I kept the Crown Vic in the parking lot of the motel next door. I decided to forego the rented Impala for my little trip I didn’t want to make. Twenty minutes later I was at Colleen’s place, decorated with Crime Scene tape and surrounded by police cars.
I parked Ol' Blue three houses away and walked up to the scene as the Coroner’s van drove past me. Colleen’s VW Beetle now sat quiet in the garage, the driver’s door open and its window shattered. I dipped under the yellow tape while withdrawing my private investigator’s state ID, just in time to be halted by a police officer. He had one hand on my chest and the other on the butt of his Sig. He sneered at my ID.
“Who’s the O.I.C.?” I asked.
The hand still against my chest and his eyes not leaving mine, the officer tilted his head and called out, “Lieutenant?”
At that point a bald bull of a man in a brown suit and no tie walked out of the garage in our direction, glancing at me then back to the officer. He tiredly nodded and the officer let me pass.
I showed my ID to the Lieutenant, who gave it a courtesy glance, but that was the end of the courtesy.
“Justin Case, P.I.,” he acknowledged. “What kind of name is that?”
“Mom wanted to call me Violin because I was a stringy kid,” I sighed. “Dad was willing to go with Guitar. I don’t know how they settled on Justin, either. And you are…?”
He fished in his pocket and produced a card. “Lieutenant Avery Norburg. What brings a private dick around my crime scene?”
“I was the one who came across the scene last night and called it in. You can blame the damage to the front door on me.”
“So, you kick down the front door but can’t see fit to try to save the lady?”
“When I finally got to the car, Colleen was already dead. There was nothing I could do at that point. I had the difficult choice to either waste my time trying to revive a dead woman and further destroy your crime scene, or call 911 and make sure my client was safe.”
“You say crime scene. How do you know it’s not a suicide?”
“Colleen had no reason to take her life. Zero.”
“So, you know this woman? Did you have a relationship with her?”
“A working relationship, and yes, we had sex… a lot.”
“Give me your cell phone,” he demanded.
I knew what he was looking for. I opened up the text app for him. “Hers is the most recent text I received.”
“We checked her phone and I was about to call your number,” he said. “Matched verbatim. So, you broke it off with her and she did the suicide thing.”
“No, she was murdered. I’ll stake my career on that.”
“Small consolation, since I don’t know a damn thing about you.”
“Understandable, but I need you to not shut the possibility out of your mind up front.”
“All right,” snarled Norburg. “Let’s say that on the remote chance this is a murder, do you have any idea who your alleged killer might be?”
“Colleen’s boss, porn producer Bobby Dare, is a good candidate, but I almost have to wonder if Oscar Fortuna isn’t somehow still alive.”
“Husband of my client. Separated but not quite divorced. Was doing time in Florida when he was supposedly killed in a prison fight. Warden back there only gave me as much info as he saw fit. Felt like he was stonewalling me, or maybe didn’t have information to give. My trail ended there.”
“And you think this deceased husband might still secretly be alive and killing people because...?”
“If I knew for sure he was still alive he’d be one of the select few that would make sense. He’d have a score to settle with whoever he saw as the reason for his meal ticket’s disappearance. I got hired to get my client away from her porn life under the pretense that her husband was dead and no longer was a threat to her son. Since Colleen Carter was my resource to locate my client, this would be the first place he’d come gunning looking for her. Colleen is just tragic collateral damage. I’m the one he’ll be looking for soon enough.”
Norburg drew a deep breath. “Oscar Fortuna, you say? I’ll do some checking to rule him out, but if the prison authorities in Florida say he’s dead then I’m pretty sure he’s maggot fodder. Even without going that far I still think you’re looking for a killer where there isn’t one.”
“Anything else you want to share, Mr. Case?”
“There’ll be more as I uncover it, I’m sure. What are the chances you can connect me with the coroner?”
“He was the one who called it a textbook suicide.” He scrawled the contact info for the coroner on a pad and tore the sheet off, handing it to me. “He’s damn good at his job. You going to try and change his mind?”
“If I can.”
“Everything points to suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, Mr. Case,” Medical Examiner Scanlon told me.
“Did anyone locate a suicide note?”
“No, but there are some other telltale indicators that point to a suicide and not a homicide,” he replied. "She wasn’t wearing shoes, so we don’t have any toe or heel scuffs that indicate dragging her body to her car. Likewise, her lack of footwear didn’t reveal any abrasions on her feet, either.”
“And Colleen wasn’t a small lady, so you’re leaving being carried to her car out of the equation as well, right?”
“Correct. And we have the presence of barbiturates and alcohol in her system.”
“So, it’s possible someone drugged her,” I said angrily.
“I’m afraid it’s still consistent with suicide,” Dr. Scanlon replied simply. “She likely drugged herself as a means of breaking her natural resistance to taking her own life. Women are well known to take a less violent way out. Self-inflicted gunshot wounds, hangings... those are seen as more masculine methods of suicide. This is kind of textbook.”
“Textbook,” I repeated, my face tight. “Glad to know she followed instructions.”
“I’m just saying –”
“I’ll keep that in mind should I decide to do myself in,” I said. “You know, so people don’t think I died like a girl.”
Scanlon didn’t at all seem put off by my anger. I had to guess that he likely got in a lot of practice in dealing with people unwilling to accept a senseless death. Then again, most every non-natural death was senseless, if you ask me.
“Mr. Case,” he said patiently, “have you ever heard of Occam’s Razor?”
“I’m sure I’ve heard the term before but I’ll be fucked if I can remember what it’s about at the moment.”
“Occam’s Razor is a bit of a test of a situation,” he said. “In essence, it suggests that when you’re trying to deduce something, it is best to go with the most likely answer first. In other words, you’re more likely to find a horse on a horse ranch than you are a zebra.”
I shook my head.
“In other words,” I said, “until proven different, if it has all the earmarks of a suicide, then it’s most likely a suicide.”
Scanlon nodded. “If it walks like a duck...”
“Yeah,” I agreed, turning to walk away. “But this sweet duck can’t walk anymore, can she?”
I snagged my cell from my pocket to check on Holly and stopped short.
“Uh, Doc? What did you determine as her time of death again?”
Scanlon looked over his papers. “I estimate T.O.D. was between 11:30 pm and 1:30 am.”
“Okay.” I sucked in a strained breath. “Okay. Thanks.”
As the medical examiner walked away I checked my phone. I still had Colleen’s text message on my cell, time stamped at 12:44 am.