All the Time in the World: the mystery of the Lancelot Murders

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Chapter 2: Secrets of the Dead

Angelina Hunt had graduated within the top 10% of her class in Harvard Medical School when she decided that she’d rather spend her time with dead bodies than save lives. The smell was alright once you got used to it and after a while gory cadavers didn’t scare her. Anyway, it was nice to throw her medical school diploma at her parents’ face and watch their shocked expressions as she turned down a top-notch residency for a somewhat less glamorous internship at the Body Farm. She’d seen hundreds of bodies since then, in various states - some decayed, some dismembered, all dead. She liked her job and did it well.

The two bodies were wheeled in. They’d been cleaned up and stripped of their clothes. She eyed the male first. He looked like a body-builder. His blood alcohol level was 0.8. He had been intoxicated. Her gloved hands wandered down to his neck, tracing over the ligature marks.

Both bodies were stiff, cold to touch; maggots crawled in the stab wounds of the girl. Her stomach had perforated - punctured by whatever the murder weapon had been - and her stomach acid had spilled into the body cavity, causing rapid decay. She was in a worse shape than he was. Quickly she magnified her video camera, examining the various entry wounds. The deepest puncture went through to her stomach; the shallowest had glanced off one of her bottom ribs. The wounds were fish-tailed, signifying the use of a single-edged blade. Some wounds were notched - ‘twisting cuts’ - a sign of struggle.

A swab found traces of semen in her vaginal cavity, and in her anal cavity, which was roughly torn. The semen did not match that of the dead male. The woman’s hands were tightly curled at her sides, and upon unfurling them she found traces of skin cells underneath those clean French manicures. A dark hair on the cotton thong that did not belong to the victim or her dead male friend. A bite mark on the right breast, indentations that indicated the presence of a snaggletooth, hard enough to draw blood. Some swelling on her head, behind her ear - she had been hit on the head with some force.

She opened the woman’s mouth. The dead have rancid breath, and she did not fault them for it. Shining her scope deep into her mouth, her eyes chanced upon something beneath the tongue. “What have we here,” she murmured. Taking up a pair of pliers, she removed a scrap of paper. It was torn from a letter - the pencil marks faint on the wet stationary.

You were the only one for me.

All my love,

Lancelot

Angelina’s hands shook as she dialed up Trinity. “Your murder case, the man and the woman?” Angelina said. “You might want to take a look at this.”

*********************

It was Trinity’s second year on the force, her first year in the Homicides department. She’d had training in Quantico and spent her first year after that in the white collar crimes division. She’d asked to be assigned to Homicides because she was tired of dealing with tax evasion, and somehow found that her ability to step into other people’s shoes applied to the killers she had to hunt. It was what had helped her and her partner have the highest conviction rate among all the newbies, although she would never tell Patrick that. He was a staunch pragmatist who didn’t believe in gut feelings or instinct, and the only faith he professed to have was in the miraculous wakening abilities of black coffee.

“Did you hear what Hunt found?” Patrick slid into the seat beside hers, holding a thermos of steaming hot coffee. “Lancelot?”

“If that’s what he’s calling himself,” she said. “But the press seems to prefer the Sunnyvale Stalker.”

“Not too bad,” Patrick responded. “At least it’s not too distasteful.”

She nodded grimly. “If he really wants to be called Lancelot, we’ll find out when the press runs the story.” She sighed. “Did you take a look at the victims’ files?”

“Male or female?”

“Both, but the female’s the one we should pay attention to. He was collateral damage.”

“What makes you say that?”

“The killer spent more time on the woman; he didn’t kill her right away, he raped her and then he stabbed her, and then he did her makeup. He spent a while with her corpse.”

“Yeah, and he was waiting in her apartment. Forensics found a large footprint on one of the silk blouses - size 8 shoe. Her feet were size 6, the man’s size 10.”

“Exactly. But we don’t know how long he’d been waiting, and how he’d even entered in the first place.”

“The locks on the place aren’t too sophisticated; someone who could lock-pick could enter. Also, she hired a housekeeping service to clean her apartment when she was on business trips. Someone could’ve made a copy of the key.”

“Perhaps.” She stopped. “Do we know who the man was?”

“George Everett. Personal trainer, professional bodybuilder, worked at the gym - Planet Fitness - two blocks away. Techs unlocked his phone, they met on Tinder. They’d met once before, a week ago.”

“Seems a bit fast for her to invite him to her house on the second date,” she murmured.

Patrick looked at her quizzically. “I suppose that’s what the killer thought.”

“And Anita?”

“Anita worked at JP Morgan as a data analyst. She had just started six months ago. That’s around the time she moved to Sunnyvale Apartments. Her parents died three years ago in China. Most of her family is based in Asia, but she had a cousin living in Florida.”

“She seemed to be living pretty comfortably.”

“Yes. Her parents died in a car crash, so she received a sizable payout from the insurance company. Her parents also had one or two real estate holdings in Singapore, from which she collected rent.”

“Her file says she was born here, so she was a US citizen. She went to college at UC Irvine, and stayed on the West Coast until she landed her data analyst job. Only six months here and this happens... she can’t have made too many new acquaintances.”

“The guys in IT went through her social media. Not many friends, certainly only a few that were based in New York. Most of her communications were with her new co-workers.”

Patrick sighed. “Guess it’s time to pay her co-workers a visit.”

******

“So, Jenna.” Trinity smiled at the timid girl across from her. “People have told me that you and Anita were pretty close.”

Jenna was a petite girl, with a sharp jaw and blonde hair so fine and wispy loose strands appeared to vanish into air the moment they escaped from her tight ponytail. “Yes,” she said meekly. “We-we were friends. What happened?”

“We believe she was murdered,” Trinity said. “We’re talking to people who were close to her, for some clues about the case.”

The blood drained out of Jenna’s face. “She was m-murdered?”

“We think so,” Patrick said. “That’s why it’s so important that you cooperate with us, so we can find out what happened.”

Jenna nodded. “Anita didn’t have any enemies... but she didn’t have many friends, either. We became friends kind of by accident - we were assigned cubicles next to each other...”

“What was Anita like at work?”

“Focused, quiet, efficient. She kept to herself, no one knew much about her. Business was business and she kept all the personal stuff at home.”

Patrick smiled sadly. “Did she ever confide in you?”

“Not really. We didn’t really have much time to talk, except for our lunch breaks - she didn’t really like going out after work. She invited me to her house occasionally, but for most of the time we would just go to the local cafe or coffee shop and chat. But there was a lot I didn’t know about - I didn’t even know about her ex-boyfriend until he started sending her stuff.”

“Her ex? Did she tell you she had an ex-boyfriend?”

“Valentines Day, someone sent her a bouquet of flowers. We all thought it was cute. The receptionist said that the person who left them told her to tell Anita that the color matched her eyes.”

“Anything else you can remember?”

“Well, the bouquet was made up of daffodils and forget-me-nots. Not your average bunch of roses.”

“Anything else?”

“She didn’t seem too pleased by it.”

“And never a mention or a photo of the sender?”

“Never. She always ignored my questions whenever I brought it up.” Her eyes widened. “Do you think it was her ex who killed her?”

“We don’t know. Think, do you remember anything that could give us a clue to who this sender was?”

“I’m sorry,” Jenna said. “I wish I could be more helpful.”

“That’s perfectly alright,” Patrick interjected. Laying a hand on Jenna’s shoulder, he continued, “contact us if you remember anything else.”

Jenna nodded. “Actually,” she said, “something weird happened on her birthday. She received a phone call from someone, and she wasn’t happy about it. She went outside to take the call but when she came back she looked angry. When I asked her who it was, she said it was her relatives back in China.”

“What made you think otherwise?”

“I saw the phone number. It was a New York area code. I didn’t want to pry, so I didn’t ask further.”

“Thank you, Jenna,” Trinity said. “That was very useful.”

She smiled weakly. “I hope you catch him.”

As they left the building, Patrick turned to Trinity. “Matched the colors of her eyes,” he scoffed. “Daffodils are yellow and forget-me-nots are blue or white; our victim’s eyes were brown. Maybe he was colorblind.”

“You’re right,” Trinity said. “Or he was projecting onto her. Our Anita dressed modestly, conservatively - you saw her wardrobe. He dressed her up to be someone she wasn’t.”

*******

People always asked Trinity how she coped with her line of work. Seeing Anita’s body was jarring; not the least because Anita reminded her of herself, back when she was a newcomer to a foreign city, just starting to navigate her new surroundings. She brewed herself a cup of tea as she mulled over the case, careful not to trip over her cat Mittens as he purred against her legs.

Even as she closed her eyes, she could see Anita’s body. One year of homicides meant she no longer flinched when faced with a corpse, but it was still haunting nonetheless. But she didn’t need that compassion now. Setting Mittens aside, she settled into her leather sofa, into that well-worn indent that she often found herself in during rough cases. “Think,” she chided herself, “what do you know about him?”

Lancelot. That’s what he calls himself. The original white knight. Was Anita his Queen Guinevere? The choice in name, the note he left in Anita, his public displays of affection - his behavior betrayed a staunch confidence, even if that was undeserved. Surely he must’ve sent more than just flowers, she thought. A man like him needs to make his intentions clear. Quickly, she dialed Patrick. “Talk to the receptionist,” she said. “There must have been more gifts.”

*********

The receptionist - Sharon - who worked in Anita’s office building was a wiry woman in her 30s. She had bedecked her space with photos of her cats, but an air of teenage fancy followed her, from the pastel colors of her blouse to the semi-permanent dazed look in her eyes - as well as the way she glanced at Patrick from beneath her heavy, mascara-laden eyelids.

“Tell me, Sharon,” he said, “do you know Anita Wang? She worked in this office building, and we think she may have gotten things delivered to here that she never received.”

Sharon pursed her lips. “Anita,” she said, “is she that Korean girl with the long dark hair?”

“She’s Chinese,” he corrected her gently, “but yes, hair past her shoulders, though she probably wore it up, and she worked as a data analyst?”

“I remember her, she did get quite a lot of deliveries. A nice young man would deliver things to her quite often,” she said, a tinge of resentment in her voice. “She told me to throw it all away.”

“Throw it all away? When did she tell you that?”

“After she got those flowers for her birthday. The note was sweet, nothing to get so cross over.”

“Do you remember what the note said?”

“I think it was a generic store bought card like You make me the happiest man in the world but he had written these flowers can’t compare to the smell of your hair or something along those lines. She told me to refuse the deliveries from the person who had dropped the flowers off afterwards.”

“Do you remember anything about the person who dropped it off?”

“The man who dropped the flowers off...it was so long ago. He was a very pleasant man - nice to look at, nice to talk to. He told me how they met.”

Patrick’s ears perked up. “What?”

“Well,” Sharon said, “I’m a sucker for a good love story, and I’m something of an aspiring romance novelist myself, so of course I had to let him tell me. He said it had been love at first sight. They met at Starbucks, standing in line. He had just ordered a coffee but realized he forgot his wallet, and she offered to pay for him. He said her kindness that day to him, a mere stranger, was just so attractive. She didn’t even let him pay her back, and left right after she got her coffee. But he remembered her first name and spent two months searching for her, trying to find the girl who stole his heart, waiting in the coffee shop everyday…” Sharon trailed off, misty-eyed. “And he eventually found her.”

“I’d say,” Patrick murmured. Sharon’s eyes narrowed.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Anita was murdered,” Patrick replied. “We think she was murdered by this mystery man.”

Sharon reeled, and reached for the counter to steady herself. “That can’t be true,” she said, shaken.

He nodded grimly. “Do you remember any specifics about what he looked like?”

“He was around your height, dark hair with bright blue eyes, well-groomed. He seemed so nice! I don’t remember too much about him - I only saw him once when he told me the story, the rest of the presents were sent by courier.”

“So did you throw away all the presents that were delivered?”

“I…” she turned away, her face blanching. “I told Anita I did, but they were all really nice.”

“Such as?”

“They started off small, like a surprise cupcake delivery, and so I just ate some and gave the rest away. Sometimes it was a drawing of her, sometimes it was makeup - I kept the makeup. Most recently - I think maybe two weeks ago - I got a box for her, filled with clothes apparently. I signed for it before I realized what it was, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept it.”

“And I suppose there were notes with all of these presents?”

“Yes,” Sharon said. “At the time I pitied him, really. He tried so hard, and everyone knew Anita had a heart of stone.”

Patrick shook his head incredulously. “You believed they were dating when she told you to screen and refuse all his deliveries?”

“Well, from what I remember he said they had gotten into a fight and so he was trying to win her back. And it was sort of my fault; I told him that persistence was key.” There was a tremor in her voice as she spoke next. “Do you think I caused this?”

Patrick sighed. “You can’t blame yourself. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this field of work, it’s that.” He patted her hand kindly. “You can feel bad about it, but there’s nothing you can do except help us with the investigation now.”

She sniffed and nodded. Once he was sure she wasn’t going to break down, he asked, “Do you have any of these notes or those presents on you?”

Sharon nodded. “It felt wrong to throw the clothes away, but I didn’t know how to tell Anita that I had kept accepting deliveries and I was thinking about dropping it off at a local goodwill. I threw all the notes from the earlier presents. I threw the note the box came with away too… I didn’t know what to do with it.”

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll take the box.”

Her hands trembling, she reached under the counter and passed him a small cardboard box. “I haven’t opened it.”

“Thank you, Sharon,” he said. “Let me know if you remember anything else,” he said.

“Do-Do you think he’ll kill me next? Since I sort of know what he looks like?” She looked close to tears, and she swayed in her heels.

Moved, Patrick put the box down and took her hand. “They’ll assign people to watch over you,” he said, his voice low and gentle. “We will do everything in our power to protect you,” he continued. “There’s nothing indicating that he will attack you next. I study criminals like this for a living.” He felt her relax somewhat, and smiled reassuringly. “I’ve never been wrong before.”

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