by Martin Maenza
Officer Liza Warner took the stairs to the police precinct two at a time. As she reached the door at the top, she turned to see Harvey Bullock huffing and puffing as he climbed the remaining three steps. “It was awfully nice of you to take me to lunch, Detective Bullock,” she said, “but you didn’t have to escort me back to work. I am capable of taking care of myself.”
“No argument there,” Harvey said between gasps. “I ‘preciate ya acceptin’ my offer.”
Liza smiled. “Well, I really do need to get back to work. See if anything more has come up on the murder case.”
“Mind if I tag along?” Harvey asked. “I mean, I was there when the body was found and all.”
Liza bit her lip. Bullock almost looked like a sad bulldog with those eyes. She figured it probably couldn’t hurt. “All right,” she relented as she opened the station door. “But you’ve got to promise to stay out of my way, okay?”
“Ya won’t even know I’m there,” Harvey said.
As they stepped into the busy station house, the place was full of activity. A young woman sat on the bench, battered and bruised, as she waited to file assault charges against her boyfriend. Another couple sat fretting as they waited to hear word on their missing son. Liza recognized the moods in their faces; she’d been in this line of work for a long time, and it was for helping people like them that she’d become a police officer.
Suddenly, a uniformed officer with red hair looked up and noticed her arrival. “Officer Warner!” Paul called out as he waved to her. “Officer Warner, I have some news for you!”
Liza Warner and Harvey Bullock rushed over to his desk. “What kind of news, Paul?” she asked.
“Not the good kind,” Paul said. “You know those items you brought in earlier, for that murder case?”
“Yes,” Lisa said.
“They’ve been stolen! Someone broke into the evidence room and stole them!”
Liza and Harvey exchanged looks of surprise.
The next stop for Jonny Double and Angel O’Day was the coroner’s office where the Angle Man’s body had been taken. “You thinkin’ maybe his grievin’ widow might show up here?” Jonny asked as they sat in the waiting area.
“If she did commit the murder, I doubt she will,” Angel stated. “But I wanted to see if the cause of death was determined yet. That might help us figure out what kind of woman this Duchess Castlebury is, assuming she was the murderer.”
Suddenly, the door to the lab area opened, and a tall figure of the man entered the room. He was dressed in white scrubs, with some blood stains on the material. His face was oblong in shape and his head balding, except for two tufts of curly black hair that stuck out from just above his ears. “Yes, can I help you?” the man said in a deep, almost eerie voice.
Angel stood up. “Hello, Dr. Vargas. I’m Angel O’Day,” she said extending her hand. She noticed that the man did not take it. “Um… Yes, and this is my associate Jonny Double. I phoned you a little while ago about coming in to view a body.”
The man rubbed his lower lip as if he were in thought and paused for a moment. Then he said, “Oh, yes, of course. Won’t you follow me, please?” He stepped into the lab area and motioned for the detectives to follow.
The room was full of metal counters with various tools on them. The wall to the back was covered with long drawers. The entire place had a sickening smell of embalming fluids and other chemicals. Dr. Vargas went to the table, pulled out a set of latex gloves, donned them with a loud snapping sound, and proceeded to one of the drawers. “And the body you wanted to see again?” he asked as casually as if he were asking if she wanted a drink of water.
“Angelo Bend,” Angel said. “Also known as the Angle Man.”
Vargas nodded. “Yes, of course. The costumed man. Very interesting color choices.” He moved down the row to the third one on the left, grabbed the handle, and heaved the drawer open with a good, strong tug. The tray slid out to its fully open position with a loud clank. A white cloth covered the body; only the ends of the feet with a tag on the left big toe were visible under the sheet.
“Here we go!” Vargas announced as he pulled off the sheet dramatically. The still body looked drained of color, and the chest cavity was open and exposed. Jonny Double gagged slightly.
“Guess that chili dog wasn’t a good idea after all,” Angel said. She turned back to Vargas and the body, moving closer to get a good view. “So tell me, doctor, have you come to any conclusions about the cause of death?”
“Well, Miss,” the forensic doctor began, “the body did appear to have a number of severe burns to the hand. That could have been caused by any number of things. But that did not lead to his death.” He began to poke around the open chest cavity with his gloved right hand. “I did examine the heart and other organs for any signs of unnatural failures.” He removed a bloody glove, and Jonny went for the nearest trash can. “I didn’t see any signs of that. But there did appear to be some lung collapse.”
Angel nodded. “Any signs to what might have caused that?”
“Why, yes,” Vargas said. “After cutting away his costume, it was obvious that these marks upon his neck were related to the cause of death.” He moved back so that Angel could get a good look at the man’s neck; there were thick bruises to his entire throat, all the way about the neck.
Angel nodded. “Strangulation.”
“Yes, exactly,” Vargas said in his non-animated way.
Suddenly, the police scanner in the corner of the room came to life with a squawk. That actually startled Angel a bit. “Oh, don’t mind that,” Vargas said. “I like to listen to the police bands while I work.”
“Charming,” Angel said. Then part of the broadcast caught her attention.
“…repeat, a costumed criminal has been sighted near the Sand-Dunes! Man has been identified as the Angle Man. Repeat, the Angle Man…”
Angel and Jonny both glanced at the lifeless body in the drawer and exchanged surprised looks. “Thank you, Dr. Vargas,” she said, “but we need to go! Come on, Jonny!”
“Right behind you,” the brown-haired man said as he wiped his chin with a napkin and tossed it into the trash.