Detective Tom Carter arrived at the office holding a hot take-away coffee. He paused at the bullpen doorway when he spotted his glutton of a partner seated at his corner desk chowing down on breakfast while reading the morning newspaper.
Tom smiled to himself. He strolled over and slid into the visitor’s chair opposite his partner.
Frank lifted his eyes from his reading. ‘Hey Tom,’ he said, while still chewing on his food.
‘So…Where’s mine?’ Tom said. His eyes dropped to the four slices of raison toast smothered in butter and cut into halves, and the two ham and cheese croissants in front of Frank.
Frank gulped down a mouth full of food. He dabbed his serviette on his mouth. With a jab of his thumb to his right he said, ‘The café downstairs has heaps…’ he checked his watch. ‘You got time if you want,’ Frank said.
Tom leaned forward onto his elbows. He smiled as he watched his partner scoffing down his breakfast. ‘Nah, no need...’ Tom said. He reached across the desk and lifted half a slice of raison toast from Frank’s plate. ‘These look good,’ he said and took a bite.
Frank’s eyebrows lifted as he watched his light-fingered partner. ‘Sure…help yourself...No really…’ he said sarcastically.
Tom lifted what remained of the toast to his colleague. ‘Thanks,’ he said. He took another bite while choosing to intentionally ignore the sarcasm.
Rather than wait until his mouth was empty, Tom asked, ‘I wonder what today will have in store for us. I don’t usually like Thursdays.’ Tom placed what was left of the toast into his mouth and dusted off his hands as he eyed off another piece.
Frank picked up a croissant. ’You don’t like any days,’ Frank gibed.
‘That’s true,’ Tom said. He timed his reach across the desk to grab another piece of toast from Frank’s plate. He lifted the toast to Frank. ‘Do you mind?’ he said pretending to ask permission, before biting down on the toast without waiting for a response.
Frank slowly shook a disapproving head at his partner while he wiped his hands on a serviette.
Tom Carter and Frank Williams are both men in their mid-fifties. Both have over twenty-five years’ service as cops and have been partners at San Diego Homicide for the past seven years.
They are no nonsense kind of guys when it comes to crooks, but to each other, they readily exchange taunts, criticism and sarcastic insults – all in good fun. They work well together and have a strong crime-solving record and reputation.
At six feet six, Tom’s slender, but athletic build towers over his much shorter, more corpulent colleague, who stands a mere five feet six. They are affectionately referred to as Abbott and Costello by their colleagues, from their physical appearance and their witty retorts and gibes they regularly exchange.
In keeping with their bestowed nicknames, at last year’s Christmas break-up they delighted and regaled their colleagues and families with a well-rehearsed humorous rendition of the famous Abbott and Costello’s skit - ‘Who’s on First’.
Tom dusted the toast crumbs off his hands and sipped on his now tepid coffee. Frank continued to work at clearing his breakfast from the plate.
‘Well…it’s just about that time,’ Tom said. He pushed himself up from his chair just as Frank’s desk phone rang. Tom watched Frank with interest as he answered the phone. He hoped it wasn’t a job this early.
‘Frank Williams, Homicide.’
Frank quickly removed his pen from his shirt pocket, clicked the end and started to scribble notes. ‘Aha…how long ago.’ Frank rolled his eyes before looking up at Tom. He shook his head.
Frank continued scribbling wildly. ‘Say that address again…right...1428…No slow down, slow down. Is that unit 14 number 28, or one thous-… OK got it…who found her…? And she’s still there, is she…? Good, keep her isolated…How was she found…? Alright, is the scene taped off…? Good. Who’s on crime scene watch...? Good, we’re ten minutes away.’ Frank slammed down the phone,
‘You had to say it, didn’t you...?’ Frank said. Tom returned a puzzled expression. ‘You had to say you don’t like Thursdays.’ Frank lifted his note pad and read from it. ’We got a young female in Mission Hills, ‘bout twenty-five years. Looks like a rape and murder.’
Tom rolled his eyes. He moved to his desk to collect his things.
Frank pushed himself away from his desk and stood. He lifted his jacket from the back of his chair and threw it on as he moved to exit the bullpen. Tom moved alongside keeping step.
‘Uniform boys are preserving the scene,’ Frank said. ‘Crime Scene Unit apparently is on site and the ME just arrived.’
‘What address in Mission Hills?’
Frank glanced at his notes. ‘Ah…1428 Westend Boulevard…Lived alone apparently.’
‘Looks like strangulation…bastard raped and then strangled her to death. Apparently used duct tape to tie her up.’
Over in the Bureau office, things were a little more laid back for a Thursday morning; at least for the moment. Matt sat at his desk reading the morning newspaper and sipping on his 2nd coffee for the day. He casually checked his watch – 8.15am.
As he turned the page his attention locked onto a news item reporting on the hospitalization of a young female who alleged she was raped and strangled on Monday morning. The article reported that the offender fled after being disturbed. The SDPD’s Sex Crimes Unit was seeking public assistance with any information.
Matt’s eyes lifted from the newspaper. He checked over both shoulders, then scanned the room. He could use this article as part of his frame up of Jason. He commenced to rip the article from the newspaper.
As he nonchalantly tore at the newspaper, Lew’s bellowing voice boomed out across the office. ‘Any danger of you doing any work today?’
Matt knew he was referring to him reading the newspaper. He grinned at his boss. ‘Just catching up on the important news.’ Matt lifted up the newspaper so Lew could see it.
‘SDPD have just been dispatched to a Homicide in Mission Hills. You should take a drive down there and see if they need any help.’
Matt shook his head. His mouth turned downwards. ’Nuh. What’s the point? They’ll only think we’re trying to pull rank, or muscle in on ‘em…they just get pissed at us,’ he said, then defiantly turned the page of his newspaper. ’Besides…it’s only one murder isn’t it…?’ Matt asked rhetorically, shifting his gaze back to his chief. ‘They’re more than capable of handling it on their own.’
‘Is it only one…?’ the Chief asked with his voice rising in an upward inflection. ‘There was a rape victim admitted to hospital Monday who claims her attacker tried to strangle her…What if the two are related?’
Matt tapped the newspaper. ‘I was just reading about that now…’ he said as he turned the page and kept reading. ‘I’m sure if the incidents are connected SDPD are more than capable of linking the two.’
‘I wasn’t asking you…’ the Chief said. He glared at Matt who continued to ignore his Boss by feigning he was reading the paper. ‘DUNCAN,’ Lew screamed. ‘Tear yourself away from that newspaper and hit the road…’ He flicked his finger towards the Rookie. ‘And take the kid with you...Just as observers – understood?’
Matt rolled his eyes. He firmly closed the newspaper before dropping it onto his desk. ‘Got it,’ he said unenthusiastically. Matt rolled his eyes at Brad, who returned a shrug and a grin.
Matt was still shaking his head when he pushed himself away from his desk and stood. ‘Ok, let’s do this.’ He lifted his jacket from the back of his chair.
Rodriguez was the only one who had a spring in his step as the three men exited the office.
The drive to Mission Hills was unexpectedly delayed by the morning peak hour traffic congestion. It turned a ten minute drive into a frustrating twenty-five minutes.
As Tom and Frank drove along Westend Boulevard the gathered crowd, media vans and first responders’ vehicles up ahead alerted them to the house they were searching for.
Tom indicated to Frank the large gathering of neighbors and onlookers standing in groups around the perimeter tape. ‘I wonder if our perp is anonymously blending in with this gathering watching everything unfold…’ he said.
Frank shrugged. ‘Who knows…? Could be.’
After parking his unmarked vehicle beside the Medical Examiner’s truck, Tom and Frank made their way towards number 1428. As they approached the perimeter tape they were accosted by camera crews and reporters shouting overlapping questions and shoving microphones in their faces.
Tom lifted the perimeter tape and Frank stepped under. Tom kept walking towards the victim’s house while Frank turned to face the reporters, all of whom shouted over the top of each other in a commingled indiscernible din.
He lifted his hands to the gathering. ‘Look, we just got here. You know as much as we do at this time – OK.’ He turned to catch up with Tom.
The Detectives stopped at the front gate at number 1428 to take a typical first time look at the premises from the street. The house was a small single-fronted, light blue colored weatherboard home with a low white picket fence. Two brick steps led up to the centrally located front door, which was recessed into the house forming an entry alcove.
The uniform officer who responded to the initial call met the Homicide Detectives at the front gate to update them on what was known.
‘Who we got Stu?’ Tom asked the Officer.
The officer referred to his notes. ‘Caucasian female. Twenty-four years old. Name of Wendy Spiteri. Moved here from New York two years ago apparently to attend UCSD. Lives on her own. The property is a rental.’
‘Who found her?’ Frank asked.
The officer gestured to a Black and White parked nearby. The vehicle’s rear passenger-side door was open. A young female sat on the rear seat with her feet resting on the ground outside the car. Her hands covered her face. She was being comforted by a female uniform officer who squatted in front of her.
‘That’s the victim’s friend. She’s the one who found her,’ the cop said. ‘Her name is…Valerie Walters, twenty-four years of age.’ The officer gestured to his right. ‘She lives a couple of streets over in Waterview Drive at number 1014 with her parents.’
‘Anything known?’ Tom asked.
The officer shook his head. ‘Nothing. She’s a clean skin.’
The officer continued with his update. ‘Our witness there,’ he began with a lift of chin to the black and white, ‘Ms Walters, realized she hadn’t heard from her friend for a couple of days.’ The cop gestured with his pen towards the witness. ’She and the vic go to the gym together but apparently the vic missed her gym workout on Tuesday night. When she failed to respond to messages Ms Walters left on the victim’s mobile phone, Ms Walters became concerned so she thought she would come over to see if everything was OK.
‘Ms Walters saw the victim’s car was still in the drive and the lights were on inside the victim’s home when she arrived. She thought it was unusual given it was daylight outside. Her knocks at the front door went unanswered. When she realized both the front and back doors were locked, she used the spare front door key, which she knew was hidden under a rock down the side of the house and let herself in through the front door. She found the victim deceased, lying where she is now - on the floor between the kitchen and family room.’
‘Do we know when the victim was last seen?’ Tom asked the officer.
The officer referred to his notes. ‘At this stage the most recent we have is the friend, Ms Walters…’ he said. ‘She last saw her four nights ago when they walked out of their gym together…about 8pm last Sunday night, before each went their own way. We haven’t had a chance to canvass the neighbors yet to see if anyone had seen the victim since that time.’
‘Can you arrange for photographs of all these people watching us from the perimeter tape? Better still, get some video if possible. We want to be able to see all their faces,’ Frank said.
The officer nodded. ‘Will do.’
‘Just curious….Do we know what gym did they attended?’ Tom asked the cop.
‘Ah yes we do…’ the officer said, then referred to his notes. ’…Club Fitness. It’s a gym in Bay Park,’ he said.
Tom nodded once. ‘Thanks.’