Chapter 2: Dig
It had been raining, off and on, for most of the day. The weather system responsible for it was expected to release its last drop by mid-day tomorrow. The downpour was not uncommon for the month of March on Staten Island, but the weight of this three-day deluge was decidedly heavier than the norm for the area. The temperature was a cool 42 degrees and was not expected to go higher anytime during the remainder of the day. It was just past 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in the year 2016. Detective 2nd Grade, Alan Mercer and his partner, Detective 3rd Grade, Cassidy Tremaine, were on their way to the site where a partially decomposed corpse was found.
Detectives Mercer and Tremaine worked out of the 122nd Precinct and had been partners there for the past 6 months. This was not an uncomfortable teaming for either of them. A burly 53-year-old veteran officer, Detective Mercer, Alan, found most people he interacted with at the job to be agreeable with him. In his mind people were a regular source of amusement. Even criminals had to be especially heinous to induce an expression of anger or disgust from him. On top of this Alan had no preferences or prejudices regarding the makeup or manner of his partner. His present partner was particularly agreeable to him because Cassidy endured his perpetual good humor with a smile and playful banter.
On the other side of this partnership, 29-year-old Detective Tremaine, Cassidy, was driven to be the best that she could be. This caused her to be highly competitive with others. Cassidy had little patience for anyone that hindered or obstructed this effort. This was especially true if the reason behind this interference was because she was female. Winning, excelling and proving her worth was the preoccupation that governed the decisions she made when it came to her career. All other input was just external noise and something to be ignored. This sensitivity to being belittled because of her gender was the reason why Cassidy found Alan agreeable. He gave little notice to her sex. As long as she was a comfortable fit socially he could care less about her gender.
Alan’s good nature and tendency toward finding the whimsy in things made for a natural disguise when he wanted to conceal his profession. Ingratiating himself with suspects and witnesses before displaying his badge was an artifice that he had used on several occasions in the past. This did not make him an exceptional detective, or even above average, but it did accrue him more confidential informants than most other detectives. The deficiency that made him less than a standout detective was in his tendency to give up on a case. He was not as driven to make an arrest as were other high performance detectives. If a trail went cold, he was more inclined than many to accept this as the end of the investigation and then direct all his thinking to another case. This failing was a second reason why Cassidy was a good fit for him.
Cassidy was gradually turning into a high-performance detective. Her drive to be the best made closing all her case files with an arrest a compulsion. She was the reason for a noticeable improvement in Alan’s arrest and conviction record. With her assist his numbers were up by ten percent over the six months before she became his partner. These new numbers had Alan seeing smooth sailing for the next seventeen months. At the end of this time he expected to have reached the end of his 30th year as an NYPD police officer, and then it was his plan to retire.
“Ten will get you twenty that it’s just some homeless bum,” Alan challenged while scanning through the list of emails on his smartphone.
“What makes you say that?” Cassidy questioned without looking away from the road ahead.
Between the two of them it was customary for Cassidy to drive. This did not come about by edict or request. It simply worked out this way over time. Cassidy’s quick and eager movements usually got her to the car first, and Alan silently conceded that this enthusiasm should be behind the wheel of the vehicle.
“Who would carry a body half a mile into the woods?” Alan counter questioned.
“Well, it could be that the victim was alive when he or she went out there,” Cassidy disputed with an air of indifference.
“You could be right,” Alan returned with equal indifference. “But I still think it’s going to be some old wino, and it’s not like we don’t have better things to do with this time.”
“Your sensitivity is amazing, Alan,” Cassidy spoke back with a smile and a snide inflection.
“Why should I be sensitive towards some old drunk who has created paperwork we’re going to be filling out for the remainder of the afternoon.”
Cassidy had no response to give to this other than a silent laugh. Her amusement was due to her belief that she would be doing all the paperwork and Alan would sit nearby, do no work and banter with anyone within earshot of his voice. She had no objection to this. She preferred doing the bulk of the paperwork, and she did not want Alan working cases without her presence. This had everything to do with Alan’s tendency to overlook things, or questions, that she found of interest. These things almost always turned out to be nothing of significance, but the perfectionist in Cassidy refused to allow any stone to go unturned.
They drove for several more minutes before arriving at their destination, the Davis Wildlife Refuge off Travis Avenue. The point of entry into this wetland woodland area was marked by a cluster of police cars, a crime scene unit van and a handful of people moving about in the vicinity. Cassidy parked the car in the closest available location within this group. She and Alan stepped out an instant after Cassidy turned off the engine. Alan was wearing his preferred combination of a slightly crumpled, thigh length, black raincoat over a well-worn dark gray suit and tie. Cassidy was attired in a toffee colored long trench coat over a light gray pantsuit and a tieless men’s white dress shirt. A variation of long overcoats and jackets, pantsuits, blazers and blouses was her normal dress for work. She carried a courier bag when it was too hot to wear something with enough pockets to hold all that she needed.
After exiting their car within this group Alan and Cassidy commenced their trek to the location of the body. Neither of them was dress for the wet, soggy and, in places, muddy terrain. Visually assessing a location to place a foot was something they both did before every step. This walk consumed more than ten minutes, and it required that they push their way through thick brush hidden beneath a canopy of trees. Alan was trailing behind Cassidy by several yards and noticeably huffing when they arrived at a clearing that was obviously created by a recent and heavy runoff of water. Situated in one location on the bank of this wash were several uniformed police officers, crime scene officers in fatigues, three park enforcement patrol rangers and the barely recognizable remains of a human form.
The first officer on the scene intercepted Cassidy and Alan before they could reach the body. He reported that a park ranger found the body when he came to examine the disposition of the area. He also passed on the ranger’s observation that this area was too dense with wilderness for a park visitor to just wander into.
“No information on name, sex and age of the victim or the cause of death, but CSU has only been here for a few minutes.”
Cassidy broke away from the officer an instant after hearing this last report. She turned her attention toward the CSU Officer that was stooped over the body and commenced a careful traverse across the muddy ground and toward him. Cassidy produced a computer tablet and a stylus from the large lower inside pocket of her trench coat and brought them to the ready.
“What can you tell me, Don?” Cassidy questioned in a tone of familiarity.
Donald Stafford was a 17-year veteran of the NYPD, a 44-year-old husband and father to 3 children, and he was the senior CSU Officer on site. He had an eleven-year acquaintance with Alan, but his association with Cassidy was just a few months old. Despite this newness, Stafford, Don, was comfortably familiar with Cassidy and her impatient manner. He looked up from the nearly skeletal remains that he had been examining just long enough to note Cassidy’s presence and then turned back to it as he gave his response.
“Detective Petrucci, how have you been?”
“It’s Tremaine,” Cassidy corrected.
“Oh yeah,” Don returned with an inflection of surprise. “I did hear that you threw off your married name.” Don took an instant to ponder this before saying what popped into his head. “Is that going to be a problem for you and your children, two different last names?”
“I doubt it. I’m just mom to them,” she reported in a matter of fact voice. “For me it’s no problem at all. I never cared for Cassidy Petrucci anyway,” she continued with an emphasis on Petrucci. “The only reason why I gave up Tremaine was because my father would’ve had a heart attack if I didn’t.”
Don gave the retort a nod of approval before voicing it.
“Cassidy Tremaine does have a nicer ring to it,” Don concurred with a smile. “Welcome back.”
Cassidy gave the greeting a nod and a modest smile. As she did this Alan moved in beside her, and Don began spekaing to him.
“Hey Alan, how’s Helen and the boys?”
“They’re alive and well, last I heard,” Alan answered with a smile. “Did I tell you that John’s got a football scholarship with Boston College?
“Hey, that’s great,” Don blurted out with a large smile.
“And you, how’s Cheryl and Teresa?” Alan reciprocated.
“Teresa is growing like a weed,” Don returned. “Cheryl is doing fine. She can’t seem to stop herself from adding new decorations to the house,” he concluded with a confused look and a shake of his head.
“Hey, it’s a new house,” Alan countered with a grin. “Cheryl’s not going to stop until she feels that everything is perfect. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.”
Cassidy allowed this conversation to proceed to this point because she knew they were good friends, but experience told her that now was the time to change the subject. She knew how long they could talk when they got on a subject that they both were interested in.
“Don, the corpse…?” Cassidy delicately interrupted.
Don switched his attention toward Cassidy for a second and then turned it down to the corpse on the ground.
“Female,” Don reported, “brunette, no ID on her person. You’re going to need the Medical Examiner to confirm this, but my guess would be that she was in her mid-twenties at the time of death, most likely Caucasian, five-six give or take half an inch, she’s been dead for more than two years and maybe as long as four, and someone definitely buried her here.”
Don took a momentary pause to signal the end of that series of his report, and then he spoke again.
“If she was killed here, and I emphasize the word if, then there is almost no chance I’m going to find any evidence of the event. Not unless the killer wrote a confession, put it in a water tight container and tied it to a tree.”
“Cause of death,” Cassidy queried while still notating what she was told.
“You’re going to have to get that from the Medical Examiner as well” Don answered with a shake of his head, “because I have no idea.”
Cassidy took a moment to assimilate this. She was surprised to hear that a deliberately discarded body was not showing some signs of physical trauma. It took her a moment to accept that this was due to the corpse’s multiple years in the ground. She then switched her tablet to camera mode and began taking pictures of the remains and its surroundings.
“So, I take it you don’t believe she was killed here?” Alan questioned into the silence with an intonation of curiosity.
“She’s not clothed for this terrain,” Don reported with a soft shake of his head. “My guess would be that she was killed somewhere else.”
This final report caught Cassidy’s attention unlike anything that was said before. She stepped away from Don and the corpse he knelt over and began to view the terrain with a whole new level of interest. The heavily forested wilderness had a look of desolation about it in the aftermath of the three-day rain storm. Much of the underbrush had been washed away along a track that ran through the area. Several trees had also fallen victim to the torrent of water that spilled through the vicinity. Questions and suppositions were racing through her thoughts. Alan took note of Cassidy’s distant contemplation almost from the moment it started. This was not a look that was unfamiliar to him, and he had more than a suspicion about what was behind it.
“Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking,” Alan queried after moving up beside her.
“Yeah,” Cassidy returned with an affirmative nod while eyeing the terrain.
“This is going to be a big waste of time,” Alan countered with a shake of his head. “But it’s your call, Detective.”
As this was happening Don stood up and moved over to Alan’s side.
“Okay detectives, how do we proceed?” Don questioned with a knowing expression.
“We dig,” Cassidy answered after a slight hesitation.
“Where? How much?” Don asked with no small hint of exasperation.
Alan had no response for this. He knew that anything he said would likely conflict with what Cassidy wanted. She was, after all, making this decision.
“Start from here and fan out upstream,” Cassidy began after a moment of thought. “Dig into any location that looks like a possible grave site. If you don’t find anything move on to another spot. Keep digging until I say stop,” she finished with a shake of her head.
“That’s a lot of area, Detective,” Don exclaimed with a shrug. “That body could have been washed down here from several hundred yards away, or more. The water runoff has made a surface scan useless. I’m going to need to get a couple of cadaver dogs in here and a couple of dozen pair of extra eyes and feet. And even with all of that there’s no guarantee that we’ll find anything, even if it’s there.”
“Do what you have to do,” Cassidy returned with a sigh.
“You know we’re going to be out here most of the night?” Don queried with a look of dejection.
Cassidy gave no response to this. After a moment of silence Alan spoke for her.
Don threw up his hands in resignation as he turned and commenced to walk away. Before he could get three strides away he was stopped by a final word from Cassidy.
“And can you see about getting some hot coffee out here?”
“What’s wrong?” James Petrucci questioned after taking the incoming call to his cellphone.
Cassidy had just passed her fourth hour at the dig site when she commenced this call to her ex-husband. She knew that she would have to call him eventually, but reluctance to do so caused her to wait until the last moment.
“Nothing is wrong,” Cassidy declared with an intonation of displeasure in her voice. “I need you to go to Sarah’s, get the kids and take them to my parents.”
“Why?” James challenged back.
“I’m going to be working late tonight, maybe all night,” Cassidy explained as though she was saying the final word on the subject.
“Well I can’t tonight. I have plans.”
This response surprised Cassidy. She had no compelling need, or want, for James to pick up their kids from her neighbor’s home, but she did feel an obligation to give this time to him. The realization that he did not want it was unexpected. She knew James to be an affectionate father. It was his infidelity that destroyed their marriage.
“It’s just thirty minutes out of your evening,” Cassidy complained.
“I have plans,” James argued. “Get someone else.”
Suddenly Cassidy became suspicious of these plans that were preventing him from picking up his children and driving them two miles to her parent’s home. She could not imagine anything he had to do on a Wednesday night that could be that important. This thought provoked the creation of her next question.
“What plans? Don’t you have to be at work in the morning?”
“Why don’t you get your parents or one of your many relatives to do it?” James questioned back in a tone that suggested he grew weary of the conversation.
“Because you’re their father, James,” Cassidy bellowed back with a robust sound of astonishment. “I just need you to take a little time out of your life and act like it.”
Cassidy knew that she was invested in the argument more than the request. It was easy enough to inconvenience her father, or her brother Jared, into performing the task, but the resistance of James angered her into the need of pushing it onto him.
“I’m busy tonight. I have an appointment.”
This third attempt at pushing this unspecified business in-between him and his children riled Cassidy near to a growl. She could think of only one thing that could be of so much urgency to him at this time in the evening. The fact that he refused to name it brought back the sense of betrayal she felt in the final months of their marriage.
“An appointment?” Cassidy questioned with an inflection of incredulity. “What’s her name? Is this appointment so important that you can’t postpone it for thirty minutes to take care of you kids?”
“As I recall, you’re the one who got custody of the kids,” James argued back. “My weekend starts nine days from now.”
“That’s just great, James,” Cassidy delivered in the timbre of a concession. “Don’t let me guilt you into feeling any responsibility for your own children.”
James hesitated to respond just long enough to blow off his feeling of annoyance, and then he spoke in a forced tone of civility.
“Okay, you win, Cassidy, as usual. I’ll be a good little father and take the kids to your parents. Don’t worry about a thing. Have a nice evening advancing your career at the expense of your kids.”
The implication that she was not a good mother by virtue of her job had an immediate effect on Cassidy. This was a repetitive accusation from more than one man in her life, and it was a sensitive subject for her. Cassidy hated the idea that she was obliged to give up her ambitions and dedicate the whole of her life to the raising of her kids. This suggestion enraged her the most when it came from James.
“You go to hell!”
Cassidy was not sure that James heard her last remark. The line disconnected the instant she spoke her last word. After pocketing the phone, she took a moment to compose herself. She then turned about and stepped over to where Alan was watching the dig.
“So, you and the ex are still barking at each other?” Alan queried without looking toward his partner.
“Off and on, mostly we don’t speak at all,” Cassidy confessed hesitantly.
Emboldened by the reply, Alan put on a smile, turned his gaze toward Cassidy and prompted for more information.
“So, what did he do now?”
Cassidy huffed out her reluctance to speak on the subject, but her need to vent propelled out a response.
“Okay, I offered him a chance to spend a little time with his children, and he tried to blow them off so he could go screw some bimbo.”
Cassidy took a moment to seethe over this, and then she continued with a qualifier.
“I mean; I could probably understand if she was someone who was important to him,” she expressed with a toss of her hands.
“How do you know that she’s not important to him?” Alan questioned from behind a barely contained grin.
“Because he never said her name,” Cassidy rifled back with an inflection of annoyance in her speech. “He didn’t even admit that he was going on a date. He tried to pass her off as an appointment, like he has some financial business to take care of on a Wednesday night. Trust me, the only person James Petrucci is in love with is himself.”
“You never know; he fell in love with you,” Alan challenged without conviction.
Cassidy rolled her eyes at Alan and shook her head with a smirk on her face before responding to this idea.
“That was before he became a member of SWAT. His ego is too big for one woman now.”
“He sounds like a real prince,” Alan was quick to say with a chuckle.
“Once upon a time,” Cassidy responded introspectively.
Alan had never met James. Cassidy’s divorce from him was more than a year old when they became partners. What he did know of James came through others, Cassidy more so than anyone else. He made gentle attempts to pry into her personal life whenever it tickled his fancy. He had learned from experience that she was most talkative on the subject of James when he had done something new to annoy her. He also knew when Cassidy had reached the end of her emotional blow, and this was that time. He allowed Cassidy’s rumination to be the final word on the subject and then turned his attention to what was happening in the muddy field in front of them. Cassidy was ahead of him in this. They were a few minutes into this observation when the portable flood lights switched on.
“It’s going to be a long day,” Alan mumbled with a sigh.
“If you didn’t want to do this you could have said something,” Cassidy insisted.
’No, no, if my partner wants to dig up a lot wilderness searching for unspecified human remains then it’s my job to support her,” Alan returned with insincere humility.
“I’m being thorough,” Cassidy countered with more than a tinge of exasperation.
Alan gave her response a laugh and then settled in for a wait.
It took another half an hour for the sun to disappear below the western horizon, and the area excavation site quickly went black from its absence. Despite the night, the site of the excavation was flooded with manmade light. Beneath the lamps that illuminated the field nine CSU officers and a dozen uniformed officers combed through the area—turning over anything that looked remotely suspicious. At the front end of this group two uniformed officers were following the lead of a pair of dogs on leashes. Their search was taking them up the path of the wash that had raced through the area the day before. The flood lights were repeatedly repositioned to follow the search.
This procession had been inching along for more than three hours when one of the dogs began barking and pawing at the ground. Cassidy and Alan took note of the barking animal, but neither of them had much hope that it would be anything of significance. The dogs had taken interest in small areas in the past, but they soon moved on after a brief time. This new interest shortly became a persistent dig by the animal. Several CSU officers converged on the location where the dog was digging and took over the task. Cassidy and Alan took on a new level of interest behind this, but it was not great enough to make them want to go out into the muddy field where this was happening. After watching the dig from a distance, and for several minutes, one of the CSU officers called out the result of their efforts.
“We’ve got a body here.”
Cassidy was quick to venture out into quagmire to see what they had dug up. Alan followed several seconds behind and with more than a little reluctance. They both arrived in time to watch as the CSU officers continued to carefully unearth the human remains. They were several minutes into this when the second dog began barking and frantically digging into the ground at a spot not far from where they were.
“I think he found something,” exclaimed the uniformed officer that was holding the leash to the barking dog.
Two CSU officers went to his location and began the task of unearthing what it was that the dog found interesting. A minute later the CSU officer called out what it was that they found.
“We’ve got another body.”
Cassidy and Alan looked away from the first dig and over to the second with expressions of surprise. They then turned these expressions toward each other. At that same moment, the first dog began barking and digging into the ground at a spot that was equally near to the first two digs.
“I think we have another one,” the handler of the dog called out.
Cassidy and Alan took a moment to note the officer and his dog. An instant behind this Alan looked to his partner and said the first thing that popped into his head.
“I’ll be damned.”