I walked out the front door of the house and felt a hundred weary eyes on me. I took the three steps down to the concrete sidewalk and stopped. I turned and looked back into the entry way and watched Nicole tentatively walk out onto the concrete landing. She had put on a gray sweatshirt silk-screened with the compass emblem of the Kiln Valley Pathfinders. She wore a pair of jeans that seemed a little too big. She had traded her one pink slipper for a pair of khaki Timberland boots.
I heard someone say, “It’s about fucking time.”
I turned to see Hoskins fighting his way out of the passenger seat of a cruiser and begin to make his way across the yard to where I stood. He had to stop after a few steps to pull up his gun belt, which always wanted to settle below his thickened waist and bulging belly. The bossy fat man grabbed a young officer by the elbow.
“Restrain her and put her in the car,” he said as he pointed at Nicole who stood warily on the top step.
“Hoskins, do we really need the cuffs,” I asked but I already knew the answer.
“This woman admitted to brutally killing her husband, if that doesn’t warrant hand restraints I don’t know what does.”
Hoskins motioned angrily at the shy woman and gave the policeman a bug-eyed look that said, “Cuff her already!”
I turned to Nicole. Her face wore an expression of confusion and fear.
“It’s going to be okay. I won’t let them hurt you and I will be at the station as soon as I can.”
“I kind of wish I had brought the whiskey with me,” Nicole said as the officer approached with the restraints in his hand.
Law enforcement organizations had almost completely stopped using metal handcuffs and started using plastic restraints. Metal cuffs were heavy and expensive. Metal cuffs also had the tendency to cut or chafe the skin of the detainee and were rarely sanitized after use. This meant the cuffs often carried traces of whatever blood-borne diseases had infected the previous wearer. A number of lawsuits were filed by detainees that contracted hepatitis or worse from the dirty metal that dug into their skin.
The lawyers responsible for defending against such lawsuits loved PlastiCuffs since they were single-use. Some cops loved them because they could carry 10 pairs of plastic restraints in the space of one pair of metal ones and at a fraction of the weight. Other cops enjoyed using them because they were actually less comfortable than traditional steel restraints.
The young officer approached Nicole and she extended her hands, the palms inclined and facing each other like she was trying to catch a ball. The policeman guided the plastic loops over her hands and up to her wrists. He pulled the tabs that tightened the loops until there was only a little room under the plastic. I could tell he could’ve pulled them tighter.
“Thank you, officer,” I said to the young man. To Nicole I said, “I’ll see you soon. Remember you don’t have to talk until your lawyer gets there.”
“Yeah, yeah,” interrupted Hoskins. “Jones here will make sure she understands her rights, just like any other perp.”
“Sir,” said the young officer. “My name is Thompson.”
“Whatever,” said Hoskins with a scowl.
Nicole was staring at her hands as she followed Thompson to the nearest cruiser. His hand was clasped gently around her upper arm and he was taking care to lead her around some branches that had fallen in last night’s wind. Hoskins and I watched as the young man opened the rear door of the police car and placed his hand on the back of her head to make sure she didn’t bump it as she sat down.
The assistant coroner and a few crime scene investigators walked over from where they had been waiting. The assistant coroner still had a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. He winked at us as he passed by and tossed his butt into the grass before mounting the stairs and putting blue booties on his feet. The crime scene investigators stopped to do the same and followed him in.
“Now for the fun part,” said Hoskins as he walked determinedly down the sidewalk for the car in which Nicole sat in the back seat.
I could only barely make out the shape of her head in the gloomy light until Hoskins opened the passenger door and the dome light came on. Nicole was still staring at her hands. I heard Hoskins say something to the driver before the door shut and cut off the sound of his voice. The dome light faded and Nicole was plunged back into shadow.
I walked briskly to my car and was about to open the door when I hear someone yell, “Kinsey!”
I turned around and saw one of the crime scene techs jogging up to me.
“Hey man, I need you to give me a statement,” he said as he came near.
“I need to get to the station. I told her I’d be there,” I said.
“Just come in and show me where you walked, where you sat, what you touched.”
I sighed and followed him back into the house. When we arrived in the bedroom, I noticed that additional lights had been brought in to supplement the yellow glow from the ceiling fan. The windows had been opened to dispel the cloud of cigarette smoke. The assistant coroner was digging around in a tool bag by the side of the bed. He had removed the pillow from the corpse’s face and put it in a plastic evidence bag next to the tools. The victim’s face had the look of maniacal laughter.
In the time that Nicole and I had talked, she and dressed, and I had escorted her outside, the corpse continued to slip in to rigor mortis. The small muscles were effected first, which accounted for the sickening grin on the face and the hands clenched into fists. As rigor continued, the large muscles started to contract. The corpse’s biceps were pulling the the forearms up, the glutes were pressing his heels into the mattress, and his back muscles pressed his shoulders into the bed. The effect lifted his pelvis up a couple inches off the bed. The body’s posture combined with the cold, blue lighting and the cold, blue hue to his skin disturbed me more than any dead body I had ever seen.
“Okay, man. Tell me your story,” said the crime scene tech.
I pointed to the chair and said, “I brushed some clothes off of that chair and sat while we talked.
“Did you touch anything while you were in the room?”
“Yeah, the suspect handed me that bottle of whiskey. I pretended to take a drink to earn her trust,” I lied.
“You didn’t touch anything else?”
“No, I didn’t move from the chair the whole time I was in here. I stood in the doorway while the suspect got dressed.”
“Okay, that should do it. Get out of here.”
I was about to turn away but I felt compelled to take one more look at the face of the dead man laying in the bed. His eyes were open and cloudy, they were no longer the piercing blue I remembered. His white teeth shined unnaturally in the surgical light. His wavy brown hair moved slightly in the breeze from the still-turning ceiling fan. He had aged well, despite years of drinking and smoking. The only lines in his face were from the expression of mania forced by the chemical reaction in his muscles. His proud nose seemed to be flattened and pointed down at his curling upper lip.
“Rigor and temp suggest a time of death that coincides with the 911 call,” the coroner was speaking into a headset microphone. “No defensive wounds. Dermal abrasions apparently from contact with the tie-down straps. Additional abrasions on the knuckles of the right hand, partially healed, perhaps from an earlier fight.”
I started to turn back to the hallway when I noticed a technician fingerprinting the victim’s night stand and the items which sat on it. The man used soft a brush to spread powder on the alarm clock, the whiskey bottle, and the cigarette box. When his brush fell upon the empty space between the pack of cigarettes and the whiskey, my heart nearly stopped. The empty space was where the Zippo lighter should be.
“Visual inspection of the eyes reveal conjunctival petechiea consistent with suffocation as cause of death. Deformation of the nasal bones suggest continuation of force, most likely more than was needed to suffocate the victim. I imagine x-rays will reveal similar deformation of the maxilla and zygomatic.”
I left the room, shouldered past a crime scene tech and a uniformed officer in the hallway. I jumped down the steps outside the front door, jogged across the sidewalk, and hurried back to my car. I was relieved to see that the car containing Hoskins and Nicole had only just pulled away form the curb. I started my car, backed out of the driveway, and started down the street. The cruiser in front of me was driving slowly and carefully. I could see that the passenger window was down. Hoskins’ flabby arm drooped out of the window and his hand was tapping a steady rhythm onto the vinyl decal which adorned the door panel. I followed the car while my mind wandered.
The drive down the hill and into downtown wasn’t a long one and we arrived at the police station in a few minutes. The cruiser pulled through the gate into the police-only parking lot. I followed the car until it turned to park under the corrugated-steel portico next to the back door to the precinct. I parked my car with the other unmarked cars in the pool. I sat for a moment, waiting for Hoskins or the driver to open their doors. My body had barely any energy left and I did not relish the idea of getting out of my seat. When both the front doors of the other car opened, I opened mine and hauled myself out of the seat.
I shut my door and made my way to the portico in time to see Thompson opening the back door and giving Nicole a hand up as she rose from her seat. I stood by the back door to the police station and waited for the officer to guide her to the door. Hoskins hit the buzzer. Nicole looked up from her hands to smile at me as the back door was unlocked from the inside. The three of them went in and I tried to follow.
“We can take it from here, detective,” Hoskins chided. He placed a meaty hand on my sternum to stop me from walking in the door.
I looked over his shoulder to see Thompson guiding Nicole down the hallway. The ancient fluorescent lighting and the yellowing paint on the walls made her hair look dull and I hated how small she looked as she shuffled farther away.
“I need to talk to her,” I said through gritted teeth.
“No, what you need is to go home. We appreciate your help with maintaining the integrity of the crime scene and bringing the suspect into custody without further incident. I will contact your chief of detectives to commend you on a job well done.”
He removed his hand from my chest, backed into the hallway, and pulled the heavy door behind him. There was a small window in the door with glass reinforced by steel wire. I watched Hoskins saunter down the yellow hallway and enjoyed the sight of his bulky body being sliced into cubes.
Why I Stayed by Joshua Kautzman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.