Chapter 1: CHARLES CROSS
Red and blue lights lit up the columned front of the summer home. The mansion’s white pillars swirled in the light like psychedelic barber’s poles. The house belonged to the Cross family. It sat in a regal splendor; a large Victorian nestled between other grand homes along North Broadway. The summer brought all sorts of activity to Saratoga, never anything like this. Inside Charles Cross’ body lay on its side exsanguinated. His lower jaw nearly ripped off.
The normally quiet end of Broadway abruptly stops at the entrance to Skidmore College. Lavish homes dot either side of the road and owning a residence along it is reserved for the wealthy. Other than the normal activity associated with the proximity of a college it was normally bathed in a stately tranquility. It was now ablaze with police lights and the squawk and buzz of radio communication. Detective Madson pulled up to the house and parked diagonally. His car was a flat brown Caprice that was older than his son. The car was kept in impeccable condition and running smoothly thanks to the efforts of his partner, Becker who was riding shotgun. The car tilted sideways as Madson’s nearly three-hundred pound frame struggled to stand. The shocks cringed and squeaked amidst grunts of protests as Madson pulled himself from the vehicle. In the meantime Becker had made his way around to the front of the car before Madson had even closed his door. He smoothed his khakis with his palms as he waited for his partner to extract himself.
“What’s the parade for?” Madson quipped as he pulled up his pants and adjusted his revolver.
“This is a big deal, this guy had money.” Becker retorted pushing his glasses into place on his nose as he moved past men and women in uniform taping off the sidewalk.
“The August place to be…” Madson grumbled as he moved in his bulldog like shuffle to follow Becker.
“More like the whole summer now that they extended racing season.” Becker replied as he turned the door knob and held the door open for Madson to head inside the house.
The flash of cameras mimicked the lights from the squad cars outside. Forensics swarmed the body, taking photos from every imaginable angle. There were tiny numbered tents near drops of blood. They moved away from the body towards the hallway at the rear of the living room. Extinguished pillar candles sat in a wide circle around the body, white drops of dried wax pooled on the hard wood floor. Madson wasn’t bothered by blood, he had seen blood before. Over time one even becomes accustomed to the smell of death. He was struck by how differently this scene smelled. Yet instantly he was struck by something amiss. It wasn’t even the smell. Amidst the commotion one thing stood out. It was all too clean. The high vaulted ceilings were free of blemishes, pristinely white walls without a mar, every knickknack although there were few was upright, and nothing was out of place. Even the pillows were undisturbed and laying in a symmetrical arrangement on the ends of the mahogany leather sofa as if no one had sat down.
Madson shot a puzzled look at Becker with a crooked bushy black eyebrow and said “smells like low tide in here,” under his breath. Normally a homicide scene had a peculiar smell like rust or old batteries. This room had none of the usual scents associated with a dead body.
“Reminds me of my vacations at the Cape as a kid,” Becker added with a smirk that twisted his ginger-brown mustache.
“Only this isn’t Cape Cod, its Saratoga in August, hours from the ocean,” Madson thought to himself. Madson and Becker walked directly towards the body past a throng of uniformed wall flowers. There were three people around the body leaning in with swabs dabbing at it and poking around with tweezers. Their latex gloved hands moved slow and steady; and their movements became accentuated by the strobe light flash of cameras. Shots were being taken from multiple perspectives. As the Detectives came in they were greeted by cops in uniform. The officers whispered to one another after the detectives passed. This was a huge case and any involvement could mean a promotion. They didn’t dare get in the way of Madson as he worked and eyed him cautiously. The Detective’s reputation of operating with a stern no nonsense approach preceded him.
Madson towered over a crime scene guy as he pulled a thermometer out of the corpse’s liver. He noticed that the jaw was hanging half off and there were two deep lacerations on either cheek. Madson struggled to kneel down beside the body. Slowly he pulled his pen from his shirt pocket. Williams, the investigator, turned to face him, snapped from his focus on the body by the invasion of space. Madson pointed to the right cheek of Charles Cross. Two horizontal lacerations ran from below the ear to the corner of his mouth. The flesh was torn in a jagged zigzag and pieces of his cheek flapped open exposing his teeth beneath.
Madson called to the photographer, “Get a shot of this!”
A flash followed his directive. He struggled to his feet once more and moved to the other side of the body. Hunkering down again he lifted the side of the head with his pen. There were another set of nearly identical marks.
“What the hell is this?” Madson realized a little too late that he had spoken aloud. The wall flowers scurried in and craned their necks to see what he was talking about. Getting to his feet he tried to straighten himself both physically and mentally, hiking up his pants and shifting his piece. He had always been built like a gorilla but as he grew older he had packed some pounds onto his midsection. He was quite the contrast to his partner who was slim, neat, somewhat mousy and of an average height.
“What’s the good word, Williams?” Madson asked.
“This guy’s been dead since last night around seven,” Williams reported, “But there’s something else.”
“What is it? You got any idea what happened to him?”
“Actually, I’m clueless, but I can tell you this, he’s about four pints low.”
“Of blood” Becker asked.
“Yeah, he’s bone dry, a few drops on the floor. He is pretty much empty of all fluids.”
Madson rubbed his balding head, “Where the hell is all the blood?”
Madson moved away from the body. Not only did he feel foolish for drawing attention to himself, but also a little cramped with the rush of lookey-loos. He never cared for crowds or tight spaces, ever since he was little. He moved towards the fire place and leaned on the mantle. Black marble with flecks of mica and veins of an amber color, it was cool beneath his hands. He noticed heat on his shins. He looked down and a few embers were blinking in and out in the charred hunks of wood. He hadn’t smelled the fire; the front door was now standing open and the smell of the scene must have over powered it. From the look of the remnants it was a raging fire.
Madson feigned a cough to get Becker’s attention. Once he made eye contact he kicked his foot at the fire place. Becker nodded quizzically, but affirmatively. Years of working together had its benefits, one of which was subtle communication. Madson patted the mantle, his school ring clinking metallically against the stone. The mantle was devoid of any decoration, except for one photo in a frame. It was in the center laid face down. Madson awkwardly tipped it up with his pen.
“Need some prints here.”
The photo was of Charles Cross, a silver haired man with a devilish grin and old Hollywood good looks. He stood arms outstretched around two young men, one dark haired and preppy while the other sported stubble and a buzz-cut. They were undoubtedly his sons. Madson recognized the family and the scenery. The rose gardens at Yaddo, an artists’ retreat just beyond Saratoga’s Thoroughbred Race Track. The place had a tragic and lonely history of its own, a history of untimely death.
“What kind of trouble did you get yourself into Charles?” Madson muttered beneath his breath to the picture. He rested his forehead on his fists whispering. “And now I’ve got to go talk to your boys.”
Madson had a son of his own but the thought of questioning the boys after they had lost their Father bothered him. He waved to Becker.
“Beck, let’s get some air.”
They moved to the door. The routine was the same for years. To the car they went to go over the situation and to enjoy the air conditioning. Madson got in first pulling the door closed with one hand and simultaneously loosening his tie with the other. Becker followed waving to another squad car is it passed.
Madson was lost in thought. This was big. In his seventeen years of being a detective he had never seen anything like this. A homicide might come along every three or four summers. With all the tourists and workers coming up from New York City, and who knows where else, all the growth the city has seen over the past ten years, it was a matter of probability and time that homicides would occur. This wasn’t anything like that. This wasn’t just a homicide. This town wasn’t ready for something like this; hell Madson wasn’t ready for something like this.
“What’s up?” Becker quipped although he knew the drill. The question pulled Madson from his thoughts.
“O.K., so this guy’s jaw is nearly ripped off, right?”
“Yup,” Becker replied, “dangling.”
“But his body wasn’t twisted up or beat up. There were no bruises on his face, no defensive wounds on the hands. He was just kneeling there like he knew what was coming, like it was inevitable. There were no signs of a struggle, the house wasn’t trashed, and not a thing was missing.”
“Nope, not so far.”
Madson couldn’t help but think that nothing would turn up missing.
“No broken windows or doors forced open.”
“No ropes or cuffs, nothing to show that he was held against his will while somebody did this to him.”
“No, he had a ring of candles around him.”
“Candles, and a fire going, in August. No power outages last night. Who would stoke up a fire in this weather? It wasn’t cold last night.”
“Not at all. The Mrs. had two fans and the A.C. running in the bedroom.”
“Maybe something will turn up when they’re done going over the house.”
On cue there was a tap at the window. A cop in uniform leaned in smiling nervously.
“What?” Madson grumbled.
“Uh, sorry Sir, um Williams sent me to get you.
“O.K., what is it?”
“The team found something in the basement they wanted you to see.”
“Uh well, the wine cellar actually, some kind of hole in the wall or something.”
Madson jumped from the car so quickly his car door nearly toppled the rookie. The door bounced off the young officer’s knees and Madson was up the steps before he could even yelp. Becker moved in his usual controlled pace regarding what had transpired. Becker was clearly impressed at how fast Madson could move when he wanted to. He smirked and shrugged at the limping officer as they headed to the door.