Beyond the Veil
It was around 10:25 at night when the call came and the motel on Freedom Place was packed with people. They stood along the sidewalks, their eyes turned upwards towards a set of windows that seemed to have stencils painted on them resembling fireworks in the night sky. Only they weren't stencils, and they certainly weren't crayon etchings of a Fourth of July scene. The stench told the detectives otherwise.
The chickens' entrails were strewn everywhere, its blood leaving its stains along the once immaculate walls, its stench permeating past the door and the windows that had been flung open by the screaming landlord who was now demanding his deposit to no one in particular. The police had arrived and cordoned the area with the ever-familiar yellow tape that only seemed to attract more people to the scene, as they peered past the policemen's shoulders and the CSU's white backs.
Mike Logan glanced at his partner as he flashed his badge, dodging the yellow tape even as one of the uniformed officers pulled it up, giving them room to slip through. As they passed through, the man handed them plastic shoe covers, and as Mike put them over his worn out leather shoes, he understood why. The scene before him was a mess.
"Reminds me all of a sudden of my dinner," Lennie Briscoe muttered as they made their way towards the Crime Scene Unit technician kneeling over a body soaked in blood.
Mike only smirked. "Just don't relive it, Lennie."
The CSU technician looked up at the two detectives, his frown deepening as they approached. He held a gloved hand up, stopping them. "Unless you guys have weak stomachs, I gotta warn ya." He said.
Mike slipped the latex gloves on, suddenly slipping another one over the first one. There was simply too much blood in the room and it was making him queasy. From the corner of his eye, he could tell that Lennie had felt the same way as well, the color draining from the older man's face.
The body had been found on its stomach when the police arrived, and when the CSU came to inspect the body, the chief technician turning it over only after all the preliminary steps were performed, they found that the victim didn't have much of a stomach left after his ordeal, and some of the technicians had to step out of the scene of the crime. "I tell you, Logan," said the technician, shrugging his shoulders as he sighed. "I've never seen anything like it."
"Any more of this and I'll turn vegetarian." Mike muttered under his breath as he followed the technician towards one side of the room. He pointed to a wall where another technician, with a ruler in one hand and a protractor in the other. Mike watched as the technician was actually measuring the blood on the floor, the width of its spray, and its concentration. Although he knew that people actually did specialize in that kind of forensics, the thought of studying blood drops, width and direction was too morbid for him to even comprehend. But he could not deny the fact that it had helped cases.
The victim was stabbed once in the chest and from there, he was stabbed a couple times more." Said the chief technician. "There was a struggle and he was finally taken down here." He pointed to a spot a few feet away from the body. "Before he finally died, or was...how should I say, disemboweled there."
"Is this some kind of a ritual?" Lennie asked. "The chicken, the candles...maybe something for Halloween?" Halloween was only three days away and already Lennie had heard his neighbor telling his kids to keep their black cat indoors. Too many weird things going on, he had said.
"Probably," mused Mike. "Look at the chicken feathers here, where it looks like some kind of altar, and on that wall over there," he pointed to a wall bearing a pentagram painted with blood. "Looks like some kind of an exorcism."
"Where's the rest of him?" Lennie asked. He hadn't touched anything ever since they had entered the crime scene and Mike could understand why. The scene was going to take a while before it would be thoroughly gone through like a fine toothed comb. But as Mike looked at the blood splattered on the wall, he could already make out handprints, and he felt the hair at the back of his neck stand on end as he realized that the handprints were small. Like that of a young child, or a girl.
"Detectives," called out one of the uniformed guards standing just outside the door. "They just found a girl wandering down 90th and Amsterdam all bloody. She tried to hail a cab, but someone called the cops instead."
"That put an end to her party," muttered Lennie as he began walking out of the room, relieved that he would have to wait till CSU would finish their job without having him hang around.
They found her at Saint Vincent's, where she had been taken after exhibiting signs of shock and a fierce-looking cut to her side that proved to be superficial. By the time they got there, she had been given sedatives and, the doctor said, was in a delicate condition. Mike peered through the door, his eyes gazing at the sleeping young woman with long brown hair and skin of ivory. The hospital staff had cleaned her up after doing all the preliminary tests, and Mike could have sworn she didn't look a day over twenty-one. Her left arm, lying atop the covers, bore a bandaged elbow.
"How delicate?" Mike asked, sounding slightly annoyed. It was almost midnight, and he wanted something accomplished before the night would turn into day. At least, he thought, give us a name.
"She hasn't spoken since she got here. She's got some bruises, no internal bleeding, or signs of rape, but she's been through something. Shows signs of smoke inhalation, but we're still working on it." The doctor said, glancing at his chart as he spoke.
"The blood on her," Lennie began. "Was it all hers? From her wound?"
The doctor looked up, surprised. "Funny you mentioned that, detective. No, as a matter of fact, it wasn't all her blood. They've identified someone else's and that of a chicken."
The detectives looked at each other as the doctor spoke the last sentence and Lennie took a deep breath, canting his head towards the far end of the hallway where two uniformed policemen were standing. "Well, doctor," he said, signaling the men forward. "These policemen will be standing guard outside this woman's door while she remains in her 'delicate' condition. She's a suspect to a murder."
The delicate girl's name, they found out later, was Cassie Richardsen, a twenty five-year-old resident of Brooklyn, according to her NYU school ID, which had already expired in '98. Although there was nothing in their records about her, the victim in the hotel room was her younger brother, Garret, recently reported missing by his grandmother. Both of their parents had died four years ago in a fire.
The next morning, Mike and Lennie were at the hospital faced with an empty bed and two bewildered policemen. They had stood guard all night, they claimed, and no one had gone past them except for hospital personnel. Two nurses and no one else.
Yet despite their claims, the suspect had disappeared, having somehow knocked the nurse aide unconscious with a blunt object they had yet to recover, and had made it out of the hospital undetected.
"Mike, something's just not right," Lennie muttered angrily as they left the hospital grounds, standing in front of a newsstand that displayed headlines screaming about voodoo rituals in the city. "I bet the ME should have some answers by now."
As Mike slipped into the car, he could not help but feel as if they were being watched and as he fingered the flag pin along his lapel, he shivered.
At the precinct, the Medical Examiner's preliminary report indicated that the victim had been stabbed three times, the third stab wound cutting his torso open. There were no witnesses even seeing him at the hotel that night, although one prostitute claimed that he was young runaway, new to the streets and had probably been picked up by some john. Mike didn't know what to believe.
Forensics didn't have much good news to bestow upon them as well. According to fingerprints lifted from the scene, there another person with them that night. The third person, whose prints were currently being run against the police database, had been seen entering the room at around eight that evening, according to the front desk clerk. He was described as being about six feet tall, 250 pounds, and had black hair.
"Like those punk rockers, dude," the man at the front desk had been quoted as saying. "Only this one was huge."
"Whatever this is," said Captain Cragen, slapping the report on his desk. "It doesn't seem like you guys are gonna be treat or treating tonight."
"If you'd seen what we saw last night, Captain, you wouldn't mind living on candy for a while, so please spare us." Mike said, picking up the report and thumbing through it. "Any more of that kind of crime scenes and I'm swearing off red meat for a long time."
Lennie frowned. "Bad joke, Mike."
Cragen stood up to face the window. "You'd had thought things like this only happened in New Orleans. Voodoo and all that. It's not an easy thing to stomach."
"Another bad joke, Captain." Replied Mike. He excused himself to get some coffee without asking them if they wanted any. He could feel his annoyance grow by the minute.
What wasn't easy for Mike to stomach was the fact that they had no suspect to question. They were faced with no leads, except for fingerprints belonging to some unnamed gigantic punk rocker.
As for the young woman, why did she run? Was she afraid of something, or was she guilty? He had read the ME's report and it had said that Garret had been stabbed repeated by someone tall, the force of the blows consistent with someone who was the same height as the victim's.
Cassie was only five feet three inches tall while Garret was a lanky six feet two inches. Had she been witness to her brother's death, and had run away afraid that the killer would stalk her next? Did she consider the two policemen standing guard not protection enough?
"Mike," someone said behind him and Mike turned to see Fiorelli looking at him, a quizzical look on his face. As Mike turned to face him, he was suddenly aware that all eyes were on someone else beyond the hallway.
"Someone's looking for you."
The first thing he noticed about her was her skin, luminous and smooth. And when she looked up, Mike realized that her eyes were almost violet, with a slight cloudiness to them. It made her look almost like a cat and he walked towards her, her name forming on his lips.
She made her way towards Mike, and it wasn't until she stumbled towards him, her hand holding a folded up white and red cane, that Mike realized Cassie Richardssen was blind.
"I could hear him yelling for me to run," she said, her disembodied voice floating eerily from the speaker in the cubicle opposite the interrogation room, separated by a two-way mirror. "I tried to save him, but the tall guy cut me, and pushed me against the wall. Then I heard Garret scream...so I..."
Mike looked up towards the mirror, a pained look on his face as if imploring to some unseen force to stop the questioning. The girl began to cry silently, unable to speak any more as her body was wracked by sobs.
Garret, she claimed, had been invited by this tall stranger to some pre-Halloween party, and Cassie had tagged along. It was all supposed to be in good fun, she said, but it turned ugly. When they asked her about the chicken and the symbols on the wall, she said that it was all the stranger's doing.
Cragen flicked the switch and the cubicle suddenly became deathly silent. Next to him stood Lennie, his eyes still staring at the girl through the mirror. Both men were silent, as if assessing the situation. Cragen knocked on the glass and the three men watched as Mike said something to Cassie, who only nodded in reply. Mike got up and headed for the door.
"We've identified the fingerprints found on the scene of the crime to that of Sigfried Hollestich, who resembles the man she claims her and her brother met last night." Said Cragen, stepping aside to allow Mike into the room. "He's served some time for assault and battery, and there's a warrant for his arrest stemming from an arson case that killed some family four years ago."
Cassie was housed at a hotel called the Lombardo close to the Garment district where racks of fashionable haute couture were transported along the sidewalks and streets, pressed and ready to be sold at fine Fifth Avenue shops. It was a small hotel, but it proved inconspicuous enough for the police department to house witnesses they considered needed protection. Cassie was one of them. Outside, Mike saw the policemen outside the hotel talk to her loudly as if she were deaf, and he had to laugh, realizing how uncomfortable most people did feel when faced with someone with a handicap.
"The only handicap I see," said Lennie, raising the collar of his wool coat to cover his neck as he readied for home. "is ignorance." He gave a cursory glance towards Mike as he made his way out of the precinct. "I've got a dinner date with another future ex-wife tonight." He said and Mike laughed, knowing too well Lennie's running joke about his dates, and his habit of making them ex-wives within two years.
As for Mike, he was content. Six hours later, walking along the Pierpont Morgan Library with his arm around Anita, his current 'flavor of the week,' as Fiorelli would say, Mike allowed himself to relax. Anita had slipped her hand beneath his brown leather jacket, slipping her well-manicured hands inside his shirt and playing with his chest. He listened to her talk in her Brooklyn twang, chewing gum as she spoke. When she became silent, Mike turned to see that she had stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. He hated it when she chewed gum all the time.
"Why the frown, Mike?" She asked, clucking the gum as she spoke and Mike winced. But as he turned to look away, checking to see if it was all right to cross the street, he stopped in his tracks, gripping Anita's shoulders tightly as he did so.
"Ouch!" She yelped. "Not too rough there, babe. We ain't home yet."
Mike let her go, and began running towards a lone figure seated along the steps of the museum, playing with a red tipped cane on the concrete, as if playing some tune. Tap. Tap. Tap.
She recognized him before he said anything, and Mike saw her smile. "Detective Logan."
Maybe it was because of his cologne, he thought, that she remembered about him. Or maybe his aftershave. But it was of no concern to Mike as she stopped her tapping. "What the hell are you doing here?" He asked her, wondering what the hell she had been thinking going out alone at night. "You're blind--"
"And what?" She countered angrily. "Blind and helpless? Unable to take care of myself? Is that what you were about to say, Detective?"
Mike stopped, suddenly embarrassed. "No, Cassie. That's not what I meant. Look, it's past midnight, and I don't know what you're doing out here. But New York isn't exactly kind to people who happen to young and beautiful, sitting around on museum steps past midnight." He peered at her, hoping he'd catch a glimpse of understanding on her face. Especially if they're blind, he also wanted to add, but thought against it.
"Detective, you better get going. I can take care of myself," she began saying as she got up, smoothing her dark dress over her thighs and pulling at her lambswool coat. "Besides, Alfred isn't going to be too happy."
"Alfred?" He asked, bewildered. "What are you talking about?"
Cassie giggled. "Alfred Sung." She took a deep breath, inhaling the air between them. "That's what your date is wearing. That, and..." She took another whiff, and Mike found himself smiling, amused as she leaned forward, her face brushing against his. "Juicy fruit."
Anita wasn't angry when he told her that she had to go home alone. She was livid. Even when he told her that he had to escort Cassie to her hotel and that he would call her the moment he would get home, Anita was not about to accept excuses. She called herself a cab, slamming the door as the cab screeched away.
They walked all the way to the Lombardo, which was about eight blocks away, but Mike didn't mind. She dispensed of the cane, as she preferred, when in the company of somebody without the impediment of sight, to hook her hand in the crook of his arm and walk alongside him. Mike only shrugged. No problem, he told her. It will look like we're just a normal couple out on a stroll. Secretly, he was pleased that they had bumped into each other tonight.
"Why aren't you in costume, Detective Logan?" She asked him as a group of Halloween revelers walked past them, shouting and whooping it up on their way to a club on 14th Street. "I'd have thought that a serious detective such as you would have a fun side."
Mike only shrugged. He couldn't exactly tell her that ever since he had seen her brother's disemboweled body last night, he had lost all desire to dress up and be ghoulish when he saw it as part of his daily routine almost every day. Only the ones he saw weren't dressed up for Halloween, or for some masquerade ball to benefit a cause at the Natural History Museum. No, these bodies were real. They were all too real.
"It's a children's holiday, Cassie." He replied.
She smiled, squeezing his arm and Mike brought his arm over her, pulling her closer as she snuggled against him. She felt so vulnerable and childlike, but he knew that she was also very much a woman. He had seen it as she lay on the hospital bed, clad in the thin gown, her hair falling all around her face and her full lips parted slightly as she had slept. He'd seen the way her chest rose and fell with each breath, and the way her hand touched his as they walked.
When they reached the Lombardo, the two policemen were standing along the sidewalk and although Mike raised his hand in acknowledgement, they didn't see him. So he walked on into the hotel, walking ahead of her in the narrow hallway as she followed him, her hand lightly touching the sleeve of his leather jacket.
Her accommodations were spartan at best. For seventy-five dollars a night, one couldn't expect too much for the police department didn't have much of a budget to play around with. A full sized bed stood on one end of the wall, opposite the bathroom, and the television set had been left on while she was away. QVC was premiering the Irish collection on the screen, selling shamrock necklaces and plaques with famous Irish sayings and toasts.
"I like to listen to the television. I hate it when it's too quiet." She said, as she walked in. "Won't you come in, Detective?"
Mike took a deep breath, ready with his answer, which was a no.
"Please." She added and Mike found himself crossing the threshold, closing the door behind him as she made her way slowly towards the table at the far end of the room. He could hear her pouring them both a drink of something.
Mike never planned anything to happen that night, but it was as if something else had taken over him. He drank in her mysterious beauty and childlike vulnerability, taking in the violet eyes that never could really see him, but in many ways, saw more than anyone else ever had. When she turned to face him, Mike felt the room suddenly sway around him and he took a step forward to steady himself but she was suddenly before him, her hand behind his neck, pulling his face down to meet hers.
When his lips met hers, they were cold yet only for a second as she warmed up to him and he pulled her closer to him almost savagely, savoring her sweetness. He felt her hands playing with his hair, sending chills dancing up and down his spine as he picked her up and lay her on the bed, burying his face against the soft nape of her neck
Shrugging his jacket off and tossing it on the floor, Mike could feel her fingers tugging at the buttons of his shirt and he felt her hands caressing his skin, playing with the hairs on his chest. She felt so soft against him, her body yielding to his own. Her body seemed to slither against his own, dancing beneath him in a dance only he knew and he buried his lips on her mouth once again, his hands feeling the softness beneath the dress she wore, tugging at the flimsy fabric, seeking solace in her softness.
He ran his hands against her body, smooth and tender beneath his roughened hands, pulling at her taut nipples as she arched her back and called out his name. Oh, Mike, she called out, and he found himself answering with his touch. He felt her writhe sinuously beneath him, the skin of her thighs slamming against his own, sending him into heights he never thought he'd ever been. It was almost like he were on some forbidden drug and she were its source, beckoning him to come back for more as he kissed her lips, explored the depths of her womanhood sheathed in silken folds and honeyed juices, allowing her to claim him with her forked tongue.
All around them, candles flickered as they made love and Mike never once thought how they all came to be. Maybe, he thought as her body moved sinuously beneath him, the candles were already there, lit and waiting.
But as he drank in the intoxicating nectar of her body, he found himself not caring. Neither one of them needed to say anything. Neither one of them wanted to. And when he lay beside her, spent and out of breath, he watched her fingers play against his skin, tracing invisible outlines on his chest, circles and triangles that bore no meaning or reason, except that it felt good to feel her hands against his warm body.
As if enticed by a gentle surf, he found himself drifting into the frigid darkness and slowly, the candles were no more, as if extinguished by a cold breath that permeated through his skin, chilling him. He closed his eyes, welcoming it.
She was gone when he awoke. Yet Mike found himself in his own bed, in his own apartment, lying naked beneath the covers. He found himself moving towards the living room, hoping to see her there, maybe sitting on the couch, but he found no one. His door, bolted from the inside, proved itself a stark reminder that it had all been a dream, yet as his hand brushed against his lips, Mike realized his lips were sore, his body still tingling. It was as if some thin veil between his world and hers had lifted and he felt suddenly empty.
Suddenly the beeper on his side table sounded, slicing through his reveries like a locomotive, yanking him back to reality. Another body, another day. He only hoped it wasn't hers.
They had found the body at precisely 7:23 in the morning of Saturday, the day after Halloween. A portly woman from Mexico, who had discovered the body during her weekly visit to her husband's grave, kept crossing herself every ten minutes. Mumbling about chupacabras, muertos, and Santos, she ended up fainting dead away by the mausoleum entrance when Mike and Lennie walked in.
"Maybe it's that tie," Lennie joked and Mike glared at him, his eyes framed with dark circles from lack of sleep. Mike could almost classify his emotions this morning as tumultuous and he felt terrible. The night's events had taken him off guard, and Mike found himself struggling to reconcile with the fact that he had just spent the night with a witness to a crime, if not a suspect.
Hollestich's body was found sitting against the mausoleum wall, his eyes wide open in fright, his teeth clenched tight in a macabre grimace. His hands, in full rigor, had stayed clawing at something unseen and Mike noticed that a Ruger semi-automatic, unused, was right next to the victim's body. Why hadn't Hollestich used it?
"Possible heart attack. I wouldn't be surprised if he was hiding out here, and got scared out of his wits with all this scary looking kids running around last night. Possibly four hours ago, this man met his maker." The coroner surmised, as Lennie looked at the body. Mike had stepped outside where other CSU technicians were scanning the area for evidence.
"But we'll run toxicology tests and the usual tests to rule out anything else, of course." He added.
"I'm glad you remembered what your job really was, Max," countered Lennie lightheartedly. "For a moment there, I thought you were about to change careers on us."
The caretaker, a man in his fifties, stood along the side, talking to one of the police officers and Lennie approached him. "I saw him yesterday afternoon," he began saying. "He was ranting about not knowing that she was in the house and all that. That he hadn't meant to do it." The guy shrugged his shoulders. "I would have called the police but then we had a couple vandals last night as well...usually happens around Halloween."
"Hey, Lennie," Mike called out from outside. "You gotta look at this."
Outside, they found a makeshift altar of candles, rotting chicken parts and an assorted set of beads scattered all over. "Was Hollestich practicing some voodoo ritual or something?" Lennie said out loud.
Mike got down on his haunches and using a gloved hand, picked up a partially burnt piece of paper measuring about three inches all around. It had scribbles all over it and Mike squinted to read what was left of it.
"Becca...?" He flipped it over, bringing it closer to his face. "It reads 'becca' on one side, I think. And a word that looks like 'dead' on the other side." He handed it to Lennie, who was ready with a paper baggie to enclose the note in. "What do you make of it?"
"I don't know. I think you were right on the money. It does read 'becca' on one side, and 'dead' on the other." He handed the baggie to a CSU technician.
"Now isn't it strange that this guy, Hollestich, was doing some kind of voodoo ritual when he could have just killed whoever it was he was afraid of. And if he was doing some kind of ritual...against what? Oh, and Mike, he is a prime suspect to an arson case from four years ago. Mike?"
But even as he was speaking, Mike had gotten up, having seen something from afar. Lennie looked and saw Cassie standing along a row of tombstones atop a small hill, already turning away from them.
"What the hell is she doing out here?" He mumbled even as Mike was sprinting towards her, yelling her name.
Is she deaf, too? Mike wanted to blurt out as he ran towards where she had stood but she had not heard him. As he reached the place where he had seen her, Mike glanced all around him, seeing no sight of her. With hands on his hips, Mike swore under his breath.
He suddenly remembered the way her lips felt against his own, feeling himself blushing as the memory of last night returned. But as a cold wind blew, slicing through his neck like a cold knife, Mike cursed as his foot hit something on the ground and he recognized Cassie's cane.
Lennie saw Mike on his knees by the time he got to the hill, Mike's face pale as a sheet as if the wind had been knocked out him. Hard.
"Mike," Lennie began. "You...all right?"
The last word trailed from his lips as if his mouth had suddenly turned into sandpaper. If Hollestich had died from fright, Lennie would have had no trouble believing why as he read the etched words on the stone before them.
Cassandra Rebecca Richardsen
May your soul rest in peace
Sweetest angel beyond the veil