Post of the Forlorn
By K. Siegfried
It's a sorry state of affairs in the nation today when there's nothing more for a cop to do than fill out paperwork. Endless reams of unfilled paperwork, stacked in sky-high piles on my dinky desk. But I suppose its either get it done, or have my ass chewed by Van Buren until it is done. Despite the effort of all those sadistic little nuns in school, my handwriting still stinks to high hell so I'm left typing it up with a machine that's even older than my partner, believe it or not.
Briscoe doesn't believe the typewriter is out to get me. Van Buren just thinks I'm skirting my duties. The world is conspiring against me.
I should start with the bottom first and work my way skyward, but when it comes to paperwork, I like doing things the easy way. Digging my notepad out of my coat pocket, I crack open the first case jacket and flip to its corresponding page in my notes. Victim of a robbery gone bad, real bad. Had no idea what she was even doing in the neighborhood until I found the note under the wiper of a nearby car.
"I've had girls like this." I tried to picture her in my head. Hunched over the hood of the Camry, scratching out a letter on a ratty ad, balling too, no doubt. Mario, I fucking hate you. How easily could 'Mario' be replaced with some other guy's name? My name.
"Freakin' shame." I stared at a photograph of the document. Purple-brown ninhydrin stains from Trace dotted the note in the corners and along the torn margin. They found prints, the victim's and a few partials from some sap hired to distribute the flyers for an insurance company.
"Girls like what?" Lennie looked up from his triplicate form, blurry eyed from filling out reports. He slurped coffee from a mug. The murky liquid wasn't even hot anymore. Mine sure as hell wasn't.
"Ones who hate your guts one minute, then make nice and sweet the next." Tapping the file folder on my desk with a finger, I sighed. "Or the ones who get their panties in a bunch for not calling them the next day."
"Happen often, Mike?" He flashed me a cheesy grin.
I shrugged, lacking a reply. Never claimed I wanted something permanent, so why should they care. At least I ain't making any false pretenses. Tainted goods usually don't.
"Talk about bad breaks." Lennie shook his head. "Try to catch your boyfriend two-timing ya and get brained for your efforts."
"Nobody said this world was fair." And it wasn't. I'm living proof of that fabulous fact. "'Specially not this city."
"Ain't that the truth." The old man put down his pen and scratched at his temple. "What I don't get is the P. S. at the bottom. 'Page me later.' Doesn't exactly fit the tone of the rest of the note."
"She prob'ly meant to write 'page me later, you sonofabitch so I can give ya what ya've got coming,' but ran out of space." Smirking, I put my elbows to the desk and rubbed my hands together. "Come on, Len, you've got two exes. I'd think by now you'd know there's no way to explain 'em."
"Women? No. But at least I know enough not to get on the bad side of one. At least in theory anyway." He laughed and wrenched at his tie before scribbling more on the form.
Turning the page, I sobered. The M. E. photos stared up at me, presenting the victim in gory Technicolor. Despite my love-hate relationship with the females of the species -- the screaming-match-before-getting-my-ass-kicked-to-the-curb sort of love-hate -- none of them deserved this kind of treatment. The conclusions were written in Liz Rodger's script: cause of death for Amber Gallego was blunt-force trauma to the head, resulting in subdural hematoma.
She just wanted to let the prick know he couldn't get away with cheating on her.
"But he wasn't cheating." I quietly told the pictures.
"What's that?" Damn Lennie for not letting me mumble away in silence.
"He wasn't cheating on her." Looking up, he caught my eyes. Slowly his grin faded. "The car she tacked this love letter to wasn't even his."
"I know. Mistaken identity." Briscoe set his pen down again and folded his arms over his desk. "She got upset, went for a walk, crossed our perp's path, he tried to nab her purse, and beat her to death instead. Can't do anything about that."
This was affecting me more than it should. I've been with Mario in that hole-riddled boat before, sinking fast from the accusations. And even a few times I've been guilty of doing the deed -- that much I'll admit. "Yeah, I know. But Jesus, Lennie. Her last thoughts included her boyfriend boffing some other chick."
"What are you going to do, Mikey?" I knew he had thought the same thing. I could tell from his eyes. "The only thing you can do is make sure the scum who did this to her gets his time in for murder. He was looking for someone to victimize, and in her emotionally distressed state, Ms. Gallego was the perfect target."
"Scum like this got paroled in the first place. That I can't understand, Lennie."
"You're preaching to the converted." He shrugged, turning his palms up in a gesture of surrender. "And I've been in this business a lot longer than you have."
Rein it in, Michael. Make it flow like slime in a gutter. In with the good air, out with the bad.
Rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand, I turned the page. Glossies of the murder weapon from every angle filled the sheet. The bastard had used a broken pipe off the freakin' fire escape of all things. I got halfway though Forensics' description of the poor girl's brains still glued to the business end of the pipe before feeling a need to stop. Resisting the urge to gag, I skipped to the next paragraph on something a little tamer like the blood splatter pattern on the brick wall in the alley.
"At least he left us nice parting gifts."
"Yeah, ya'd figure that if he shredded his hand on the broken end, he'd at least be bright enough to take the pipe with him instead of leaving it." Lennie didn't look up, but kept writing. "Ya'd also figure that if he's a three-timer, he'd know about DNA evidence."
"If he's a three-timer, you're giving him too much credit in the first place." That got a snort out of Briscoe and I smiled. "Maybe he likes prison food so bad he wanted to go back."
"That or the social life."
"Hot lovin' in Sing Sing." I snarled and Lennie simply shook his head.
"Nothing. Just sounds funny when you say it so eagerly." Finally finished, he quickly read over the form one last time before scrawling his signature on the line. Glancing at his watch, he checked the date and marked it down in the provided spot. Taking a moment, he admired the form then shoved it into a folder.
"One down, several hundred more to go." With a heavy sigh, Lennie picked up the next file jacket and cracked it open. "Ah, the Bauer case. I thought I finished this one."
Snickering at the old guy's luck, I turned back to Amber Gallego's case on my desk. At least she'd be able to rest in peace. A third conviction on this guy would mean mandatory time and if the D.A.'s office didn't screw up or take a plea, at least twenty-five years. Grimly I hoped it would be enough for Amber and her family.
District Attorney's Office
One Hogan Place
What the hell was she thinking? Why would she try to confront him at that time of night?
McCoy snuck up on me while I was busy in thought, staring at the 8-by-10 glossy of the letter Detective Logan had found near the scene. Nor did I notice him until the words had already slipped out of my mouth.
"How's the summation going?"
"Bastard." Remembering whom I was talking to, I quickly looked up and blushed. The tall man stared down at me, eyebrows arched to his hairline in surprise.
"Excuse me, counselor?"
"Christ. Sorry, Jack. I wasn't directing that at you." Shaking my head, I watched as his brow returned to normal and a smile spread over his face. "It's this case. This letter."
From his change of clothes I realized it was late. Now dressed in his jeans and leather coat, Jack carried his backpack in one hand and helmet in the other. I guessed I was to be the only one greeting the cleaning crew tonight. But hopefully I'd have this damn summation done before too much longer.
"What about it?" Jack eased himself into the chair across from my desk and folded his arms over his chest. Five o'clock shadow had darkened his jaw line long ago and the light from my lamp made the circles under his eyes appear even deeper. Somehow I took comfort in the fact he was as exhausted as I was.
"This could have all been prevented, Jack. There had to be a reason why she was in that neighborhood to begin with, and this is it." Pointing to the picture, I spun it on my desk for him to look at. "People don't go Sunday driving in the city, and certainly not at 3 am."
"Claire." It was his 'let's be serious' voice. I dug my heels in.
"No, Jack. Dearest Mario must have done this before." I spread my hands wide, indicating the folder in front of me. "Why else would she have gone to check up on him? To see if he was at this other girlfriend's place?"
He leaned back in the chair and it creaked under his weight. Head slightly listing to one side, Jack sighed deeply. "Claire, you're missing the point."
"No, I know the point. It wasn't Mario's indiscretions that killed Amber Gallego, it was Samuel Moro taking a pipe to her head that killed her. But that's not my point."
I was working up a good rant, and to hell with him if he was going to interrupt me. "This woman was in the wrong place at the wrong time because her boyfriend had put her in that position. He obviously had cheated before and got caught. He gave her reason to go check up on him. She was pissed off, Jack."
"Did Detectives Briscoe and Logan interview the boyfriend?"
"Yes." I knew what was coming next.
"And he was working the night shift, ten to six."
"So, he wasn't cheating?"
"No." Lowering my head, I rubbed my eyes. I was too tired, that's why this case was affecting me so much. Affairs, suspicion, deception, innocent mix-ups.
"Want to know what I think, Claire?" Jack's face softened as he leaned forward around the lamp, placing his forearms on the edge of my desk.
"Do I have a choice?" I smirked, enjoying the slight twinge of annoyance in his dark eyes.
"No." He replied, slightly indignant. "I'm not saying that you don't make a valid point --"
"But, Amber did have free will. Is that not our base argument in any case we take to trial?" Jack pursed his lips and I could see the internal wheels begin to spin, gathering his evidence to convince me. "Sure, he may have cheated on her before, gave her causality to think that he'd do it again, but why didn't she just leave him or wait until the morning to confront him? There are a million different arguments that could be made, Claire. And maybe, just maybe, he was telling her the truth when he said he wasn't cheating."
"First hand experience, Jack?" I deadpanned, waiting for his reaction. Sometimes my only fun in this job was making Jack McCoy flustered. He didn't deny me the satisfaction; his forehead dropped to his arms and he shook his head.
"Claire, you're killing me." I heard him mumble before raising his head to glare at me. "Jumped to the wrong conclusions. That's what she did."
"Because of the car?"
"Yes, because of the car. There has to be dozens of cars the same make and model as his in the city. Did she not consider that?"
"Yes. But think of it this way. What are the chances that some complete stranger with ties to that building would have the same exact car? Slim to none, Jack. I can see why she made the assumption. Hell, I would have."
And maybe that point is what got me about this case. That could have easily been me. I could have been Amber, pissed off at unreturned calls, deciding to take matters into my own hands. I would have gone to that apartment looking for a fight, looking for evidence against him. I might have even been so upset that I walked off alone and right into the willing hands of Samuel Moro.
Involuntarily I shivered, remembering the photographs in the file beneath the one of the letter. Amber Gallego, gray and blue, a greasy-with-blood hole in the side of her skull. Mouth gaped open in death, eyes dull beneath heavy lids. Dead, no longer breathing. No longer still loving that sonofabitch that cheated on her. Thinking with her last heart beat that the prick was tapping some skank.
"That's what's eating you about this, isn't it?" Jack's soft voice pulled me out of my thoughts and I reregistered the fact he was sitting in front of me. "That you would have done the same."
Damn him. Damn him for being able to get under my skin like that.
"Maybe." His eyebrow arched, forcing my confession. "Okay, yes. That could have been me."
Jack's hand reached for mine, his long fingers smoothing over my wrist. A smile traced his lips. "And that is what makes you such a successful D.A., Claire. You're ability to empathize with the victim. But at least take comfort in the fact that in less than twelve hours, Moro will be off the streets. He's not going to be able to do this to anyone else."
"Here's hoping. And maybe the Mario's of the world will learn something from this too." Upturning my hand in his, our fingers locked briefly together. "But I doubt it."
"Men aren't the only adulterers in this world." Smiling wildly, he stood, his warm touch leaving my hand. "Go home. Get some sleep."
"Yeah, I'm almost finished here." I tidied things as if to give truth to my words.
He started to turn away and head towards the elevator. "Jack?"
"Yeah?" Glancing back at me, he smiled.
"Thanks." I returned the gesture and his broadened.
"No problem." Watching him saunter around the corner, I sighed before turning back to my pad of paper. Somehow, after that, the words began to flow, etching out what must have been Amber's last thoughts as she had been beaten to death. Moro would pay with his freedom for what he had done. I'd see to that.