The 5 Stages of Grief

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Chapter 6, Lt. King

He wasn’t three steps out the door before the cigar glowed bright with a flick of his lighter. A few practiced puffs brought the addiction to life then quickly turned to ash only to be awakened again a moment later. He sighed relief. It was getting increasingly more difficult to separate himself from his security blanket, especially when he was stressed, and Sam was bloody well stressed.

He started towards the parking lot to grab his notes from the car. He thought he might go over them while enjoying his cigar – see if he could find anything new. He doubted it, but you never could tell where the breaks might come from. Crazier things had happened.

There were a couple of picnic tables by the lot just for this purpose. Cops often needed to meet and sometimes preferred a little open space to the confinement of the station where lurking ears and prying eyes might snoop something you were trying to keep under the radar. That was not the case today. Sam just needed some fresh air and his cigar, an oxymoron when you thought about it, he laughed though no one was about to hear.

Sitting at the table, he took a moment to brace himself before opening the file. He quickly bypassed the photos, not needing to look at them again as they were forever seared into his mind and went straight to the notes. There were some by him, some the coroner, though most were Sergeant Whitmore’s, his beloved if somewhat lost hound-dog.

“Speak to me. What am I missing?” He stared at the notes for some time, turning pages, puffing his cigar – but nothing. He knew it was there, something, somehow, somewhere – but what? Reluctantly, he reached for the pictures. Not the gruesome ones of the victims, he swiftly flipped them face down as even the slightest glimpse of them turned his stomach, but the others of the grounds around the house.

They looked like every other of hundreds or maybe thousands he’d witnessed throughout his career, nothing out of the norm. So he kept flipping, going through the growing pile he’d created over and over. Dismissing one or sometimes two or more pictures to the rejection heap each time through, all the while pulling on his cigar, letting his subconscious do the work, quiet the clutter of his mind.

He had no idea how long he’d been there – long enough to light another cigar, two in a row, unusual even for him. He’d whittled the pictures in front of him down to three and for no other reason than they tickled his brain, teased him, like a joke he didn’t get, though everyone else was laughing.

The first was of the back door of the Reichmann house, nothing special. It was light blue with a white screen door in front of it. No sign of forced entry that he could make out and the reports confirmed it. There was nothing unusual about the photo and yet he’d followed his intuition keeping the picture from the growing discard pile formed to his left.

The second was of the back door – the back wall actually – of Debbie Wilkinson’s townhouse, as the rear of her townhouse was narrow enough that one photo captured both window and door. There was no question whether or not there had been a forced entry here. The shattered windowpane and the plank jammed into the ground and leaning against the wall took all the guesswork out. This too he left free of the discard pile.

The third picture was of the Reichmann house window. It too was from the back yard and again, as with the shot of the door, no forced entry. The only sign of any note was of the crumpled bushes under the window where the guy must have stood to look through. He could clearly see the damage was fresh as many of the branches or twigs or whatever you call them had been snapped recently, the greenie-white flashing through and obvious to anyone who cared to look.

He positioned the three selections neatly, left to right, in front of him. Returning the remainder of the pictures to the file then pushing it away to the far end of the table. As if distance might lessen its contamination.

“It’s here, right in front of me.” He spoke low, trance-like, as he fingered the glossy photos before him. Rearranging them again and again into new configurations – not unlike the shell game he’d been sucked into on his visit to New York a few years back. “I just don’t know what it is.” He stared long, the pictures blurring from focus, merging together, floating at times. He puffed his cigar. Cars pulled in, others out. Probably a shift change, he noted in the peripheral, somewhere in the recess of his mind.

Lieutenant Sam King froze mid-flick, just as he was about to toss another cigar butt. He’d smoked it far too close to the end – like usual – it caught him unawares, burned him a bit, triggered something. He looked closer then back again, from one pic to another, he removed the one of the Reichmann door and put it aside, focused on the last two.

“Why would there be more damage to the bush under this window?” He moved his head from one to the other and back again, like a spectator at a tennis match. “When there was no sign of forced entry?” He looked at both pictures again to confirm.

He rooted around in his many pockets until he found his cell and pushed the first contact on speed-dial. There was an answer on the third ring.

“Hello?”

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