If you missed Part I, go here for parts I and II.
Part II – Breakfast
Kylie sat at the card table in her kitchen and tore thin strips from a Wendy’s napkin. A few feet away, a CSI dusted the blinds and frame of the sliding glass door. Across the complex, the K9 and his handler moved along dewy grass and dim lit sidewalks looking for someone to bite.
Christina sat next to Kylie and listened to her account of the shadow in the doorway. No, no one locked the sliding door the night before. No, she didn’t recognize the man who spoke to her. No, she wouldn’t be able to identify him later if she saw him. It was dark. She was asleep, just like every one else in her apartment, and the only one who could shed any on the incident lived in a pineapple under the sea.
“I know it was dark, but was there anything about his clothes that stood out to you, or maybe the way he sounded? Even the small things are important.”
Kylie organized the mountain of napkin in front of her. “I think he was wearing a hat.”
“You think or you know?” Christina asked, making sure not to sound angry.
“I just remember white writing on a black cap, but I thought I was dreaming,” Kylie said, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m really not sure.”
“That’s good, Kylie,” Christina said. “I’m sure your weren’t.”
The radio chirped out some coded speech and I tapped Christina on the shoulder.
“Looks like the K9 hit on something,” I said quietly. “Let’s wrap things up.”
When we walked up to the building, about six uniformed deputies milled about the parking spots in front of the corner apartment. The K9 handler rubbed his partners furry head and pulled a yellow tennis ball out from his cargo pocket.
“Who’s a good dog?” he said and bounced the ball high for his dog to snatch out of the air in mid flight. A female deputy stood next to him and tucked her flashlight into the plastic ring on her gun-belt. When she saw the shirts and ties, she jerked her head in the direction of the apartment, and handed me a piece of note pad with two names on it.
“Andre Johnson and Jeffry Daniels,” she said. “Jeffry lives here with his baby mama, and Andre is just visiting.”
“Where are they?” I asked, handing the note to Christina.
“Both are inside,” she said, “and baby mama is none too pleased.”
“Right,” I said, “thanks.” When I walked into their living room, Andre sat on the couch with his head in his hands. One of the female deputies handed me his ID and pointed to the suitcase near the couch and a male deputy in mid search.
“He says he doesn’t live here,” she whispered. Her back was to Andre, and she kept her voice tight, omniscient. “Got kicked out of his brother’s place only last night.”
“Did he give you guys permission to go through his things?”
She looked at me with a smile, her hair pulled back in a tight bun. “Sure. Said he had nothing to hide.”
I wondered how that conversation went down. Dogs barking at the door, a gaggle of cops banging, telling him to open up. That sounds consensual enough. I smiled back and looked at Christina. She nodded at her notepad and the red light of her digital recorder. I read the name on the ID and stepped up to the plate.
“Andre, I’m with the Sheriff’s Office and I need you to know that you don’t have to talk to me,” I said. My voice sounded big, playful almost. I’ve found that dumb ox plays better than smooth talk.
“You want to tell me what’s going on here?” Andre said, keeping his eye on the deputy rifling through his duffle bag. “I don’t even live here.”
“Well, you match the description of a guy we are looking for, and the dog tracked to your place.”
“Yeah,” he said, looking back and forth between me and his increasingly empty duffle. “Well, like I said, this isn’t my place.”
“Sure, but you understand, you’re staying here and this thing just happened.” The deputy was pulling clothes out of the duffle like he was looking for a clean set of pants to wear. He tossed them on the floor and I noticed a black hat, rounded brim, with white lettering on the front. “Have you been outside tonight?” I asked, my eyes steady on his face.
“Just to the Circle K, to get a sub and some chips.”
“What time?” I asked, then changed tack. “Better yet. You have a receipt? You see. We know exactly when this whole thing kicked off, so the sooner I can place you somewheres else, the faster we’ll be outta your hair.”
Andre stayed seated on the couch and held a hand up to the deputy going through his things. “Can I go to the kitchen?”
“Andre, like I said, this is your world. I’m just standing in it.”
Andre stood up from the couch and moved to the plastic bag hanging on the back of the front door. He dug around and came up with a slip of white paper drenched in mayonnaise. “I think this is it,” he said and laid it out on the kitchen counter.
The lobby of the Circle K smelled of disinfectant and bleach. A group of construction workers milled near the coolers, grabbing subs and chips, preparing for the day outside. I walked to the soda fountain to fill my cup with crunchy ice and sent Christina to chat up the clerk for evidence.
“You guys have video here?” she asked. Out of uniform, Christina’s look doesn’t exactly scream police. Without the bullet proof vest and utility belt full of gear to guide her, the clerk looked warily at this minivan mom cutting in line to ask her questions. Christina smiled and tapped the badge hanging from her neck and the look on the clerk’s face flashed with instant recognition.
“Rita!” the clerk called behind her as she counted change back to a customer. “Cops need to speak to you.” Christina looked over at me and winked, something she had started doing more and more as she got her detective legs. She and I, two cops in the know, always smiling.
Before coming to sex crimes, Christina spent years on the road training newbies. The wink was her way of easing them into the job; a “watch this” attitude of good humor and insight. Who was training who here? I wondered if she knew she was doing it to me. I finished filling my cup with water and went to stand by her side.
Rita opened the door of the office and stuck her head out. She had a stack of cash in one hand and a ream of receipts in the other. Her bleached, blond hair pulled tight on her forehead and poked out a frazzled ponytail. She had her mouth pursed in concentration. Had she been outside, a cigarette would have been living there. She looked busy, and not in the mood for detectives. The face of the neighborhood watch, she was not.
“What can I do for you, dear?” she said to me, already exhausted and ignoring Christina. I smiled and was about to speak when Christina cut me off.
“We need to see your video from this morning.” Christina approached the door and held out a her card for Rita to take, but Rita just smiled and held up her hands.
“You’re going to need to hold on a sec. I got to count this up and get it in the safe,” she said. “Then you two can come in and take a look.”
Christina and I stood in the doorway of Sergeant Maddox’s office as he checked his emails and listened to the events of the morning.
“Black cap with white lettering and black collared jacket,” she said with a smile. “Not the blue sweatsuit he said he was wearing.” Then she gave him the blow by blow of the investigation and how Andre had already disappeared by the time we got the video and went back to re-engage him in conversation.
“So what you’re telling me, Detective, is that you let the bad guy get away. Is that right?” Sarge has a way with words. He likes to tie us up with our own explanations and watch us try to wriggle ourselves free.
“What she’s telling you is that she’s going to be writing a warrant for the apartment and after I eat some breakfast, a bunch of us will be heading out to canvas for witnesses.” I said with a smile. I wanted to sleep sometime today and I knew he would be at this awhile if I didn’t step in. Sarge looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes. I could hear the sound of his voice in my head. C’mon fella, let me have my fun. But the email called to him and he let it go.
“Fine. Call felony and get them up on the stolen phones,” he said with a sigh, on the edge of uninterested, “and let me know when they start to ping.”
Anita Nunez walked four miles of the Cady Way trail every morning with her husband. They talked about their kids, how she never thought she’d miss the dusty littered dawns of Juarez after leaving Mexico two years ago, and how sometimes, when driving with the windows down, the diesel fumes from passing trucks took her home again. So when the glint of sunlight shone off the pieces of Kylie’s phone up ahead on the trail, Anita thought it was just another spot of trash conjuring up images of home and loss. But once she got closer, she realized her mistake, and started picking up the pieces to see if they fit. By the time she got home, she was smiling ear to ear with the treasure that had landed in her lap. I almost felt bad for her when she opened the door to her apartment and found me standing there with a felony team behind me.
TO BE CONTINUED…