nodded nervously. The walls of the canyon loomed around them. There was only a thin strip of painful blue sky above their heads. MacKinnon was standing close to him, with his torso dripping sweat. He smelt like man. Miguel felt lust stir in him.

“You might not know this,” MacKinnon continued, “but sometimes I think those sorts of things too.”

“But…you’re a priest…”

“Priests are human too. We’re all human, Miguel.”

He shrank back against the cliff, suddenly scared. His sweaty palms picked up grains of red dust. MacKinnon stepped towards him. “This will be easier if you try to enjoy yourself,” MacKinnon said. His voice did not sound warm and friendly any more.

*

Carter parked her car in a spot opposite her favourite bagel place in downtown San Bernardino. It was a clear, sunny day, and the mountains that rose above the city’s low skyline were a deep shade of green against the dark blue sky. She put her shades on and ran her hands across the steering wheel. She was on her way to pick up Jones, her partner, before heading down to the station. It was an ordinary day, but she had a feeling of dull dread in the pit of her stomach. It was getting more and more common now. She’d been back from her convalescence for two months now, but she still didn’t feel like she’d gotten back into a rhythm of work. She was shaky, and seemed to have lost her instincts. Jones said it was all in her head. He said she was no different but, despite his crusty exterior, she knew he was a nice guy deep down. He was just being kind. She wasn’t the crackerjack homicide cop she had been before all this. She was compromised.

Eventually, she climbed out of the car and slammed the door. She looked at her reflection in the window and absently adjusted her collar. Looking at herself, she was surprised by how small she looked. A short, slightly built woman with a dark, serious face and a tousled mess of black hair barely contained into a ponytail. She’d let it grow and stopped straightening it. Her mother would’ve approved. Her eyes were hidden by the reflective shades, and she could see a yet smaller version of herself in them, reflected back, and then again, infinite successively tinier iterations. She imagined herself at the bottom of that spiralling pit, looking out at the world, a miniature cop, scared and lost.

But that wasn’t who she was. She wasn’t going to let this trauma take over her life. And she would’ve put it all behind her long ago, except for one small complication. Running a hand over her hair to smooth away the unruliest curls, she turned and headed for the diner. Inside it was busy, a lot of people like her on their way to work. They knew her here, and the guy behind the counter gave her a broad smile. She ordered the usual for her and Jones. Her a bagel with a little cream cheese and ham. Him two bagels, with pretty much everything they had. Rumour was Jones’s wife was threatening to put him on a diet. She’d love to see that, but frankly she was in no mood to do anything that put him in a foul temper, least of all this morning. As she waited for her food and took a sip of the coffee she’d ordered – black, no sugar, as simple as it came – she saw a middle-aged woman sitting at a nearby table glance in her direction. The woman, white, red-haired, a little chubby, narrowed her eyes. She’d seen that look before. She was trying to place her. It was why she was wearing the glasses. Her instinct was to play with her jacket, flash her gun holster, let her know she was a cop and not to be trifled with. That used to work in the old days. But now, after what had happened, she knew it would only make it more likely she’d be recognised.

The bagels arrived on the counter and she grabbed them as she put the coffees in their cardboard holder. She was just turning away, when the woman who’d been looking at her rose from her chair. “Ma’am,” she said quietly, moving to step around her.

“I know you.” She looked right at her, staring, as if she could look through her shades if she strained hard enough.

“Ma’am, I don’t think…”

“You’re that cop! The detective.”

“Ma’am, I…”

“Carter. Hannah Carter. That woman who killed Calvin Hammersmith.”

Carter froze. Everyone in the bagel place was looking at her now. This wasn’t the first time she’d been confronted like this, but it hadn’t ever happened so close to home before. People knew her here. They’d remember this moment. They’d tell their friends. It would be gossip. And gossip was what it was all about. Officially, Hammersmith’s death had been accidental. An altercation that ended in a fire. Just in time for him to escape facing justice for his horrific crimes. Well, that was exactly the sort of thing that would fuel salacious internet gossip, wasn’t it? And Hammersmith, once a wildly successful author of sexually-charged detective novels, had a legion of devoted fans, most of them middle-aged women like the one confronting her now. “Ma’am, this isn’t an appropriate place to discuss…”

“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me,” the woman screeched, “I pay your wages!”

“It’s not…”

“I’ve read all about you! About what you did!” She was waving a finger in her face. Carter studied her expression, her cop’s instincts kicking in. She saw the anger there, the potential for violence. She could read her body language, saw how she shifted her weight towards her, readying herself for a lunge she probably hadn’t even consciously considered. There was a small minority of Hammersmith fans who refused to believe the truth about him. That he’d been a murderer and a paedophile. That his trashy novels had been one long, twisted confessional about his brutal, ritualistic killings. They thought it was a conspiracy. And Carter seemed to run into them a lot. Sometimes, alone at night, she became paranoid that they were stalking her, that her address had been published on some shadowy message board. In the dark she listened for every rustle in every bush.

“Ma’am, if you wish to enquire about my precinct’s investigations, you should call the station and…”

“You don’t fool me, missy! I know your sort – little whores, after rich, successful men, then when they can’t get what they want…” She was in her face. Close enough that she could smell the coffee on her breath. This was a violent situation. What she did next was completely justified. That’s what she told herself anyway as, with a burst of adrenaline, she reached for the woman’s arm and spun her around like a rag doll. She let out a yelp and Carter pulled her wrist up into a vicious hammerlock. She slammed her face down onto the table, hard. Without realising it, she’d dropped both coffees and the bagels. She could feel her shirt was damp.

People were shouting. The woman was crying. The proprietor was yelling at her from behind the counter. Slowly, the red mist rose and she came back to her senses. She staggered back and released the woman, who sank down to the floor in a sobbing heap. She stepped backwards, breathing hard. It was this stranger’s explanation of the events that had done it. She’d heard them before – from Hammersmith himself. He’d promised to use that story to discredit and eventually destroy her. He’d made her feel small. She hated feeling small.

Carter was about to apologise to the woman, but her mouth clamped shut. More instinct. If she said she was sorry, she’d be admitting guilt. She’d be liable, and this woman would sue the precinct. She’d get fired. “I’m letting you off with a warning,” Carter murmured. She looked down at herself and saw the brown stain soaking into her shirt. She frowned.

“Are you okay?”

She looked up and met the soft, grey eyes of a tallish, youngish man. He had brown-blonde hair tied back like hers. He wore glasses and had a scrubby beard. He looked like a college student, only a little too old. He had a satchel slung over one shoulder. “I…sure…”

“Let me help you.” Everyone else was still staring. The woman had picked herself up and seemed to have fled. He retrieved the bagels, still in their packets, but the coffee was done for.

“Thanks,” she said. She was flustered. “I’m sorry. I mean…no…not sorry.”

He helped her back to her feet from where she was trying to clean up the mess she’d made. “Let me buy you another coffee.”

“It’s fine.”

“It doesn’t look fine.”

“I’m a cop,” she said, “really, I’m okay. Thank you.” She took a breath and composed herself.

“I guessed.”

“What?”

“That you were a cop. I don’t meet a lot of women that can pull off moves like that.”

She forced a smile. “Yes. Well.” She was very conscious of the eyes on her. Trying to maintain as much dignity as possible, she left the diner and walked out into the baking California air. The man followed her out, hovering close. “Something wrong?” she asked him, a little sharply.

He held up his hands defensively. “No, just looking out for you. You look like you could use a minute to calm down.”

“I’m perfectly calm.”

“Sure you are.” He had an easy smile. “My name’s Josh.”

“Okay, Josh. But please, I just want to get on with my day.”

“Shooting bad guys? Or are you just gonna wrestle them like that woman back there?”

She felt her anger flare again. Who was this guy to tell her how she was feeling? Some asshole dropout with a bad haircut. But he was right. If she was okay, she wouldn’t feel that same rush of adrenaline she’d had before the altercation indoors. “Maybe you’re right,” she said quietly.

They crossed the road to a bench near her car. She sat down with the bagels on her lap and took another deep breath. “I know you, don’t I?” Josh asked after a minute or so.

“Oh jeez…”

“You’re the detective involved with that Hammersmith case, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“That why that bitch went for you?”

She smiled slightly and gave him a sidelong look. “Yeah, that’s about it.”

“People are assholes I guess.”

That made her laugh. She ran a hand across her hair again. Something about this guy put her at ease somehow. He grinned back at her. “Sorry,” she said, “I’m having…well…I’m about to have…kind of a shitty day.”

“Why?”

“I got…we got…some dipshit documentary crew or something…”

Josh raised his eyebrows. “Documentary crew?”

She shook her head. “You know, one of these cable shows where they follow cops around. They want to do some stuff with us in homicide. All my lieutenant’s idea. PR shit.” She made a disgusted noise in her throat.

“Sounds like a…real drag.”

“Sounds like a fuck up waiting to happen.” She looked at him again. “I don’t know why I’m unloading this stuff on you. It’s not your problem.”

“It’s fine. How you feeling?”

“A little better, thanks.” She straightened her back. “Yeah. I don’t want to punch anyone at all.”

“That’s good.”

She stood up and tutted at her ruined shirt again. Maybe Jones would have something she could borrow. His wife was about twice the size of her, but you never knew. “Listen, hey, thanks again,” she told Josh.

“It’s cool. Just trying to help out someone in need.”

“That’s my job.” She grinned. “If you’re ever in trouble, like getting murdered or whatever, I’ll try to return the favour.”

“I’ll bear that in mind. And, hey, good luck with the documentary dipshits today.”

“Thanks.”

When she climbed back into her car, she realised she’d left her cellphone just sitting on the dash where anyone could have seen it. She sighed to herself again, then jumped a little when it started to buzz. She picked it up. Josh was still watching her from the bench and she turned her head slightly so she wasn’t looking at him. “Carter.”

“Carter, it’s Colburn.”

“Lieutenant?”

“We just got a call from a patrol downtown. You still on your way in?”

“Yeah, just about to swing by and pick up Jones.”

“Well go get him and head for Seccombe Lake. Sounds like there’s a situation there.”

“Okay, I’m on it.” She hung up and realised with a start how relieved she felt. She’d been dreading going into the station this morning. Now she didn’t have to. Weird way to feel about someone finding a body. She looked up to see that Josh had now left and, feeling oddly disappointed, she pulled out into the road and headed for her partner’s place.

Jones was pissed off about his coffee. He grumbled all the way to the crime scene. Even when she explained what had happened, he didn’t shut up. “You couldn’t put my fuckin’ coffee down before you jumped her?”

“I didn’t jump anyone,” Carter told him, swinging the steering wheel around as they pulled into a parking bay by Seccombe Lake Park. The whole area was taped off and she could see a few uniformed beat cops standing around looking bored. “Where the fuck are forensics?”

“Probably enjoying their coffee.”

They got out and headed across the park to the heart of the cordon. There were a couple of patrol cars parked right on the grass. Jones took out one of his bagels and took a big bite out of it. “Cold as shit.”

“Shit’s warm,” Carter said absently.

“You’re fuckin’ gross.” He wiped bacon grease from his stubbled chin with the back of his hand. “What’s the deal here anyway?”

“I dunno. Colburn didn’t say much.” She flashed her badge absently as they reached the cordon and one of the patrolmen lifted the tape that was strung between two trees to let her underneath. There were a few bystanders around the edge of the park. A couple of trash collectors, a blonde jogger in spandex, some fat asshole walking his dog. “An audience. Just what we fuckin’ need.”

“Lap it up, girl,” Jones said through a mouthful of bagel, “you gonna be on TV soon anyway.”

“Jesus, don’t remind me.” She approached the officer on duty. “Sergeant.”

He nodded to her. “Detectives.”

“What we got here?”

He pointed to the lake. An ambulance was parked up. On the ground, she could make out a shape covered with some plastic sheeting. “Body. Dredged up less than an hour ago.”

Jones looked around. They were downtown, in the middle of the metropolitan area. City Hall was less than a block away. “Here?”

Carter took in the lights, the open parkland. “There have to have been some witnesses. C’mon, let’s take a look.”

They headed over to the body with the sergeant in tow. Two paramedics were waiting by the ambulance and they too exchanged nods with her and Jones. She paused and waited for the sergeant to crouch down and pull the plastic sheet back. Jones took another bite of his bagel and shook his head. “Hm.”

Carter squatted down beside the uniformed cop. “Late twenties,” she said, “Male. Hispanic.” She glanced up at the paramedics. “Drowned?” They shrugged.

“Forensics are on the way,” the sergeant said.

Carter tilted her head. He looked peaceful, with a composed expression on his face. She realised suddenly he was naked. She pushed the sheeting back to reveal his chest and then winced at the bruising underneath. “Looks like someone gave him a beating. We need to get a positive ID on this guy. No wallet or anything?”

“This is how we found him,” the sergeant said, “floating face down. There’s…uh…”

“What?”

“Other injuries, ma’am.”

“Show me.”

He fumbled a pair of gloves from his pocket. “We’ll have to turn him over,” he explained, a little sheepishly.

“What? Why?”

“The injuries are…uh…that is to say, they’re to his…”

“Oh jeez,” Jones said, “I’m fuckin’ eatin’ here!”

Carter cringed as she helped the sergeant roll the body onto its front and draw the sheeting back a little further, then drew back in disgust at the wounds that had been inflicted. “Well, I guess that paints a picture.”

“Nasty shit,” Jones said. He’d finally finished his breakfast and now dusted his hands off. “Looks like he was after some fun and ran into someone he shouldn’t have.”

Carter felt physically sick. She was plenty used to seeing sexual attacks like this, but this was the first one since what had happened with Hammersmith. Even if it was a man this time, it still made her heart beat faster as she imagined what he must have gone through. No doubt there was a lot of story to be told here, a lot of details they needed to look into, but there was nothing remotely mysterious about it. All they had to do was find the asshole responsible. She stood up and peeled off her gloves. “Anything more we can do here?”

Jones worked his finger in his teeth, dislodging a morsel of food. “Nah.”

She turned back to the sergeant. “All right. Call the station when forensics get here. And try and get rid of all these gawkers.” She jerked a thumb at the gathering crowd.

“Yes, ma’am.”

They made their way back to the car. “You okay?” Jones asked her.

“Yeah, why?”

“Well, you know, with everything that happened…”

She waved a hand. “It’s fine. This is my job, remember? Let’s just find whoever’s responsible for this.”

“You’re getting jaded. Cynical. Time was, you’d take this kind of thing personally.”

“What? A murder?”

“Yeah. Where’s the anger? Where’s the fire?”

“I dunno.” She stopped at the car. “I guess I’m just glad that poor sap didn’t get cut up or mutilated or anything.”

“He got mutilated plenty.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” he admitted, “should be some juicy stuff for these documentary assholes anyway.”

“Oh fuck,” Carter said, resting her arms on the roof. “I completely forgot about all that.”

“Yeah, well, put your game face on, sister. I’m sure they’re gonna want to interview you.”

“They can go fuck themselves.”

*

Everything was pretty normal at the station. Jones sat down heavily at his cluttered desk and began trying to locate his keyboard. Carter leaned on her chair and belatedly checked her e-mails. “I need coffee,” she murmured, “I spilt the last one all over me.” Jones hadn’t been able to provide a change of shirt and she was very aware that she looked a complete mess.

“You owe me one too,” Jones reminded her.

“I was paying, asshole. I don’t owe you shit.”

“Carter?” someone called out.

She looked up to see Lieutenant Colburn watching her from the door to her office. She smiled. “Can you come in here?”

“Sure, ma’am.” Smoothing down her rumpled shirt a little, she headed over.

“Everything okay.”

“Sure. Why?”

“You’ve got coffee on your shirt.”

“Just a little mishap on my way in to work.”

“What did you find at the lake?”

“Some latino kid. Someone beat him up and threw him in the water. Gotta wait for forensics to tell us some more.”

“Anything unusual?”

She grimaced. “Looks like he might’ve been sexually assaulted before. At least, I hope it was before…”

Colburn looked concerned suddenly. She put a hand on her arm. “You want me to give this one to Beauchamp.

“Huh? No way! Uh…ma’am.”

“Okay.” She still had that look in her eyes, but she held the door to her office open and gestured Carter inside. “You know about the documentary thing today, right, Hannah?”

“Yeah, sure.” She wasn’t looking up as she walked into the office, but as the lieutenant spoke, she became aware that there was someone else sitting in there.

“This is Mr Franklin. He’s directing the documentary.”

“Please,” he said, standing up, “call me Josh.” He held out a hand and grinned at Carter. “Do you know you’ve got coffee on you?”

This entry was posted in Contemporary, Crime, Novella, Sexuality. Bookmark the permalink.

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