Chapter 3 – The Good Guys
He pulled into his driveway and Stan noticed, at once, that his wife’s car was gone. He walked through the front door, set his keys, his gun and his badge on the table in the foyer and called her name. He stood in the kitchen, saw the note on the dining room table and didn’t need to be a cop to figure out what had finally happened. She’d left. She had been threatening to do it for months and he knew that she’d finally followed through.
He filled a glass with ice, grabbed the bottle of scotch from the top of the refrigerator and snatched up the letter. Sitting in his chair in front of the TV, he drained the glass and poured himself another before he opened the letter. It was written in his wife’s tight, careful scrawl. It read:
I hate this. I love you so much, but I can’t live this way anymore.
I thought I knew what I was getting into, but it’s just too much. I will
always love you. I hope, that one day, you’ll understand and be able
to forgive me… I’m sorry.
He read the note twice before he crumpled it up and threw it across the room. A minute later, he got up, picked up the paper ball, smoothed it out and read it again. Then he cried, without shame, as he finished off the bottle, stumbled over to the table by the front door, grabbed his keys and drove to the nearest bar where he finished off one of theirs.
When he woke up, blinding yellow sunlight streamed into his living room, heralding a bright new day he had no desire to confront. He was lying on the floor in front of the couch as his cell phone vibrated and danced on the corner of the coffee table. With a hand that felt like it was encased in concrete, he grabbed the phone. His partners name flashed across the little screen.
“Hello,” he barked into the phone when he couldn’t think of good enough reason to ignore it. He listened, but the cobwebs filling his brain snagged most of Tyler’s words. “No, I was up all night celebrating,” he lied. “Yeah, I’ll be right there.” He hung up and dragged himself up off the floor. He took a handful of Tylenol and a shower. He grabbed is gun and his badge from the table by the door and spent twenty minutes looking for his keys before he found them dangling from the steering column of his unlocked department issue Mercury Grand Marquis. “You can get written up for that,” he told himself out loud as he slid behind the wheel. “Shut up, pig,” he responded and started the car.
Damien Tyler hung up the phone and turned back to the coroner. “He’s running late,” he told the pale, round-faced woman in the lab coat, “let’s go ahead and get started. I’ll fill him in later.”
“Fine by me, detective” she said as she walked the distance between a dozen corpse-topped tables and picked up a file up off the gleaming stainless steel table at the other end of the room.
The cop followed her and wondered how a cute girl like her got into cutting up dead people. Detective Damien Tyler was a big, handsome, black man. He looked more like a guy who played a cop on TV rather than an actual cop. His father was a big, handsome black man, but not a cop. He was a lawyer and they didn’t get along. Not in the ‘family feud, haven’t seen each other in twenty years’ kind of way that would make for easy nighttime cop drama crap, but in the ‘see each other at dinner two or three times a week and argue about how the cop arrests bad guys and the lawyer gets them off’ kind of way. Tyler loved his father, both his parents, but he did not understand how his father could sleep at night. Ironically, Tyler didn’t sleep at night. He spent most nights driving around, off-duty, thinking about all the bad guys he hadn’t caught.
“Detective?” the coroner said.
Tyler snapped back out of his head, “Sorry, Lucy. What were you saying?”
“Well, I ran a tox screen on your nursing home victims. Which was useless, but routine. Most of the poison they used never made into their blood.”
“What did they use?” Tyler asked.
“Sodium and potassium hydroxide.”
“Or some such thing,” Lucy said as she added a note to the write-up. “The drain cleaner burned through the wall of their esophagus and stomach. Essentially, they drowned in their own liquefied lungs.” Her tone of voice was so flat and matter-of-fact that it would have bothered him, if he didn’t know she saw worse all the time.
“What a horrible way to go. A suicide cult in a nursing home. What is the world coming to?” he asked more to the eleven septuagenarians slabbed throughout the room.
“Who knows?” she said as she handed him the file, “but you guys can slow down anytime. I’ve got them stacked two-deep in here.” She was lying. The wall behind her held twenty-four chilled drawers and there were twenty-four more around the corner, not to mention, four walk-in coolers down the hall. However, as he signed the report and handed it back to her he acknowledged to himself that he had bagged a lot more bodies than usual in the last week or so.
It happened sometimes, he knew; lunar cycle, some global disaster, Christmas, every now and then the death toll just jumped. It didn’t make it any easier to deal with, but it was the job. “I’ll see what I can do. Thanks, Lucy.” he said.
“It’s my job, detective,” she said, dropped the file back on the table and headed to back to her office. Tyler watched her walk away and wondered how many cops asked her out in a day. She was cute. He was single. ‘Fuck it,’ he told himself, ‘don’t be that guy.’ He turned, gave the dead old folks a nod and left the morgue.
“What up, Z?” another detective called out as Stan Zeppeteli walked into the homicide division of the River City Police Department, concentrating on walking that measured way you do when you’re trying not to look like you’re not dragging a dehydration migraine and cargo plane of emotional baggage into the room. Tyler looked up from his desk and saw his partner; a wiry, bald man who normally bounced around emanating enough energy to power a small mid-western town, and today, looked like shit on toast that had taken a shit on toast. Stan nodded a weak smile at the detective and weaved through the clutter-covered desks to his own.
“Rough night?” Tyler asked.
“Yeah,” Stan said and he collapsed into his chair, leaned his elbows on his desk and rubbed his face with his hands. Tyler went back to his paperwork and waited for the inevitable. Being married to a cop was stressful. Job related divorce was so common that the force had hired a shrink who offered couples counseling and post-divorce therapy.
Tyler had avoided this problem by avoiding marriage and all the pesky commitments that led to it. However, he liked Valerie and liked Stan with Valerie. He’d known Stan for a year before they got married and marriage just suited the guy, grounded him. Tyler knew Stan was a good husband, having a wife to go home to made him a better cop. He knew this might be a cold way to look at it. But it was true and he didn’t apologize for the truth when he could help it.
“She left me, Ty,” Stan said from behind his hands.
Tyler let his partner’s words hang in the air between them and gather the weight they deserved before he said, “I’m sorry, Stan.” Another long moment passed between them and Tyler knew that Stan was absorbing the meaning of the hard words he just said for the first time. “Where’s she staying?” he asked before his friend had a chance to fall to far into his own thoughts.
“I don’t know. Her sister’s, I guess.”
“You haven’t talked to her?”
“I found a note when I got home last night,” Stan said and Tyler could tell that he had waited too long. His partner was in it already.
“A note. That’s rough.”
“You need to call her.”
“What would I say?” Stan said, pulling his hands away from his face and looked into the big man‘s eyes, begging him for an actual answer.
“I don’t know. But you have to call her.”
“Everything has already been said. She hates the job. I’m not quitting the job. You can only cover the same ground so many times before you’re no longer talking, just saying words.”
“Do you love her?”
“Of course, I love her,” Stan shouted in a whisper and Tyler was glad to hear his partner get angry. That was a good sign; it meant he still had some fight in him. That was good for his marriage and it was good for his partner.
“Then you have to call her.”
“Tyler. Zeppeteli. I’ve got one for you,” their captain said as he crossed from his office to their desks. The captain was a big man who had about as much compassion as he did good taste.
“Captain, we just got off the nursing home case. Give it to Franklin,” Detective Tyler said to his superior. The detective he had just tried to throw under the bus looked over at him with his hands and eyebrows up in a ‘what the fuck?’ expression.
“He’s got a case, detective. You got dance lessons to get to or do you two still solve murders?” the captain said, tossing the single sheet of paper on the desk and walking away.
“Yeah, yeah,” Tyler said, making sure his indignation sounded like it was in good humor. Which, in fact, it was. He only protested so his partner wouldn’t have to, but he was glad to have something to get Stan’s mind off his troubles.
“Where is it?” Stan asked.
“On a construction site, just off Laurel.”
“Oh, well, that’s good.”
Tyler stood and grabbed his coat off the back of his chair, “You coming?” he asked.
“Yeah, give me a sec. I’ll meet you out front,” Stan said as he dug his cell phone out of his pants.
“Don’t keep me waiting,” Tyler said and left Stan to handle the ugly deed facing him with his dignity intact.
Tyler pulled out of the garage and sat idling at the curb in front of the station, waiting for his partner. He wanted a cigarette, but the wind had shifted and was blowing the smoke from the wildfires south of town so that it blanketed downtown in a suffocating cloud of a billion campfires. So instead, he sat with the windows up and tapped the steering wheel, thanking God he was a cop and not a fireman. He knew they all ‘served and protected’, but he had always thought that those guys had it much harder than he did. Sure, they sat around all day playing checkers and eating BBQ, waiting for a call. And he knew that most people held a warm place in their hearts for firemen that they only had to share with puppies and baseball teams, while he was sneered at by almost everyone, whether they were breaking laws or not, and spent most of his days interviewing the families of victims that were either furious or crazy with grief or both. But he’d been shot at twice since the academy, both times had been scary, but those guys ran into burning buildings on purpose, nearly every day. He’d never talked to a fireman about his feelings to find out what their take was, and he knew if the boys on the force knew he felt that way he’d come into work the next day to find his locker overflowing with panties and tampons, but he’d always thought that guys who fought fires must have balls of steel and be out of their collective gourds.
He considered cracking the window, turning the a/c on high and smoking anyway just as Stan stepped off the curb and yanked the car door open. As they headed north on Market, Stan didn’t tell Tyler how his phone call went and Tyler didn’t tell Stan that he thought firemen were braver than cops.
They pulled into a dirt lot that had been littered with building materials and crowded with heavy equipment before the ambulance, the fire truck, the crime scene van and two cruisers showed up. Tyler pulled in behind a cement mixer and turned off the car. It was almost the middle of December and when he left his apartment this morning, Tyler could see his breath. Now, the thermometer on his dashboard said it was closing in on ninety in a hurry. ‘That’s Florida for you,’ he thought as he watched his partner climb out of the car. The back of his shirt was already soaked and he knew Stan was sweating out the booze from the night before.
The two of them made their way toward a stack of steel girders surrounded by yellow tape as an uniformed rookie walked toward them. “Sorry, detectives, I think it was a false alarm,” the rookie said.
When he spoke, Tyler thought it hadn’t been long since the kid had spent his weekends watching rodeos and racing go-carts. He was all redneck and the badge got him girls. Tyler knew he probably wasn’t being fair, but thought he was right either way.
“Nobody dead?” Stan asked.
“Oh, the guys dead alright. But it looks like an accident.”
“Then why are we here?” Tyler asked, eyeing the boys badge number out of habit.
“Witnesses say that the foreman and the crane operator had been fighting all morning. Apparently, it got pretty heated. The first guy who called 911 must have thought that Teddy over there crushed the boss on purpose,” Officer Burton told them. “Todd says the winch is all but bleeding oil and the rupture looks new and natural. He’s still collecting evidence, but I just finished interviewing the crane operator and he is freaked it. I’m no detective, but I don’t think he meant for this to happen.” Tyler didn’t care what the kid did for fun; in under a minute he had decided he liked the rookie officer. Some veteran cops would have given this hillbilly a hard time and cut him off ten words in. But Tyler appreciated the kid’s thoroughness and valued a fresh perspective, even when he disagreed with it.
“You mean? The foreman is under there?” Stan asked, pointing at the stack of steel girders.
“Mind if we talk to Teddy?” Tyler asked.
“Not at all, sir. He’s over here,” Officer Burton said and led the two detectives around the tape to the open doors of the ambulance. Teddy, the crane operator, looked two shades from pea soup and was dry-heaving air into the dirt.
“Shock,” was the only thing the EMT said as he stepped out-of-the-way.
“Ted,” Tyler said to the man on his knees trying to turn his stomach inside out. He looked up at the detective. Horror was stitched across his face and Tyler knew it would be there for a very long time.
Five minutes later, he and Stan were walking back toward their car. “He’s all yours,” he said to the rookie as he passed.
“Sure thing. Good call. It sucks. But force majeure is not our department,” he said. “Good luck.”
Officer Burton went back to his conversation with Todd, the evidence technician that was bagging the mountain of evidence they’d never need, but had to take.
“What say we grab lunch before we call and tell the captain the good news?” Tyler asked Stan as he climbed into the car.
“Sure. Where you wanna go?” he asked.
“I was thinking oysters,” Tyler said and his hung-over partner gagged and looked a little like Teddy for a second. Tyler threw the car into reverse and laughed as he backed off the lot.