Lost Letters: Chapter 1
…So I gave up after a while, and walked out. Guess I’d had enough of being indoors with them and all their talk. It was one of those evenings when you could walk for ever along the streets so I just had to be outside. Everything was still, caught in a heat haze, same as the last few weeks. We’ve had no rain in all that time. I guess tomorrow’s going to be as hot as today and yesterday and the day before. The window-boxes are suffering, and Mrs Adams’s cat got really sick yesterday. Good thing I don’t mind the heat, and I never get sick. I‘m going for a walk later to post this to you…
New York in the dog days of summer: heat exploding from every subway entrance; blast-furnace air; sidewalks shimmering greasily. The sun was relentless, and even the Hudson began to wither at the edges under its brilliance. But the usual river of pedestrians did not dry up; rather it slowly morphed into an indistinguishable lava flow of inhumanity. This level of August heat, the kind that warped tarmac and man-hole covers alike, suited few people, and any place with a semblance of air-conditioning became a shrine and sanctuary. Many a business owner silently thanked the currently unchanging climate. People languished indoors as much as they could; every breath of cool air sucked from buildings evaporated instantly as it met the fire of outside. Even the traffic seemed to be sticking to the buckling streets, as it crawled along in an angry mass. The air jammed with sirens and horns honking, shouts and profanities. Everything stuck, everything struggling to move.
But on a tree-lined avenue, dappled with welcome shadow patterns from leaves fluttering over the sidewalk, one person at least was moving swiftly. A young woman, untroubled by the weather, came flying out from a brownstone, slamming the peeling front door behind her with a crash that shook the windows in their frames, and sent a small puff of plaster dust from every ceiling. She bounded down the steps, green dress swirling, rubber soled sandals smacking on the cement.
At the bottom, she stopped on her toes, then spun round and hollered out, “Morning Mrs Adams!”
“Morning to you, you baby elephant!” A gnome-like woman, wrapped up in a print apron with a grubby scarf over her hair, retorted from the shaded basement courtyard, her voice not without warmth, “Noise your sandals make girl. Wouldn’t think it to look at you. See you got some more letters to mail, huh?”
The girl flashed a pixie grin at her neighbour, as she leaned perilously over the railing, “Sure have. You got anything you want mailing?”
Mrs Adams hobbled forwards in a pair of derelict slippers, and tapped a pipe out on the side of the building. Tobacco rose in a rich cloud, “Not today, honey. Now you watch yourself crossing those streets. Rate you hurl yourself along, shocks me you ain‘t ever been mown down.”
“Always careful, Mrs Adams. Catch you later.”
She waved and then was off darting down the avenue, Mercury’s wings on her heels. Her short black bob danced from side to side, and the sun shone silver splashes in it as she fleeted between each tree. Gleaming then dulled. Swinging on past the sweet, hot smells of candy kiosks, she was unaware of her shadow as it stretched and then was swallowed by the thick black stripes cast by the plane trees. Unnoticed too in her haste, from the multi-coloured fan of them in her hand, one of her letters dropped and landed face down on the sidewalk. In moments, sweltering multitudes of New Yorkers drew the girl in, and the pale yellow envelope was soon grey and swamped beneath a hundred and more footprints kicking and scuffing it. Both passed out of sight.
“So we got ID you say, Angell?” Danny glanced up at the dark-haired detective, who was as impeccable as ever in her appearance, even in the heat that had ravaged the crispness of his white t-shirt and linen pants. He wiped a damp hand across his forehead, and blinked sweat out of his eyes.
“We do have, plenty of it. You’re looking right at it.” She pointed to the hand of the victim, and what was grasped in her red speckled fingers.
“Mail?” He rocked forward on his heels as the burning concrete singed through the soles of his sneakers. The scene was a vacant lot behind a delicatessen on the Upper West Side. He, Angell and Stella were grouped around the body of a young woman, whilst Mac was occupied with the story the periphery of the scene was beginning to yield. No shelter from the sun was to be had, and Danny wondered, not for the first time in the last few days, how his boss could remain untroubled by it in a black shirt. Black clothing. White-hot sun. The thought caused more perspiration to roll down his back.
Angell sighed and spoke slowly, “You send a letter, you write your name and address on it. At least that’s what I do, and what you‘re required to do by the Postal Service. You‘d know that if you‘ve ever mailed one to anyone.” She stared at him and pushed her sunglasses back over her eyes.
“You write letters?”
Danny realised his voice may have been a fraction too incredulous, as Stella stepped in at this point. Even though he was well aware, as he knew she was too, that Detective Angell needed no one to defend her. However, he guessed that she felt there was no harm in a little teasing of the younger CSI. He could handle that.
“You mean you don’t, Danny?” She asked, amusement in her face. A dazzle of light leaped from her earrings as she spoke.
Danny shaded his eyes, and resented how breezy and unruffled by the heat she also looked, apart from a few tendrils of damp hair falling over her forehead.
“I talk, text and email, and that’s good enough for most people. Someone wants a letter from me, they gotta send meone first, then I‘d consider replying with one, consider it anyways. Don’t tell me you send ‘em too, Stell?”
“Yeah Danny, I do, and receive them. Not just bills and junk that drop into my mailbox. It‘s a nice feeling. To have friends.”
Danny looked between both women, and his eyebrows raised. So, this was how it was, two against one. If Mac had heard any of the conversation, he was saying nothing, and was certainly not defending him. But never let it be said that Danny Messer couldn’t hold his own against two females. He shoved his glasses up and shifted again on his heels, “Friends, huh? You have ‘em too? That’s nice. So, they’re who you send all these letters to?”
Angell shrugged, “School friends, college friends, older relatives. People who appreciate the more personal touch. Anyone can send a text or an email, or talk on the phone, doesn’t take a scientist…”
“Hey, I resent that. You‘ve been spending too much time with Flack, some of his so-called sense of humour‘s rubbed off on you. Sarcasm don‘t suit you, Angell.”
“My humour is my own, Messer.” She answered him coolly, “And I think someone else demands our attention here. You think we could get back to the vic, maybe?”
Stella’s hands were also on her hips, and Danny took heed of the glitter in her eye that wasn’t just from the sunlight bouncing off the concrete. Not without a smirk though. He wasn’t beaten down easily.
“You got it.” He eased the letters from the hand of the victim, and plied her fingers, “Rigour not yet set in, so she‘s been here less than three hours. Think we can be pretty certain this is the primary. Who called it in? We know who found her?”
“Yeah, the two guys over there, possible witnesses too to the event. Likely they frightened the perp away. They were doing some renovation at the back of the deli, heard a shot and ran out here. Reported seeing a man running from the scene, then an engine gunning and driving off. Not more than an hour ago. They‘re giving statements now.” Angell motioned to two men in overalls talking to a uniformed officer. One of them glanced over, then turned away quickly as they watched, and his face, Danny saw, was white blotched with red.
“Not a pretty thing to witness, girl gunned down with a bullet to the forehead.” He hefted the little heap of envelopes in his hand, then shuffled quickly through them. Blood spatter dotted the paper, drying rapidly in the heat, “Handwriting’s the same, so they’re all hers, presumably, unless she was just the delivery girl?”
“That’s possible.” Angell conceded.
Danny continued with a nod, “Whichever, sender or deliverer, someone was obviously popular, or wanting to be. Got addresses here all over the country; Vermont to Oregon. Nice. Girl had a lotta pen-friends, or rich and ageing relatives I’m thinkin’.”
“Not everyone writes to elderly relatives just because they want money…”
“Sure they don’t…”
“Which other states?” Stella interrupted again, moving so her shadow fell over Danny, which in the present circumstances was not something he was going to complain about. Another thread of sweat irritated his chest and he squirmed in discomfort, “Take a look yourself.”
She twitched them out of his hand, and frowned as she flipped through them, then looked back down at the body, “All over indeed. Huh. So I’m guessing they’re not all to family, unless she comes from a family of nomads. College friends maybe, she looks to be in her mid twenties, so she would’ve graduated a few years back, keeps in touch with them all this way.”
“So why’d they invent Facebook then?” Danny was irrepressible, but he knew as well as the two women knew, that it was a pertinent question.
“Could be all sorts of reasons for letters, either instead of, or as well as other means of communication. Not everyone uses the internet. Though, granted, if you’re under fifty it’s unusual not to, and I’d say the majority of the population has a cell phone.” Stella mused, and struck the letters against her palm. She turned again to Angell, “Did she have any other ID on her, purse or anything else?”
“No, no purse. Only things she had other than the letters was a set of keys and a few bills and coins, twenty three dollars and fifty two cents to be exact. They were in a pocket.”
“Well, we got a name and an address we can start with at least. Guess that’s something.” Stella studied the envelopes carefully, back and front, and then her eyebrows drew together, bafflement clear in her expression, “That‘s weird…”
“What?” Danny stretched himself to his feet, and tucked his hands into his pockets.
She didn‘t answer him immediately, and instead called over, “Mac, check this out.”
Mac joined them in one stride, “There a problem, Stella?”
Danny looked between them both as Stella frowned, “One possible problem with that ID, guys.” Fanning the letters out, she displayed them to her colleagues, “Same handwriting on every one, but we have a different sender’s name and address on each envelope.”