I instantly froze in place, completely unsure of exactly what action to take next. My heart was racing from the adrenaline flooding my bloodstream. After a moment of hesitation, I rapidly moved over to Neil’s body, nearly slipping in the pool of blood surrounding his head and upper body. Checking for a pulse proved somewhat difficult with all of the noise from the action movie playing across the room. I got up and quickly hit the mute button on the remote to stop the blaring soundtrack.
All of a sudden, the room was eerily quiet. Rushing back to Neil, I checked for a pulse or any other sign of life finding none whatsoever. His body was still warm to the touch, a clear indication he had not been dead for long. He was certainly dead, though. No question. His face was very pale as most of his blood was now surrounding his upper body on the floor.
I stood up with the purpose of getting my cell phone out of my jacket pocket and calling 911 to report yet another murder. Both of my hands had blood from checking for life signs. Panicking slightly, I wiped them off on the edge of the grey couch Neil was lying in front of. The first time I had ever had someone else’s blood on my hands caused me to panic.
I grabbed my phone and paused looking at Neil’s body, suddenly realizing there was a chance I was not alone. I reached over to the television, shutting it off, which plunged the house into instant darkness. Only the outside streetlights along the road and a small nightlight in the hallway provided any illumination to the house.
I stood perfectly still listening to the house above my own pounding heart. First one minute. Then another. The only sounds were the standard creaking and groaning of an old house. Nothing made me believe there was anyone other than myself there. Outside was a dog barking a few houses away and a car driving somewhere a few blocks over. Neither of which made me concerned.
Slowing making my way over to the hallway for a different spot to listen, I hesitantly came to the conclusion that no one else was in the house. I reached over and turned on an overhead light, nearly blinding me. The family room came into clear view and it was truly terrifying.
The room was well decorated and a decent size for an older home. Most likely created as part of a complete teardown and rebuild of the first floor. The once off-white walls were now splattered with blood in a few areas. The far wall was mostly taken up by a large red brick fireplace with built-in bookcases crammed full of books. Furniture lined the wall to the right all positioned to face the large wall mounted television on the left. The metal print of the downtown skyline I had given him was hung above the couch predominantly displayed. The middle of the room was dominated by Neil’s lifeless body and a pool of blood resting on the hardwood floors.
The cell phone was still in my right-hand death grip. I unlocked it to call but stopped short. My brain was working overtime processing and came to a devastating conclusion. I was in the house of a recently murdered man. My hands started shaking uncontrollably and the room started to spin. Nothing was making sense and my brain was starting to shut down from confusion and excessive stimulation.
I sat down on the floor and put my head between my knees, taking slow deep breaths attempting to regain control. After a dozen breaths, I was feeling better. Not exactly calm but able to function. The room was stable, my hands had stopped shaking. I held them out in front of me to check. There was still blood on them, painting a maroon color in various spots.
In the past few minutes, my situation became infinitely worse. Not as bad as Neil’s, obviously, but still devastating for me. First off, Zoe Burke, a client from earlier this year, was murdered and dumped in a park where I took photos of the crime scene. Then a few days later, the person I was searching for at the direction of a now missing client is also brutally murdered and dumped in a park. These horrific murders linked by their similarities in method, the only commonality between the two victims was me.
Now a third murder whose blood I literally had on my hands. My editor who had fired me from a job earlier that same day. The police would rightfully be all over me as a suspect. The only suspect. They would not allow me the privilege of being free in public. I would be locked up and held for questioning unable to help prove my own innocence.
My father had instilled in me that the truth will always set you free in the end. There was truth in the statement but only when referring to someone else. When it is happening to you the thought of letting an imperfect burdened system determine your fate is simply unacceptable. The decision was made right then and there, going to the police was not in my immediate best interest.
I decided to complete a quick review of the crime scene as any information I could obtain may be extremely useful in the future. Taking my shoes off as not to track any more blood around the house, I walked into the kitchen looking for a bag to put them in. There was a box of kitchen garbage bags under the sink that was perfect for what I needed.
I then walked over to the front door and checked to see if it was locked using the sleeve from my shirt. The door was not locked at all. I could have just as easily walked in from the porch as I did the back. Everywhere besides the room containing Neil’s dead body on the first floor looked neat and tidy with nothing out of place. This was not a robbery nor did it appear whoever did this was searching for anything specific. The upstairs could have been a completely different situation but I was not about to go up there to check.
Back in the living room, I walked over to Neil’s body for a closer look. The work with the police department had brought me in close proximity to dead bodies numerous times before. Some were murder victims, others suicides and the rest the result of accidents and natural causes. This dead body was different in a few ways. First off, I was alone. All of the other crime scenes I had been to were crawling with additional people. Police officers, detectives, crime scene analysts, medical technicians, and individuals from the morgue. This was eerily quiet.
This crime scene was also fresh. No police tape. No numbered evidence identification markers. No already processed and trampled areas. Other than my additional actions, the family room was raw and unaltered murder location. Finally, the victim was someone that I knew. Sure, I had walked through both Zoe Burke’s and Sarah Jacobs’ crime scenes but that was before I knew who either one of them was. This was different. I knew it was Neil lying before me.
I bent over to get a closer look at his body. There was a blow to the side of his head which appeared to have caused major damage to his skull. It could have been the initial blow that took him down but unknown if the single strike could be enough to kill him on its own. There were half a dozen stab wounds on his chest I could see with a long one across his throat which was exceptionally deep. The deep throat wound the most likely cause of the vast amount of blood on the floor.
I stood up and looked around the room. There didn’t seem to be any obvious signs of a struggle. None of the furniture was out of place nor was anything on the end tables knocked over. With no signs of forced entry or signs of a fight, my initial impression was Neil must have known his attacker or at least not been afraid of him. Once again, that fact was a strike against me. I would fall into the same category.
It had been nearly ten minutes since I had first entered Neil’s house. That length of time was pushing my luck if I was still planning on leaving. My gut reaction was it was too late to change my mind now and I stuck with it.
I walked over to the light switch and turned around one last time to look at the scene. Saying it was bad was a complete understatement. Neil was murdered and my prints were all over the scene. I cleaned off as many surfaces I could remember touching. There wasn’t very many. What I needed was some time to figure this out and to hopefully find the real killer. It would take the police time to find the scene and process it. Unlikely, but it was all I could count on.
I turned off the light with my elbow to not draw any more attention to the house and walked out the back door closing it behind me. I sat down on the steps taking my shoes out of the garbage bag, putting them on. Walking back to the car was difficult as I wanted to sprint back the entire way back. Running would just draw attention from any neighbor. I calmly got into the car started it up and pulled away from the curb.
As soon as I got to the first corner, I saw the lights of multiple police cars in the distance.