His partner was a head case and he was okay with that. He’d worked with far more dangerous souls in ‘Nam and, while Reed was heavily armed, her detective status kept her relatively free and clear of active violence. An old pro at the aftermath, her eyes seemed to take in the carnage like the lens of a camera, her brain processing the images in a dark room, allowing only the details necessary to come to light. Scenes that would double-over the hardest cops barely registered on her face.
So, he knew that the body in the bathroom would not freak her out. In fact, his hope was to get the door shut between themselves and the general public before she started laughing. As he followed her beeline across the showroom floor, he considered renegotiating his contract. He’d only been on the job three months but wrangling Reed was turning out to be a bit more taxing than anticipated. He could could feel his desire to continue flagging. However, the alternative would be pricey. Chief Bright had made sure he understood.
Richard had been up front with Bright when he’d arrived at the Sacrament Police Department in response to the unexpected contract request. He felt it was better to put the undocumented details of his situation on the table before signing his contract over to the neighboring county and facing stiff penalties when the truth inevitably came out. To Smith’s surprise, Chief Bright had let him know from the get-go that Smith’s job was damage control, nothing more.
“Off the record, I am aware of your unfortunate situation,” the Chief had admitted. “That’s one reason I’ve pushed for your transfer. You’ve proven to keep a cool head and Reed’s got enough mojo to fuel a damned battalion. Since she doesn’t work well with other talents, your lack is beneficial. Wilson was an exception,” Bright had said of Reed’s former mentor. “He kept her in line for the better part of a decade but since he died… I need someone to hold what’s left of her together. For the time being.”
“You want me to babysit.”
“I need you to keep her on task while protecting the general population from her methods and the department from the repercussions.”
Retirement was sounding better and better. He might only be getting a percentage of the full package but it would be enough to get by if he was careful.
“In other words,” Smith said, doubling down on his annoyance at having wasted a full day and half a tank of gas. “Babysit.”
“Call it whatever the fuck you want, Smith,” Bright said, conversationally. “I’m giving you the opportunity to keep your license active until you can pull your shit together because I know for a fact that the offer of early retirement is going to be pulled. You think San Fran wants to keep a null on pension? They aren’t a damned welfare office.”
Richard’s mouth went dry enough to make his throat click when he spoke. “I was not aware of that situation.”
“And you’re still not. Understand?”
“Yes, Chief.” His mind had gone blank. He struggled to pull key words from the previous exchange. “Is she really a threat to the department? To society in general?”
“She’s a detective with a ninety-three percent solve rate and at least three of the remaining seven is because she agreed with the reasoning behind murder,” Bright had said and then thought better of the admission. “For the record, that was a joke.”
“Ha, ha,” Richard had replied in a flat tone.
“I’m taking advantage of your situation, Detective Smith.”
Richard nodded. Mild panic was tunneling his vision. He slipped his hand into his pocket and pressed the pad of his thumb against the short blade he kept there for that purpose. The pain focused his awareness. “If I don’t accept your bid on my contract,” he said, as conversationally as Bright. “I’m fucked. Utterly fucked.”
“You’re a good looking man,” Bright had said. “The marriage market would be an option.”
“Hot dog,” Reed crowed before Smith managed to close the door. “We have wood.”
The unfortunate man lay supine on the scuffed linoleum, one hand down the front of his opened pants, the other reaching towards the door. His face was purple, his eyes red, the irises clouded, and his tongue extruded. His neck displayed ligature marks in line with manual strangulation. His penis was upright, poking its purpled head through the zipper of his pants, and the fingers of his right hand curled around the rigid shaft.
Reed turned and looked at her partner with wide eyes. “Who do you think did it?”
“If I told you that, there’d be nothing to keep you busy until lunch.”
“True.” She crouched down and used her leather-gloved fingertips to pull aside one flap of his slacks and regarded the erection.
“You want some latex?”
She raised her head and stared at him. “You are a sick fuck, Smith.”
“I meant gloves. For your hands.”
She shook her head and stood. “Guy has lipstick on his dick, a tie knotted around his neck and look at this.” She touched a metal hook on the floor with the tip of her pointed boot. “Chunk of wood on the screw.” She walked over to the closed door and lightly touched a ragged hole in the wood, about three-quarters of the way up. “Purse hook. Pulled out of the door here.”
She turned and regarded the body again, hands on her hips. “Logical scenario is he was engaging in a little sexual asss-fixation. There’s lipstick on his dick. I figure the tie was looped over the hook in the door and he lost consciousness. Things seem to have gone downhill from there. Who was in the room with him?”
“He was alone. Door locked from the inside. Witness states he was in here for over an hour before anyone thought to unlock it. Medics arrived, checked EKG, and called it in. No resuscitation attempted.”
“He was here for over an hour? Does no one else pee around here?”
“There’s another bathroom on the other side of the building.”
“Okay, so the lipstick was his own gig or he got his dick wet before work today. Clear case of death by misfortune. Coroner’s problem now.” She glared at her partner. “I thought you said this would keep me busy until lunch.”
“I was mistaken.”
She pulled a flask from the pocket over her ass and unscrewed the cap. She took a swig and, after assessing his look of consternation, she said, “Relax, it’s just whiskey.”