This week's story is a bit of crime fiction.
The bloody, furred thing lying in the alley was a severed cat’s tail. Detective Torres knelt and picked it up between a gloved thumb and forefinger, placing it in a plastic bag. He handed this over to Cheryl, who was staring down at the ground, her hand over her mouth.
“Detective Cannes,” he said.
“That poor animal,” she whispered.
She looked up at him as if surprised to see him. He shook the bag at her and she blinked. He inclined his head, indicating the audience of police officers and civilians that surrounded them. Her eyes cleared, understanding returning. “Right. Yes, Detective Torres.” She reached out and took the bag from him, holding it a small distance from her body.
“Get that to the lab asap,” he told her. She nodded and the crowded parted before her. Torres sighed. Cheryl was nice and all, but she was still new and showed far too much emotion for the job. He watched her for a moment to make sure that she made it through, then returned his focus to the task at hand.
There was a pool of blood that darkened the pavement in front of him, but he raised his eyes slightly and found what he was really looking for: spatters leading away from the scene. He stood and followed them further into the alley. They led up to an open dumpster and Torres could hear movement inside. Cautiously, he stepped up to the edge and peered inside.
It was a cat. With relief and disappointment, he noticed that it had a full tail, which was twitching as the cat ate. He let out a breath and the cat, hearing the sound, looked up at him, giving the detective a full view of the man’s half-consumed face. Unprepared for such a view, Torres felt his stomach roil before shoving it back into place. A piece of skin disappeared into the cat’s maw as it licked the blood from its whiskers. The sound echoed in the metal dumpster and, disgusted, Torres banged the side, scaring the animal from its meal. Its eyes dilated and it crouched, leaping from the man’s chest to the thin side and onto the ground. It was halfway down the alley when it turned back and looked at him. Its eyes glowed in the early morning light and despite the fact that he considered himself an experienced, unshakable professional, Torres shivered. He blinked and the cat was no longer there. Shaking off the eerie feeling, he called over two officers that were waiting nearby.
“Let’s get him out of there.”
Wordlessly, they obeyed. As they pulled him out, his wallet fell from his pocket. Torres swooped down and opened it.
“Whoa, that is awful,” said Cheryl, reappearing at his side. He barely paid attention.
“Not a robbery,” he muttered to himself.
He showed her the wallet. “Seems to have no money missing, credit cards are still there…whoever did this wasn’t looking to rob him.”
“What were they looking for?” she asked.
“Not sure yet.”
“And why the cat’s tail?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”
“How long do you think he’s been there?”
“Couldn’t have been long. A cat was making a meal of his face. Say what you will about cats, but they do tend to like their food fresh.”
“He lives here,” Cheryl noted. “Lived here, I mean.” She pointed to the ID inside the wallet. “Stephen Holden. His address is this building right here. Someone killed him and put him in his own dumpster? That’s so disrespectful.”
“I’d say killing him was disrespectful enough,” Torres commented. He straightened and started back the way he came.
“Where are you going?” Cheryl asked.
“I’m going to see if there are any witnesses,” he replied.
“What about Stephen?”
“We’ll get the report from the ME soon enough. In the meantime, I want to know if anyone saw or heard anything.” Cheryl hurried to follow him as he walked into the vestibule and pressed the button for apartment 2D. There was no answer. He buzzed again. Again, nothing.
A woman pulled the glass door open and walked into the vestibule. Torres stepped into her path. “Excuse me.”
She pulled back, startled. “What?”
“I’m sorry if I scared you, miss, but my name is Detective Torres and this is Detective Cannes.” He flashed a badge at her and Cheryl did the same.
“What is this about?” the woman asked him.
“Miss, may I ask your name?”
“It’s Susanne. Susanne Goldberg. What is this about?”
“Miss Goldberg, do you know a Stephen Holden?” The woman looked blank.
“He lived in 2B,” Cheryl added.
“Oh! Is that 2B’s name?” Susanne asked. “I’m afraid I never really learned my neighbors’ names. Sure, we see each other in the halls and all, but everyone pretty much keeps to themselves in this building.”
“Was there ever anything unusual about him? Anything out of the ordinary?” Torres asked her.
Susanne thought for a moment, then shook her head. “Not that I noticed.”
“Would you mind if we came in to speak to your neighbors?” Cheryl asked her, gesturing toward the door.
“What happened?” Susanne asked, not moving.
“Stephen Holden was found dead in a dumpster this morning,” she told her. Torres glanced sharply at his young partner, his eyes flashing a warning, but she didn’t see it.
Susanne raised a hand to her mouth, her eyes growing wide. “What?”
“When was the last time that you saw Stephen?” Torres asked her.
“Um, I…um…I think it was two days ago,” Susanne stammered.
“Where did you see him?”
“He…um, he was in the hallway. I was coming back from work and he was heading out.”
“Did he say anything…anything at all?”
“Just the usual. Just a quick ‘hey.’ We’ve never really said more than that.”
“Do you know if he had any enemies?”
“Enemies?” Susanne repeated. “Um, not really. Like I said, we don’t really know each other here.”
“Will the others in your building confirm that?” Torres asked her.
“I think so,” Susanne said.
“Thank you very much, Miss Goldberg,” said Torres. He indicated the door before them. “Would you mind?”
“What?” Susanne blinked. “Oh, yes, of course.” She fumbled through her purse and came up with the keys. She put two wrong keys in the door before she found the right one. She held the door open for them.
“Thank you,” said Cheryl. Torres nodded his gratitude.
“Do you have a number where we can contact you if we need more information?”
“Yes.” Quickly, she rattled off her phone number and Cheryl dutifully wrote it down.
“Thank you. You have a good day, miss.”
“Um, yeah. You too.” The detectives walked into the lobby. Cheryl looked back to see Susanne still standing there, holding the door. Then she seemed to come to her senses; she let go and walked into the day, off to wherever she was heading.
“She seemed nervous,” Cheryl commented.
“No more so than anyone who has just been informed of a death,” Torres said, heading for the elevator. A bell sounded as the doors opened to reveal a middle-aged man in a bathrobe and spectacles. He peered at them as they entered.
“Good morning, sir,” Torres greeted him. “Do you live here?”
“No, I’m just visiting a random building in my bathrobe.” The man smiled broadly to show that this was a joke, but when neither officer responded in kind, his mien sobered. “Yes, I’m in 1C.”
“And your name is?” Cheryl had her pen poised over her pad.
“Have I done something wrong?”
“We’re investigating a death in the building,” Cheryl told him.
“A death?” The man wrapped his robe more closely about him as though to protect himself from the information. “Who?”
“Why don’t we agree to share information?” Torres suggested.
The bell sounded again and the doors opened on the first floor. “This is me,” said the man. “My name is Sean Jacobson and I’m happy to assist in any way I can, but would it be okay for me to change before we speak? I wasn’t expecting company.”
“I believe we can make allowances for that,” said Torres.
“Thank you.” Sean stepped off the elevator and disappeared around the corner. As the doors moved toward each other, the detective shoved a hand between them to prevent them from closing.
“Follow him,” he said to Cheryl. “Radio me if you see anything.”
She swallowed hard, but she nodded and exited the elevator while Torres continued up to the second floor. He left the elevator and walked in the direction of Stephen’s apartment. 2B was located at the end of the hallway, next to 2D, while 2A and 2C were across the hall. It was quiet.
Torres cautiously tried the doorknob to Stephen’s apartment and was surprised to find the door was unlocked. He opened it slowly and made his way into the living area. There was no sign of struggle, nothing to suggest violence. The kitchen was impeccably clean; the living room furniture simple, yet tasteful; the bed was made and the closet organized. Stephen made a full sweep of the apartment and was on his way out when he noticed the cat food and water bowls sitting on the floor. His brow furrowed. He made another pass through the apartment, but was unable to find the feline. Torres’ radio crackled to life.
“Brian, get down here! He’s running!”
Torres sped out of apartment and down the stairs. He could hear footsteps on the stairs below him and Cheryl shouting, “Stop! Hey! I said stop!”
“Cheryl!” Torres bellowed, leaping down the stairs two at a time.
Torres reached the bottom landing and ran into the lobby catching up with Cheryl just as she ran through the open glass door. They hurried together out into the fresh air and Cheryl screamed to the few cops standing around. “Catch him!”
Torres was confused. The man Cheryl was pointing at wasn’t Sean at all; rather it was a tall, lanky man with a neatly trimmed goatee. The man saw the officers before him and tried to double back, but he couldn’t move fast enough and Torres was able to close the gap, wrapping his strong hands around the man’s thin frame.
“I want a lawyer!” the man screamed. “This is police brutality.”
“No one touched you,” said Cheryl.
“Cheryl, who is this?” Torres asked her, handing the man over to a pair of officers.
“Edward Milner,” said Cheryl, “and I’m pretty sure that he’s our murderer.”
“I didn’t do anything!” Edward hollered.
“Then why did you run?” Cheryl asked him.
“I saw you talking to Mr. Jacobson,” said Edward, “ and I heard that something had happened to Stephen.”
“He came tearing out of his apartment – which is 1B, by the way,” said Cheryl.
“Below Stephen Holden,” said Torres. Cheryl nodded.
“I figured that Mr. Jacobson was telling you about the cat and my threat, but I had to. I had no choice!”
“What threat?” Torres asked.
Edward groaned. “We’re not supposed to have pets in the building. Stephen had a cat and most of us knew about it. We kept quiet because we all have our ways of bucking the system, but that cat runs back and forth with his damn claws out on hardwood floors. Racing back and forth, making hellish noises at three in the morning! It’s rude and inconsiderate and I told Stephen that if he didn’t do something about it, I would. It’s been almost a year.”
“What exactly did you threaten to do?” Torres asked.
“I threatened to tell Mr. Jacobson about it.”
“Why would that matter?” Torres said.
“Didn’t he tell you?” Edward looked from one to the other. “He didn’t, did he?” The detectives shook their heads. “He’s the super and he’s got one hell of a temper for people who take advantage of him.”
Torres and Cheryl shared a glance. “When did you tell Sean Jacobson about Stephen’s cat?” Torres asked.
“Edward, do you have your key on you?” Torres asked.
The man handed over a silver key on a ring. The detective snatched it from him and ran back into the building, taking the stairs to the first floor, Cheryl and two officers right behind him. They went straight to apartment 1E and Torres pounded on the door.
“Mr. Jacobson! Police! Open the door!”
The door opened slightly, the chain still on. Sean Jacobson’s bespectacled face appeared in the crack. “What can I do for you?”
“You can open this door and speak to us,” said Torres.
“You got a warrant?” There was a pause. “Unless you have a warrant, I have no reason to let you in here.”
“Mr. Jacobson, we just want to talk.”
Before the super could respond, a streak shot past him into the hallway and Torres turned to see a cat with a bandaged stump for a tail racing away. “Catch the cat!” he hollered and Cheryl went running after it. He turned back to a closed door. “Get us in there,” he said to the officers. They obliged, breaking down the door to reveal an angry and nervous Sean Jacobson.
“You can’t do this!” he screamed, but quickly fell silent as the officers took him into custody.
“Mr. Jacobson, you are under arrest for the murder of Stephen Holden,” said Torres. “Anything you say can and will be used against you.”
As the officers hauled the struggling super out of the building, Cheryl came back carrying a furry bundle in her arms.
“How could anyone be so cruel?” she wondered.
It took almost two full days to sort everything out, but when the labs came back, they confirmed that it was Stephen’s blood on the cat’s tail. “Apparently, Stephen argued with Jacobson and refused to part with his pet. Jacobson, enraged at the noncompliance, grabbed the kitchen knife and went for the cat, but Stephen intervened and the knife sliced through the cat’s tail. Stephen was furious and fought with Jacobson, but ended up getting the knife’s point.” Torres sighed. “Jacobson did everything he could to clean it up, but someone must have heard something and called us to the scene earlier than he expected. He had no choice but to flee the scene, taking the cat back into his apartment for safe keeping until he could dispose of it unobserved. He was just coming up from the storage area in the basement when we saw him, so he played it cool, hoping we wouldn’t figure it out.”
“Thank god he couldn’t get to this guy,” said Cheryl, petting the purring animal in her arms. “I’m going to give him a good home. I’m sure that’s what Stephen would have wanted.”
“We never did find out that cat’s name,” Torres mused.
Cheryl smiled. “I’m going to call him ‘Super’.”
Super looked up at the name, then closed his eyes, and went to sleep.