Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Coffee and Serial

Warning: Strong Language, Mature Themes, Graphic Violence

A WHISP story. If you like it, please check out Whispers of a Killer (WHISPs Book 1)

The scene smells more like a slaughterhouse than a coffee shop, but I force myself not to cringe or wrinkle my nose. I’m the senior detective here and I need to act like it.

“I’m Detective Harbinger. What do we have?”

The first responder beat cop is wide-eyed and green around the gills. He swallows hard. “Single victim. Male. Jacob Beene. Um, found by the owner around seven a.m. when,” he takes a deep breath through his mouth, “a customer called to complain that the shop wasn’t open. Owner called 911. No one else but paramedics, owner, and I have been in there.”


He nods.

Considering the smell, they were optimistic. I point to bloody boot prints leading out the front door. “These from them?”

He nods again and sways slightly.

I glance down at his badge, Officer Trout, and stifle an inappropriate chuckle. “Officer,” I can’t bring myself to say his name, “why don’t you go outside and make sure forensics gets shoe impressions of all the paramedics?” And get some fresh air before you pass out.

He nods and bolts like a frightened colt.

I have more questions, like what time the coffee shop normally closes, what time it normally opens, if the victim was in a relationship and, if he was, if it was a stable one, but those can wait. Pulling booties and gloves from my pockets, I put them on before advancing to the store room. The tables in the customer area are all clean with the chairs stacked neatly on the tables, the counter is wiped down, and the cash register is closed. Doesn’t strike me as a robbery gone bad, but I reserve my judgement. Way too early to start a theory.

The hallway is likewise free of debris and blood other than the occasional smear from the paramedics’ shoes…but the smell is worse here. I begin breathing through my mouth. The heavy air presses in on me as I approach the wide open storeroom door. I’ll have to ask if it was open or closed when the owner arrived; if the obnoxiously flickering fluorescent bulb was on or off. Pressing my eyes closed, I stop and count backwards from three. At zero, I turn and gaze into the room from the doorway.

The scene is worse than I was imagining. It usually is. Not exactly shocking—after thirty years as a police officer, almost nothing is—but my breath catches. Blood is everywhere but in the body of the man on the floor. Large, jagged, gaping holes in the victim’s chest and abdomen expose the shiny organs beneath, which explains the crimson painted walls and bags of coffee, but I have no explanation for the angular bulge in his throat. There’ll be no getting up close to this body to search for subtle clues. The paramedics have already made Forensics’ job that much harder and I won’t add to the mess. Pulling back into the hallway, I carefully follow it to the emergency exit in the back. No alarm. I make a mental note of that, and of the rock undoubtedly used to prop it open. Nothing else to see here, I return to the front of the shop, avoiding looking into the store room. I’ll see plenty of photos later.


I leave Forensics to their work at the scene. Hours later, I haven’t left the precinct. After interviews with the wife, just back from a business trip, poor thing, and the owner of the coffee shop, most of my questions are answered; still, I’m no closer to a motive or suspect. The coroner’s full report is about a day out, but one question was answered by the preliminary report: a cell phone. That’s what was lodged in the victim’s throat. I’m sitting at my desk trying to wrap my brain around the physics involved when someone clears his throat. My heart hiccups. It’s Chief Lowman.

He gives me a grim smile. “Deep in thought, Detective?”

“Was just checking the preliminary coroner’s report. Why?”

Something over my shoulder catches his eye and he waves a hand. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

I turn to find a mid-height, muscular woman with close-cropped black hair, tan skin, and green eyes.
She holds out a hand. “I’m Detective Pereyra.” There’s a trace of tall mountains topped with llamas in her accent.

“Detective Harbinger.” After standing and shaking her proffered hand, I turn back to the chief. “What’s this all about?”

The chief nods to Pereyra and she takes over.

“Sorry to intrude on your case, but we asked the coroner to flag any cases with a specific MO, and yours has it.”

I don’t really have to ask. “A cell phone crammed down the victim’s throat?”

She nods.

“A serial?”

She nods.

“How many?”

Pereyra shrugs slightly. “Three, so far, we think. In NYPD jurisdiction, anyway.”

“Any other commonalities in the victims that we know of?”

“All the victims had WHISPs.”

Keeping my face neutral, a knot forms in my stomach. WHISPs. It had to be WHISPs. “I see.” I clear my throat. “Anything else?”

She shakes her head. “Not that we know of.”

“So, hate crimes maybe?”

“Maybe,” she agrees, “but if that were the case, you’d think they’d have left a message. You know, like ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against dark spirits of evil.’”

I nod slowly. She’s not wrong. There’s been a lot of talk about WHISPs being demons or a person’s guilty conscience manifesting in a creepy, grey shadow instead of being clouds of electromagnetic particles pushed out by cell phones, high-tension power lines, and god-only-knows what else. “So, you’ll be taking lead on the investigation?” Normally I’d be pissed about someone sniping one of my homicides, but in this case…

Her gaze stiffens and finds the chief.

He straightens and turns to me. “Harbinger, the commissioner wants you to head the investigation.”

Oh crap. “Me, Sir?”

“You have seniority here and he wants our best heading up this case. Wants it wrapped up quick and quiet before the press sinks its teeth in.”

No pressure. “But, Chief…” He must know. Everybody in the precinct knows about my shadow phobia after my blowout with Waller at the WHISP sensitivity training seminar last year.

“Is there a problem, Detective Harbinger?”

“No, Sir.” No problem. Shit.

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