Con paced back and forth in his expensive suit at the side of the road. He shook his head as he hung it. Casting a weary glance at the big open plot of grassland at the side of the road.
He stumbled up onto the uneven grassy embankment to look out at the horizon. It was mid-morning and hot. The sun was pregnant in the sky, squatting on the California mountain range. He took a deep breath as and shook his head again. So much emptiness. There was only small wire fence running along the side of the road accompanied by the telephone poles running parallel. A large grain silo in the distance. He was surprised anyone lived here in all this emptiness. All that light brown grass all that fresh air, he stole away one wild west fantasy and let it go again.
After another few minutes of stamping his feet and licking his lips he walked across the street to the black Lincoln.
Harri was sitting on the hot hood with her sunglasses on, a pair of cheap truck stop aviators. Her arms folded as she put all her weight on her heels and her sensible half heeled shoes.
“Feelin’ better?” She called out.
“Sorry, just getting car sick.” He flashed her a winning smile on that handsome face and then dropped it again. “You ready?”.
“Sure” She gave her own conservative smile and peeled herself off the car.
Con walked bow legged towards the large flat building behind the parked Lincoln. Harri followed smiling and shaking her head.
The Riverside county coroner’s office was a large rectangular building. It was fairly modern looking in some respects, old in others. It was tan stucco all the way around sitting atop a large glass front that wrapped around the whole building making it look like an uneven wedding cake. The windows all looked black from the glare. Riverside County Sheriff’s Coroner embossed in big silver letters on the side of the building.
The surrounding greenery was well kept to a point. The grass had dry desert bald patches but that was to be expected. A few clusters of cypress trees were dotted around. Maybe to give the impression that this wasn’t the middle of nowhere and civilisation would greet you a few miles in either direction. Either side a great distance apart was a post office and what looked like a stationery store.
The entrance was another big rectangular box which jutted out in an awkward L shape. There was a strange red outcropping over the door. It looked like a red piece of prepacked cheese slice hanging from a sandwich at a jaunty angle. The whole building gave off an aura of flat-pack furniture.
Con waited for Harri at the door turning to shield his eyes and scrunch his face up, he looked pale and a little sickly. Harri brushed past him as she broke the seal on the door which made a sucking hissing sound that gave way to a cool blast of air conditioning. Thus completing the illusion of a walk in freezer.
Inside it was modern and simple. There was a small waiting area with a wooden table and matching furniture. A flustered middle age woman with an eighties haircut and blue blazer sat at a small light wood reception desk. A phone pressed tightly to her ear.
Harri did her usual bit as she liked to do. She strode up to the reception desk and flashed her laminate.
“FBI, you’re expecting us”
The flustered woman had no time to think and just nodded furiously and blurted out “Err room 3b, end of the hall”.
Harri smiled politely and quickstepped down the hall followed by a queasy looking Con squinting at the halogen lights.
It smelled like a hospital, but the smell of cleaning products was much stronger. As if the walls were soaked in it or there was bleach in the sprinkler system.
Harri marched down the narrow hallway, she could feel it getting colder. She knew that had to be a step in the right direction. The floors in the lobby were that locking wood flooring, now it was all clean squeaky linoleum like a hospital. The walls were all white with a few tasteful paintings and bulletins dotted about. Con plodded on behind her as she stalked the halls looking for 3b. She found it, it was a large stainless steel sliding door with a little porthole window at the side. She looked inside through the foggy window. She could see mounds of bodies wrapped up in see through plastic. They all looked like props in a scary movie lying on stainless steel shelves with raised lips.
“Oh you’re here” A shy perky voice behind her croaked out.
A small fat man in a lab coat peaked out from an office door on the other side of the hall. There was more of that pale wood lining the windows in the office and the writing surfaces. All the work surfaces were stainless steel.
“FBI right?” The small man said.
“Uh huh, Special agent Harriet Jaguer and this is my partner, Special Agent Con Folsome.” Con shambled along just as she introduced him. He looked a little better, the cold seemed to straighten out some of the wrinkles on his suit and his face. He was just in time for a vigorous handshake from a pair of very sweaty and inextricably hairy hands.
“Gary Dole, it’s good to meet you folks, don’t get many of you men in black fellas out here”.
The little man was bald and had the greying stubble of a plumber all over his face. A set of wire framed reading glasses resting atop his head. His face looked like someone had taken silly putty and put it on a boiled egg and frozen it. Squishy looking features that were left to set hard. A stubby nose and tight rounded lips on a small alert face.
He let go of Con’s hand, and turned his shaking hand to Harri who stepped out of his way. He paused squinting. “Right, err, let me just get her, she’s just cooling off in here.” He turned his head taking no offence going into his pocket for a set of keys he put to work on the sliding bolt lock on the stainless steel door. “Now it’s a little cramped in here. L.A County coroner likes to dump a lot of their Jane and Johnny Does in here. So we might do better to take her into the hall for a quick check-up”. He smiled and swivelled his head expected some signs of life from his two guests. A comedian waiting for a breathing audience.
Harri looked over at Con and the change to his pallor as he took a peak through the porthole and dropped his head to look at the scuffs on the floor. He looked grey as luncheon meat. “In the hall is good”
“Ok dokey”. The little man said appearing almost to hop of a toadstool to unbolt the huge walk in refrigerator. He slid it open and squeezed through the small opening he’d made and closed it again with some effort.
Con leant his back against the side of the cool stainless steel door and exhaled, he looked tired.
Harri’s arms folded, she shook her head smiling with a pronounced chupse.
She watched the littleman flitting about like a kid on Christmas morning. Absentmindedly delving into the small necropolis. She turned back to Con, his face turning a tinge of green. She guessed the smell was getting to him, he hated hospitals.
“You wanna wait in the car?” She said softly. She dropped her folded arms as if to put a hand on him but she didn’t.
“No I’m good” He was leaning now with his hands on his knees, bent forward slightly as if he was going to throw up. “Just need to walk it off”.
The seal on the large refrigerator opened like a sarcophagus. A morbid and shrill hissing sound. Con shot up to an alert standing position as if he’d been like that the whole time. Put his hands in his pockets and tried to look casual.
With a great deal of effort, the small man angled the metal gurny through the door. A wry smile on his face as he leant across it with his tongue protruding from the side of his mouth as if he were playing pool. The body was covered with a white sheet.
Harri moved aside giving him some room to manoeuvre.
“Don’t worry about it I’ve got it” Dole said as he wheeled the gurny around. Finally aligning it against the door he let out a sigh of relief. He dabbed his sweaty brow with crumbled dis-coloured tissue from his labcoat pocket and put it back.
“Okee dokee”. He said as he began to peel back the white sheet “We didn’t wrap this one because we knew you fellas were coming down-“
“It’s ok”. Harri put her hand on Dole’s shoulder stopping him pulling the entire sheet off which he was likely to do. “Just talk”.
The littleman looked a little puzzled, he looked over to Con who shrugged very subtly. The little man let go of the sheet and stepped back. He reached back into his pocket to dab his forehead again with the tissue. He scrunched up his mouth and tried to align his thoughts in an order that would make sense.
“Ok well, she’s a prostitute, we pulled up her record. She was in trouble for soliciting, her name is Sidney Cot. There are a number of injuries, post mortem and pre-mortem”. He said with his eyes closed as if he was reading off a clipboard.
“C.O.D?” Con said.
“Er cause of death, oh yeah, asphyxia. She was suffocated. You guys think this is a serial killer you’re chasing, did I hear that right?” His voice got high pitched and he cocked up one eyebrow.
“Close enough, why?” Harri said.
“Well” Dole lifted the sheet to look at the dead woman’s face. “I’ve seen a lot of gang violence and a few serial killer type things. ‘Satanic ritual murders’ and all that stuff and this is just weird to me”.
“How so?” Con chirped up.
“It’s just the killing seems very rushed. My natural inclination is someone like this kills because they like it. But this almost seemed like an after-thought like he, or she-”. He looked at Harri and smiled “-just wanted to get it out of the way”.
Harri didn’t say anything.
“She was subdued. I believe with a blow to the head with some heavy object. Maybe a wrench. and there are some scars that may be the result of torture but that doesn’t seem to be related.” He clicked his tongue as he looked at the sheet. “What’s really interesting, forgive me”. He said as he brushed past Harri to get closer to the dead girl’s side. “I’m sure you noticed at the crime scene, one of her arms is missing, we still haven’t found it, in fact. It probably just washed away or an animal took it. But that’s not what’s interesting.” He lifted the sheet again to reveal her remaining arm, white and waxy.
Con’s eyes became wide like someone lifted their skirt and he turned away, a pale shade of wall paper paste.
“You see here, there’s a cut here on her other arm in the same place. Just below the joint, but it’s unfinished, like he was interrupted. Where did they say they found her again?”
Harri was looking intently over the squat man’s shoulders as she answered without looking at him. “It’s unlikely he was interrupted, this was a body dump. She was found near the river in a fairly isolated part of Jurupa.” She paused as she looked at her arm. “He had all the time in the world”.
“It’s very odd”. He posed unnaturally in a Watson like thinker position. His elbow cradled to his stomach and his other hand under his double chin. “I can’t for the life of me understand why he wouldn’t finish the other arm. Maybe he’s experimenting.”
“Did you find anything else unusual about the body?” Harri said curtly.
“Well now you mention it”. The little man tutted and dipped his head as he moved around the gurny towards the girl’s feet. Con quickly shifted further back as Harri came around the gurny following the gnome.
“This may not be anything relevant to her death but-“. He lifted the sheet revealing her feet, they looked ashen and still. “Notice anything?”
“No” Harri said.
“Well it is relatively unnoticeable. You probably wouldn’t see it unless you had her completely flat like this. And even then it’s easy to miss.” He paused waiting for her to guess but he waited in vain. “She has something called Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome. It’s a genetic disorder related to the blood vessels and soft tissue. It effects the skin and bone and muscles.” He took his head lower and slightly to the side as if to compel Harri to do the same, she didn’t move. “You see this wine stain birthmark behind her knee? Easy to miss and I’m not sure if you can tell but one of her legs is at least two, maybe three inches longer than the other.” He lifted her leg with both hands and tilted it slightly to accommodate Harri refusing to duck down. Con was nowhere to be seen.
“Is that all you have?”
“Well he didn’t tattoo his name on her if that’s what you’re asking” The squat man let out a horsey laugh.
“Ok thank you, that’ll be all for now. I believe my office left you the number of our motel?”
“Err yeah, sherman oaks right? What’s with you guys I thought the feds liked luxury” The small man scoffed.
“We’re humble government servants”. Harri smiled courteously and turned to walk back down the hallway.
She found con at a silver and black coffee machine in the lobby. It wasn’t a vending machine. It was one of those fancy pots where you insert little capsules of coffee and put money in a little coin slot in the side. Con stood mesmerized by it, trying to figure out what to do with the little plastic pouches. The woman at the desk looking less flustered watched him with some bemusement. She opened and closed her mouth as if she wanted to give him advice but couldn’t find the words or the appropriate opening.
Harri walked over to him, Con didn’t look up from the machine as he spoke, he just pursed his lips as if he was thinking. “There’s something wrong with her isn’t there?”
Harri scrunched up her face and looked at the woman at the desk for a second.
“The dead girl” Con shook his head. Harri smiled, a tiny crack of embarrassment flushing her soft brown cheek.
“Err yeah, one of her legs is longer than the other” She said.
“The one before had that cavity in her chest, the one before that had that skin condition. Didn’t one have a vestigial tail? I don’t remember”. He fumbled with the different pouches of coffee pretending to be choosing.
“Something like that”. Harri grabbed the first pouch she could get her hands on and opened the receiver slot which slid out from the side of the machine. She put whichever pouch she grabbed into the slot, closed it and turned it on. He’d already put a cup under it and evidently put his money in since it started to pour almost immediately. “So what he’s some kind of nazi, killing freaks?” Her voice was terse and sharp.
“I dunno, the way he kills them, it doesn’t seem like he enjoys it at all, it’s more like he’s putting them down like a dog. And how would he even know their medical history?” He picked up the cup now full of whatever liquid Harri had bestowed upon him and took a sip without complaint. “Hmm green tea”.
“You think he has a medical background?” Harri sucked in her cheeks and folded her arms as she spoke.
“It’s possible” Con said as he took tactile sips of his hot green tea.
“But then why target hookers with deformities? Why not just the general population, surely that would give him a wider victim pool”. She let her hands fall to her hips
“He’s careful, he shows restraint. He chooses his victims carefully from people that won’t be missed.” Con said, his lips hovering over the hot cup.
“Then why would he need a partner? That seems sloppy to me” Harri chupsed impatiently. “Come on” Harri tugged at his arm, Con pointed at his cup and smirked. She turned her head and chupsed again as she put a travel topper on the cup. “Finish it in the car”.