“Rain. Why not? I have always wanted to investigate a murder in the middle of a freaking hurricane.” Thermopolis Konan lifted his collar to shield his neck from the deluge. His ride should have been here ten minutes ago. “Typical crap, make the new guy wait.”
An unmarked Crown Vic pulled up next to the curb. The driver rolled down the passenger window about an inch. A curly haired brunette sat behind the wheel.
“Are you Detective Konan?”
“Yeah, the wet version.”
Konan got in and the brunette extended her hand. Konan shook her hand.
“I’m Lilly. They have paired us up for partners. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, you to.”
“Sorry I am late. I stopped to get us coffee, and the bottom fell out while I was inside.” She handed him a lukewarm cup of coffee. “You drink coffee, right?”
“I do. Thanks for making the gesture.” She handed him sugar and cream. “I didn’t know what you took in it, so I brought everything.”
“Just sugar. A lot of sugar.”
They mixed their coffees and Lilly made small talk. She would glance at Konan from time to time to see if he was following the conversation. He never seemed to be lost. So far, so good.
“So, you came to us from 112th.”
“I heard that it’s a great department.”
“No, you haven’t. They are tore up from the floor up.”
“Yeah, that’s what we heard in the 117th. I was trying to tiptoe around it, but you’re like a bulldozer in a trailer park.”
“Let me guess, you were told I betrayed my last partner, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the rumor that’s going around.”
Konan nodded his head. “Figures.” Lilly started the car and drove. The rain had not let up any. Heavy raindrops crashed into the windshield; the wipers slapped it away. Konan listened to the rhythm of the wipers for a while.
“So, did you betray your partner?”
“No. I turned him in for corruption. He took bribes from politicians, abused his authority, broke the rules, and tried to set me up to take the fall for all of it.”
“Why did they send you to us?”
“Who’s the victim?”
“I don’t know.”
Lilly guided the car into an all-night convenience store, and the pair walked into the store. Broken liquor bottles were scattered on the floor. The potent smell of whiskey saturated the air.
A young officer stopped them short of the ticker tape. Lilly forced a smile at him. “I’m Detective Lilly Thompson,” she said. “This is Detective Konan.” The officer broke into a laugh.
“Conan, you said. If he hit a side pose, he would disappear.” A small giggle escaped from Lilly, and Konan sighed.
“Wonderful. Another Neanderthal who has confused size with intelligence. Maybe I should reintroduce myself.”
“Sure thing, Conan.”
“I’m Chief Kick-A-Bitch from the Slapaho tribe. Get out of the way.”
Lilly laughed as the young officer turned red in his cheeks. “That is rather good, Konan. Let us get in here and do our job.”
Lilly led Konan through the mess. According to what he was told, Lilly was the highest ranking, therefore, she would do the talking. Konan was there to watch and learn. Even at the 112th, everyone knew Lilly was one of the best detectives around. Konan would sit back and observe.
A row of coolers ran down the back wall and left side of the store. A long hallway led to the entrance to the entrance of the coolers, and a back door led to the alleyway. The hallway was well lit. Blood covered the floor and walls. Four bodies, Konan assumed they were employees and owner, were lying on the floor.
Forensics were taking photographs and measuring the scene. Ally Smith, the lead forensic tech, looked up and gave Lilly a nod. Lilly nodded back.
“Have you guys found anything, Ally?”
“Yeah. We have some bloody footprints leading to the back door. We have fingerprinted everything. Who’s your shadow?”
Lilly turned and waved a hand at Konan. Ally walked over and pulled off her gloves. She stuck her hand out, and Konan grasped it.
“Ally, this is Thermopolis Konan. He came to us from the 112th.”
“Ah,” Ally said. “You’re him.” Konan raised his eyebrows.
“Him? Him who?”
“You’re the guy that burned his last partner. They sent you here because you betra-, did the right thing.”
Konan took a deep breath and forced a smile. Lilly grimaced. ‘Definitely not a good impression,’ she thought to herself. It is bad enough that everyone knew what Konan did. To have it thrown into his face was something else.
“Nice to meet you, Ally.”
She seemed happy to ignore her blunder. Ally smiled and nodded.
“Just call me Konan.”
“Sure thing, Konan.”
“Has anyone checked the cooler,” Konan asked. Ally shook her head no. “The crime is out here. None of us checked the cooler. We started with the bodies.”
“Okay. I’ll check it out.”
Konan pulled the latch on the metal door and stepped inside. The refrigeration unit kicked on. Cases of beer, milk, eggs, and cheese are stacked up in the aisles. Konan pulled out a light and shined it on the floor. Bloody footprints led deeper into the cooler. The footprints were tiny, like a child’s footprint.
A noise sounded at the back of the cooler. Konan moved quietly through the cooler. He turned off his light and came up to the side of cases of soda. Old-fashioned glass bottles rattled in their cases.
Konan knelt beside a small girl. She had blood on her hands and face. Tears stained her cheeks.
“Hi,” Konan said. “I’m Konan. What’s your name?”
The child would not look at him. She continued to cry silently. Konan reached for her. His badge came into view and the child screamed.
“Bad man! Bad man!”
Konan backed up. The door of the cooler opened, police poured in. Konan waved them off. Lilly stood in the doorway.
“What’s going on, Konan?”
“Call child services, we have a witness.”
Konan took a seat on a milk crate until child services arrived. They rushed into the cooler and spoke to the child in a calm, kind manner. Konan walked out. Lilly waited for him behind the ticker tape.
“Is she okay,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged.
“I don’t know. She went bananas when she noticed my badge. She kept screaming bad man! Bad man!”
Lilly rubbed her forehead. ‘Poor Konan. This is not what he needs. He just got here.’Konan and Lilly walked out into the rain. They sat in their car and watched the deluge.
“Konan, do you think a dirty cop killed those folks?”
“It would seem so given her reaction to the badge. However, that does not mean anything. A lot of folks today do not trust cops. Maybe her parents told her to stay away from police.”
“Maybe, but you don’t believe that, do you?”
“I just got here, Lilly. I am not trying to make waves, and I am not trying to point a finger at a cop. I will follow the evidence and if it points at a dirty cop, I will arrest him or her. Until then…”
Lilly patted Konan’s leg. She winked at him. Konan shook his head in disgust.
“I understand, Konan. We must brief Chief Mathers. She will want to know what we have found.”
Lilly started the car and pulled out into traffic. Konan gripped the door handle and breathed deeply. Lilly swerved in and out of traffic, often times blowing the horn to let the other drivers know she was coming through.
“Relax, Konan. I got this.”
Konan said nothing. He closed his eyes and waited. “God, if I die here, please don’t let me suffer,” Konan prayed silently.
“Are you religious, Konan?”
Lilly hit the horn and jammed on the brakes before Konan could answer. “You moron,”she shouted. The vehicle that had pulled out in front of them moved over into the other lane. Lilly craned her neck to see if the driver was as stupid as the way they drove.
An old lady lifted her middle finger and shoved it out her open window. Konan grinned, Lilly busted out laughing.
“You go, Granny.”
Lilly whipped the car into the motorpool and jammed the brakes. Konan released the breath he had held in since the near collision with the old lady.
“You didn’t answer me. Are you religious?”
“How can you believe in God, when you see what we see day in and day out?”
“How can you not?” Lilly shrugged her thin shoulders and smiled.
“I never said I didn’t. I just want to get to know you.”
“Just because we see the worst of human nature doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. There are plenty of good people in the world.”
“Yeah, I reckon.”
They entered the elevator and rode it to the second floor. They got off and made a right. A long narrow hallway ran east and west through the floor. The second door on the right was the office for homicide. They called it ‘the murder room.’ They walked in. A pair of detectives waited for them.
“Y’all catch a bad one,” the thin one asked. Her name was Manson. She was tall and thin. Her blond hair was straight, her eyes a cold grey. Her lips were thin, just like the rest of her.
“Yeah,” Lilly said. Manson nodded to Konan.
“This is my partner, Thermopolis Konan.”
“I don’t like him,” Manson said. She waved over a short, barrel-chested behemoth. Manson pointed to Konan. “You know him, right?”
Val Rankin stared at Konan. He scrunched his nose up in disgust.
“Yeah. I know this traitor. Thermopolis Konan. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t get rid of you.”
“Funny stuff, Val. I was just thinking the same thing. Then again, trash goes whichever the wind blows.”
Val stepped toward Konan and clenched his fist. Konan smiled at him. Lilly stepped between them. “Okay, boys. That’s enough. Come on, Konan. We have to report in.”
She led Konan away from Manson and Rankin. Captain Tia Mathers office was at the back of the murder room. She looked up from her desk and waved them in. Her eyes followed Konan’s movements. When they got to her desk, she told them to sit down.
“What is it, Lilly?”
“It’s ugly, Captain. Four dead in the hallway, a witness left alive in the cooler.”
“Okay. Y’all get on it. Keep me informed.”
Lilly nodded her head and stood to her feet. Konan stood as well. Mathers looked at him.
“No one said you could leave, Konan.”
Konan sat back down and waited. Lilly turned back, but Mathers nodded to the door. Lilly exited the room, and Mathers locked eyes with Konan.
“Let’s get something straight right off the bat, Konan. I don’t like you. I don’t like the fact that you turned on your own. I was not given a choice about you coming here, but make no mistake, I won’t hesitate to throw you out of here if you betray us. You dig?”
“Good. Get out of my office.”
Konan walked out into the squad room and sat at his desk. Lilly pulled up a chair next to him. Konan leaned back and waited for Lilly to spill the beans.
“Things didn’t go well with Tia, did it?”
“It was fine. I figured I would have to face it at some point. It’s better to get it out of the way.”
“Well, let’s get out of here and go to the morgue. Surely, they’ve found something by now.”
Lilly and Konan walked out to the parking garage. Konan walked to the driver’s side. Lilly tried to hide her smile.
“Would you like to drive, Konan?”
“If you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Lilly said. Konan pulled the unmarked Crown Vic out of the garage and started for the morgue. Lilly yawned. Konan never exceeded the speed limit. Lilly kept glancing at the speedometer.
“Wow. You’re a by-the-book kind of guy. Do you get in a hurry for anything?”
Konan laughed. “Sure, I get in a hurry sometimes. However, we are going to the morgue. Everyone there is dead, so why rush?”
“That’s horrible,” Lilly snickered.
“Well, it’s not like they’re going anywhere.”
“I got it, Konan.”
Konan nodded. Lilly laughed at his attempts at humor. This partnership was off to a good start.
Konan guided the car into a parking place near the door to the morgue. It was really coming down. Hurricane Irma was causing all sorts of havoc in the Gulf. The wind whipped trash through the parking lot as Konan and Lilly rushed to the door. A security guard sat behind the desk and watched the weather report. He looked up when the pair approached the desk.
“Kinda bad out there, ain’t it?”
“Yep,” Lilly said. She and Konan flashed their badges at him. “Is Ally in?”
“Sure,” the guard replied. “She’s always in. Ain’t met nobody as dedicated as that gal is to her work. A nuke could go off and it would not budge her from her duties.”
He motioned for them to go on back. Lilly and Konan started around the desk. The guard put his hand up and stopped them.
“Y’all know where you’re going, right?”
“Yep,” Lilly said. Konan forced a grin.
“I’m just following her, boss.”
“Alright, then. Be safe out there.”
They walked down the hallway it was white. Everything was white, and it smelled as if the staff had soaked everything in bleach. White walls, white floor, white tiles. Konan’s eyes hurt from the glare of the light on the all-white surfaces.
“I think they like white,” Lilly said. Konan chuckled.
“Did I ever tell you about this Non-Commissioned Officer I had just before I got out of the Army?”
“No. We just met like six hours ago. This is my first time hearing it.”
“I had a Sergeant from the West Coast somewhere and she was ditzy, I guess you would say. One of my buds, he was a basket case, but I loved him to death. He asked her what her favorite color was one day while we were in the motorpool.” Lilly giggled and stood outside of Ally’s office.
“What did she say,” Lilly asked.
“She said her favorite color was clear.”
“Yeah, transparent, clear, you know, like a plastic bottle.”
Lilly’s brow furrowed, and her worry lines showed.
“That’s not a color.”
“I know. That’s what made it funny.”
“I don’t get it.”
“That’s okay, Lilly. I guess you had to be there.”
Lilly knocked on the door and waited. Down the hall, a door slammed. Konan turned and stared down the hall. Ally stepped out of the cooler and walked toward them. She gave Lilly a nod and motioned for them to follow her.
“This is going to be nasty,” Ally said quietly. Her eyes were dark, her mouth a tight line. Dark circles were under her eyes. She sat down on a stool and looked at her notes.
“First things first, they killed almost all the victims at the same time. Second, they shot all expect for the first victim. A garotte killed her. Most likely it was piano wire. Whoever killed her, they almost cut her head slam off.”
“Anything else,” Konan asked.
“Yeah,” Ally said. “Before they shot the other three victims, they shoved them to their knees and made to watch the execution of the woman. Then, the perps shot them in the back of the left ear with a .22-caliber handgun.”
“Jesus,” Lilly whispered. Konan said nothing. Ally put down her clipboard and motioned for them to follow her. She pulled out the bodies and showed them the wounds.
“Look how neat this cut is with the garotte. There was no herky-jerky motion. It was one smooth cut. The wire slid right through the tender flesh.”
“Do you have a magnifying glass,” Konan asked. Ally handed him one. He studied the wound and shook his head.
“What is it,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged.
“I saw a couple of decapitations while deployed but nothing like this.”
“Meaning,” Ally asked.
“The wounds were similar, but not that clean. The insurgents used fishing line.”
“How did they…”
“They put it under overpasses and used the vehicle’s momentum to kill the machine gunners.”
“Oh,” Ally said. “I doubt the killer used fishing line.”
“They didn’t. Like you said earlier, it’s too clean.”
THERE ARE NO INNOCENTS IN WAR, THERE ARE ONLY LOSERS. WHAT DID THEY LOSE? THEIR HUMANITY.
The wind and rain were relentless. Ally’s briefing of her findings took the better part of an hour. In that time, the storm had worsened.
Lilly and Konan raced to the car. Lilly’s umbrella did not help block the rain. Between the wind and the rain, they both ended up soaked.
“This is nuts, Konan. So, we are looking for multiple assailants, a sadist, and. Lord knows what else.”
Konan sighed. Human depravity, viciousness, and violent nature were as old as time itself. Still, the brutal nature that had dispatched the woman was unusual.
“Tell me of your time in the service,” Lilly said. She didn’t phrase it delicately. His interest in the wound was not usual for a police detective. It hinted at something deeper and darker.
“What do you want to know?”
“What was your job?”
“I hunted insurgents and killed them.”
“Okay. You saw a lot of action?”
“You mentioned decapitations when we were at the morgue. Can you tell me about it?”
“I could. I’m not going to. It’s not relevant to our investigation.”
“If you expect me to trust you, you need to tell me, Konan. This is how we build trust.”
“Okay. Let’s do this, then.” Konan’s lips pulled back into a snarl. His eyes became cloudy. He stared out the passenger window at the black night.
“The first decapitation I saw was a small boy. His mother was a judge or something. They killed her straight off. Raped his sister. Made his dad watch as they cut off the boy’s head.”
Lilly turned and looked at Konan. He spoke in a calm voice, as if he was describing a dinner or a bad date.
“The second one was an entire family. They helped our forces, provided intel, reported enemy movements, that type of thing. Anyway, the insurgents found out, and they made an example. They killed all fifteen members. They threw their heads outside of our base. We found them the next morning. Wild dogs had got ahold of them. We could barely make out who was who.”
“Dear God, Konan.”
“Yeah, it was pretty bad.”
They rode in silence until they arrived at the police station. Lilly asked no more questions about decapitation. Apparently Konan’s answers had satisfied her curiosity.
Konan had nothing else to say about the subject. What he had seen and done served no purpose now. It was enough that he had lived it.
Lilly went back into the office to gather her belongings. Konan walked through the rain to the bus stop. Remembering what he had seen made him feel filthy. “It’s always the things we saw but could not change that haunts us the most.”
The powerlessness of those moments weighed heavily upon Konan. He sat on the last seat of the bus next to the emergency exit. His clothes are soaked, but his mind raced with possibilities.
“What kind of person would make others watch as they cut the head off of a woman?”
It reeked of a seriously deranged person. Someone who would have no sense of right or wrong. No conscience. A sadistic heart and soul.
Konan had seen some of the worst that humanity offered. He had seen evil up close. This was not something one would see in America, but in other parts of the world where an uncivilized nature could flourish.
Yet, it happened here. Right here on Main Street in Small Town, USA.
Konan disembarked the bus at the bus stop and walked to his mobile home. The 14×70 trailer was often the bane of redneck jokes, but Konan loved his home. It had a walk-in shower. He used the shower and washed the day’s grime off him. “If only I could do the same with my mind,” he thought.
He dried off and changed into his pajamas. They had dogs printed on them. He strode barefooted through the house and sat in his recliner. He reached for his Edgar Allan Poe collection and read MS. Found in a Bottle.
It was not long before he fell asleep. He dreamed of war and the horrors that humankind inflicted upon each other.
[CHAPTER 3] — [ENTER CHAPTER TITLE HERE]
Konan tossed and turned on his couch. Sleep was a cruel mistress tonight. When he fell asleep, the storm had raged for hours. It was quiet now, his home dark. A limb would scrape his metal roof when the wind blew. It was eerily silent.
He got up and walked to the coffeepot. He poured water in and put a K-cup in the chute. Konan yawned as he waited for the magical fluid to make. He glanced at his clock. The red digital lens reflected 0230. He had slept for three hours.
No wonder he felt like hammered crap.
The hot, frothy liquid filled his cup, and he spooned in sugar. He sipped it. It wasn’t sweet enough, so he added some hot water to the cup. Ah, nothing would ever compare to the first sip of coffee.
He carried his coffee into his makeshift library. Konan sat amid the room and powered on his computer. In the search box, he typed in decapitation.
‘Holy crap,’ Konan muttered. His search history pulled up a wealth of information regarding beheadings. Most of the articles are by ‘academics,’ and they apparently considered the use of decapitation as a good thing. It seemed to Konan that everyone had, at some point, used decapitation as a method of punishment. The English and French had used it as the last stroke (literally) after disemboweling and hanging those they decapitated. There was even a modern article asking if beheadings were more humane than lethal injection.
“Y’all come on down to the fairgrounds, we gonna chop the head off this ole boy!”
Konan shivered and shook his head. People had lost their minds. Konan sipped his coffee and scrolled through the rest of the article. No one seemed to have written one why it remained in use.
While he read up on the extremism of decapitation, his phone rang.
Lilly’s voice came over the receiver. “Hey, you’re up.”
“You want some company?”
“Um, sure. Come on over. I’ll put on some coffee.”
“Sounds good. I’ll bring snacks.”
Thirty minutes later, Lilly knocked on the door of Konan’s home. He peeked through the peephole. Satisfied that she was alone, Konan opened the door. Lilly walked in, holding two boxes of donuts.
“Sorry to barge in at 3 in the morning, but I couldn’t sleep,” Lilly said. Konan shrugged and led her to the library.
“It’s alright, Lilly. I was up.”
“We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?”
“No doubt. Why couldn’t you sleep?”
“I dreamt of decapitations.”
“Yeah, I did too. I have researched them since I’ve been up.” Lilly wrinkled up her nose.
“I thought it might give an insight into why people decapitate others.”
“Learn anything,” Lilly asked between a mouthful of a chocolate-covered donut.
“Yeah. It’s brutal. Everyone talks about the ‘cleanliness’ of it as an execution method. You know, ‘one swift stroke and it’s over.’ What they don’t tell you is that the government would only kill noble and poor alike after disemboweling and hanging them. So, it’s not a ‘nice’ way to kill anyone.”
“Jesus,” Lilly whispered. Her face was pale. “So, it’s a method of punishment?”
“So, the woman…”
“Yeah. The killer probably knew her and wanted her to suffer.”
“Oh God. Is there any place that still uses decapitation as a punishment for crime?”
“Yeah. Saudi Arabia is the only place to use it. In their culture, the family member of a murdered person may carry out the execution. It is very….messy.”
Lilly said nothing to his response. She put down her donut and stared at her coffee. Lilly wiped at her mouth and shook her head. She seemed visibly shaken.
“They punished her.”
“Yeah, Lilly. It wasn’t just murder.”
At 0500, Konan and Lilly hopped a bus and rode into town. They walked into the squad room and pulled out the information they had so far.
It wasn’t much, but they had to start somewhere.
They identified the victims as Tamara Watson, Jayce Watson, Kylee Watson, and Talia Omar. The three Watson’s were shot. Talia had her throat cut.
Their respective families lived within a three-block radius of each other. Upon discovery, officers identified their families of the gruesomeness.
It was the worst part of the job for Konan. Going back and asking questions of people who had their world upended seemed unnecessarily cruel. But it was the job. At 0800, they set out for the Watson family home.
Jim Watson, father of Kylee and Jayce, husband of Tamara, sat outside of his home working on a lawnmower. He looked up when Konan and Lilly walked up. He wiped his hands on a red, greasy rag.
“Can I help you, folk?”
“Yes, sir. I’m Detective Sergeant Lilly Thompson, this is Detective Thermopolis Konan. We need to ask you some questions.”
Jim nodded his head. He became teary-eyed. Konan looked away. Lilly sat on an overturned bucket.
“We’re sorry to have to ask, but it may give us a clue who killed your family, sir.”
“I understand.” Jim said. “Ask your questions, ma’am”
“Tamara and your children went to the store. Why were they there?”
“They went to see Talia. They loved her. Tamara and Talia became good friends. She refused to go to the grocery stores when she could buy from Talia.”
“Did your family have any enemies?”
“No. We stayed to ourselves.”
Lilly nodded. Konan watched her question the man. Lilly struggled with her emotions. Her voice cracked every time she asked a question. “She’s kind. Look at her, Jim couldn’t wait to tell her whatever she wanted to know.” Lilly patted Jim on the knee and stood up.
“Thank you for talking to us, Jim. Call us if you remember anything that might help us, okay?”
Konan started for the car. Lilly ran to catch up.
“How do you do that, Konan?” He looked over his shoulder at Lilly.
“Do what exactly?”
“Remain emotionless. Jim cried; I was emotional. You stood there like a statue. Don’t you feel anything?”
Konan stared at Lilly. His lips peeled back and revealed his teeth. He wiped at the corner of his eye and scrunched up his nose.
“You seemed disconnected with Jim’s grief.”
“Why? Because I didn’t beat my chest? Because I didn’t punch the walls and scream at the sky?”
“No, I just…you didn’t shed a tear, didn’t get misty-eyed, you just waited for me to finish asking questions.”
Clearly, his detachment posed an issue with Lilly. Konan did not know how to fix it. He shrugged.
“I’m sorry, Lilly.”
“It’s okay. I thought you might have a reaction from you. I guess I expected too much.”
They rode in silence to the home of Talia Omar. The Muslim community had settled in the southeastern part of the city. Talia lived in a small house near the bustling part of the community. The mosque stood in the center of the busy neighborhood. It stood separate from the businesses and homes.
Konan turned on the radio as Lilly drove. The local news came on, the announcement of ‘breaking news’ interrupted the regular programming.
“Councilman Ted Wright Jr. stepped down as Councilman for District 2. He departed today under the suspicion of corruption. Meaning that he issued building permits based on the amount of money the purchaser offered. Many minority groups tried to build within District 2 but denied for one reason or the other. Stay tuned for further developments, we will update as we release details.”
The regular programming returned, and Konan listened to it and stared out the window. Two announcers debated and compares some modern basketball player turned activist to the greats of yesteryear. Konan soon lost interest in it and shut off the radio.
“Do you think that the new guy is as good as the old ones,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged.
“I don’t think it matters. The game has developed and not for the better.”
“I didn’t know you kept up with sports, Konan. I figured you for a bookworm.”
“I am. I’m a bookworm that keeps up with sports.”
Lilly laughed. She nodded to the market.
“Wanna grab a bite to eat and then hit Talia’s home?”
“No. Let’s go there first. Then, we can eat and not have to rush through it.”
“Okay. You take lead. I struggled with the last one.”
Lilly pulled the sedan into the driveway. She shut off the engine and sat behind the wheel for a moment. Konan waited until she opened the door and then got out. Konan walked with her to the door. He knocked.
An elderly woman opened the door. She stared at Konan; he gave her a small smile and showed his badge. She turned from the door and said something in Arabic. A tall, slender man came to the door. He had a black beard and wore the traditional garb of his culture. He nodded to Konan.
“Hello. Good afternoon. How may I help you?”
Konan touched his heart with his right hand and said hello. He showed his badge to him.
“I’m Detective Thermopolis Konan. This is my partner, Detective Lilly Thompson. We are investigating the death of Talia Omar. I have some questions if you do not mind.”
“Certainly. Please come in. Talia was my sister. I am Ahmed.” He led Konan and Lilly to the living room. Ahmed motioned for them to sit. The elderly lady brought in a teapot and poured each a cup of tea.
Lilly blew on her cup and sipped it. She sighed and smiled. Konan smiled at the elderly lady and thanked her. Ahmed whispered to the woman, whom Konan decided must be his mother, and she disappeared into another room.
“Thank you for the tea.” Ahmed smiled and nodded.
“You were in the service, yes?”
“I was,” Konan said. He sipped his tea. “It’s been a while since I had Black Tea and mint.”
“You will be honest with me,” Ahmed asked quietly. Konan nodded yes.
“As far as I can be, yes.”
“Do you think my sister was an honor killing?”
Ahmed waited for Konan to reply. The problem was that Konan had no answers. Silence filled the moment; it grew more awkward the longer the moment lasted.
“I don’t know, Ahmed.”
“Of course, you don’t,” Ahmed muttered bitterly. “What do you know of my culture besides we are all extremists?”
“Did your sister have any enemies,” Konan pressed. Ahmed shook his head no. He scratched his beard before he answered.
“No, everyone loved my sister. To know her was to love her.”
“Was Talia married?”
“No. My parents promised her to someone, but the marriage hadn’t taken place yet.”
“Who was she promised to?”
“That’s not important…”
“It might be. We can’t find your sister’s killer if you handcuff our hands behind our backs.”
“They promised her to Rasheed Mohammed before he went to…”
“Before he went to what?”
“Are you a soldier?”
“I was. I am now a cop.”
“Did you fight?”
“Rasheed is a soldier.”
“He turned away from the extremists. He became an informant. Then, he moved back here for protection.”
“Okay. I need to know where to find him. I need to talk to him.”
“You will kill him.”
“Not if he complies. I bear no ill will. If he is decent, I will be decent.”
“Okay. I will have him meet you.”
“I need his address. In case he doesn’t show. Just in case something delays him.”
Ahmed shook his head and wrote the address on a sheet of paper. He handed it to Konan.
“He will resist. His past is, murky.”
Konan and Lilly thanked Ahmed for his help and walked out to the car. The weather was raging, the skies a dark, gruesome black. Konan got behind the wheel and started toward the last known location of Rasheed Mohammed. Lilly looked at Konan.
“You seemed genuinely emphatic back there. I’m impressed.”
Konan sighed. It was always the same thing. ‘You’re not emotional enough.’ What was the big deal about emotions anyway?
“Well, thank you.”
“Your lady friend must be thrilled with your profound emotional development.”
“I don’t have a lady friend.”
“You don’t. Wow. They must not know you’re available. Why don’t you have one? Don’t you believe in true love, Konan.”
Lilly made a pouty face and pinched Konan on the cheek. He cut his eyes to her and she winked at him.
“No wonder you’re such a curmudgeon.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Lilly.”
“Come on, Konan. Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”
“Fine. I thought a woman cared for me once. I thought. She upped and left, and I tried to salvage the friendship. In the end, I should’ve burned the bridge and gone on about my life.”
“But you didn’t.”
“I wasn’t given a choice, Lilly. I thought we had something, but I was the only one who thought so. In the end, we couldn’t even be friends.”
“That’s sad, Konan.”
Konan bit down on his upper lip and shrugged. Lilly stayed quiet for a while and Konan focused on the road.
“You know, you could try again. Not everyone is hurting or recovering from a traumatic experience.”
“I would rather cut my throat with a dull knife. The problem isn’t that people are busy, or that life is hectic. The problem is that no one knows if the person you’re interested in is really what they show you. How do you know that they’re genuine? That they’re not wearing a mask?”
“You don’t. You take it on faith that they’re being genuine with you.”
“Yeah, that’s stupid. People can’t be honest with themselves, much less anyone else.”
Lilly tapped Konan on the shoulder until he glanced at her. She pointed her finger at him and said, “you’re a curmudgeon.”
“You’re turn, Lilly. Are you married, dating or single?”
“I was married. Now, divorced. We had a good thing until it soured.”
“I see. Did you have children?”
“We did not. It’s one my biggest regrets.”
“Why,” Konan asked as he guided the vehicle in front of a ramshackle factory. It had long been closed, but squatters use the place.
“Because having children is a privilege not everyone gets to have. If I have children, my memory lives on in them.”
“You want to be remembered?”
“Yes. You don’t?”
“Nah. I’m good with passing like a whisper in the night.”
“Of course, you are.”
Konan pulled out the paper Ahmed gave him. They were in the right place. There was no sun to speak off. The overcast skies gave way to long shadows. Konan and Lilly walked into the building. Broken windows and leaky ceilings made the place musty. Konan took point.
“Hello? Rasheed Mohammed? Are you here,” Lilly called out? The long shadows held only silence. Konan took out his flashlight and shined it around. Workbenches and various factory equipment stood in the middle of the building. Stairs led to the second floor.
They proceeded to the second floor. Rolls of fabric and mannequins were scattered in the room. Konan and Lilly stayed quiet and moved through the room. Konan gave Lilly the signal to move to the far side of the room. He went right as she went left.
A backpack sat on one of the tables. Konan shined his light on it. Everything in the room had dust on it, except for the backpack. Konan heard a noise and turned to face it. Lilly stood by a mannequin. An average man held a pistol to her head.
“Um, Konan…” Konan watched as the man pushed the pistol and Lilly stepped into full view. “I think this is Rasheed.”
Konan waited. The man looked at him. Konan stared back.
“Who are you? What do you want,” the man asked?
“I’m Thermopolis Konan. I’m with the police, and I am looking for Rasheed Mohammed. Are you him?”
“Why have you sought me?”
“I need to ask you some questions about Talia’s murder. You need to put down the weapon.”
“So, you can kill me? I don’t think so.”
“I will not kill you, Rasheed. She might when you move that gun from her head. You have nothing to fear from me.”
“Are you a soldier? A killer of men?”
“Give me your word as a soldier that I will come to no harm from you.”
“I give you, my word.”
Rasheed removed the gun from Lilly’s head and handed it to Konan. Lilly punched Rasheed in the mouth.
“That’s for putting a gun to my head, idiot!” Rasheed wiped at the blood from his mouth and nodded. Konan watched the scene play out. Lilly walked off to calm down. Konan motioned to a chair for Rasheed to sit in.
Rasheed nodded toward Lilly. “She is fierce.” Konan nodded and said, “yeah.”
“You had questions?”
“Why would anyone kill Talia?”
“I don’t know. She was an excellent woman.”
“Whoever killed her made it look like an honor killing. You know that, right?”
Tears welled up in Rasheed’s eyes. He stared at the floor. Lilly had walked up. She looked like she wanted to throttle Rasheed, but she kept her cool.
“My sins have caught up with me. They will not let me live a peaceful life,” he muttered quietly.
“What sin? Who will not let you live a peaceful life?”
“When I was, um, extreme in my beliefs, I performed honor killings. You must understand, my faith needed protecting. Those who turned their backs on the faith needed to be punished.”
“They hired you to kill those who left the faith?”
“And now, you say that your sins haunting you.”
“Who would kill Talia to strike back at you?”
“I don’t know.”
After more questions, all of which Rasheed answered, Konan and Lilly had no more insight into the murders than when they first showed up. Lilly had told Rasheed not to leave town. They left the abandoned factory and stepped out into the humid blanket left in the storm’s wake.
Across town, Khalid Abbas sat outside a café and waited for his guest. His day to ascend had come. It began with the news that Ted Wright had stepped down. This would now propel him to the political heights he had long sought after. He stroked his beard and smiled. “Things are coming together just as I have envisioned,” he thought.
A hand touched his shoulder. He turned to face who dared to touch him. There was no one there. He turned back around. Across from him sat his guest.
“Good afternoon, Khalid. I trust the news has comforted you.”
“Yes. My ascension to power draws nigh. Of course, your efforts on my behalf made this all possible.”
“I did it for the money,” the man said. He stared at Khalid through his mirrored shades. His mouth was a flat line, and Khalid could feel the intensity of his gaze upon him.
“Right, the money. It’s in the bus locker that you requested.” William ‘Deadeyes’ Blankenship forced a smile. Khalid squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.
“The key,” Blankenship asked in a quiet voice that barely moved the wind.
“It’s under your placemat.”
Blankenship lifted one corner and pulled out the key. Khalid smiled. Blankenship took the key and put it in his pocket.
“Enjoy your meal, Khalid. I have things to do.” Khalid nodded his head and thanked him for his help. He watched as the large black man walked down away.
Khalid wiped his hands on the tablecloth. He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at the sweat on his brow. Dealing with Blankenship made him nervous. Of course, the man had come with a sterling reputation for getting the job done.
And he had done the job.
Still, Khalid wanted nothing more to do with Blankenship. His master plan was underway, and nothing would stop him from achieving his goals.
Konan and Lilly sat quietly outside of the police department. Neither had said much on the drive back into town. Lilly had kept her cool about her experience with Rasheed and the gun, but she was still irate that Konan had not blown Rasheed away.
“What do you think? Do you think Rasheed committed the murder?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“He can kill her. He held a gun to my head for God’s sake.”
“Yeah, but do you like him for it?”
“I don’t know. Let’s ride over and see Ally. She might have dug up something else.”
Konan drove to the morgue and pulled close to the door. Lilly and Konan walked in. The same security guard sat at his desk. He handed Lilly the clipboard, and she signed them in.
Ally saw them coming and waved them into her office. She nodded to them and put on her glasses.
“I was just going to call you guys.”
“You found something,” Konan said.
“Yeah,” Ally replied. Lilly walked over and sat at the desk. Ally pulled up images of the cuts on Talia. She motioned for Konan to come over.
“You see this right here,” she said as she pointed at the cuts. These are normal for the garrote. “You see though how these cuts differ from these.”
“Yeah, they aren’t as deep as these,” Lilly answered. She leaned closer to look at the image.
“He let off the pressure,” Konan said. “The killer asked her something and when she wouldn’t answer he tightened the wire.”
“Exactly,” Ally said. “That’s why there are various degrees of cuts. Whoever did this was looking for something. The victim suffered tremendously.”
“Exactly how did she die,” Konan asked. Lilly leaned back and watched Ally.
“The garrote didn’t kill her,” Ally began. “When she struggled against the garrote, her arteries tore, and blood entered the arterial wall. Layers of the arterial wall splintered, and she had a stroke.”
“Jesus,” Lilly whispered. Her face turned pale, and she shook her head.
“I also found coagulated blood in esophagus. The oxygenated blood could not reach her brain, and a blood jam occurred. This woman suffered before she died. She lost control of her bowels as well.”
Konan nodded and said ‘thanks’ to Ally. He tapped Lilly on the shoulder, and they walked out to the car. The humidity was thick enough to cut. Konan drove back to the abandoned factory.
“What are we doing here, Konan?”
“I want to ask Rasheed something to verify what I think I know.” Lilly nodded. They found Rasheed on the second floor, staring out the large window. He had a foot on the desk. He looked up when Konan and Lilly drew near.
“You’re back,” Rasheed grunted. Konan forced a smile. “You’ve discovered something?”
“Not yet,” Konan said. He walked over to where Rasheed sat and pulled a metal bucket to him. Konan sat down. Rasheed watched him closely. Experience was a cruel teacher. One could never be too aware, especially when people did not appear dangerous.
“You carried out honor killings, right?”
“How did you carry out these executions?”
Rasheed stared out the window. Konan watched him; Rasheed seemed truly remorseful.
“Different ways. I shot some, others lost their heads.”
“What is the preferred method?”
“Garrote.” Konan pulled out a picture of Talia’s wounds and laid it on the table. He pointed at the wound.
Rasheed sobbed and put his forehead down on the picture. His tears wet the image. Konan leaned forward and touched Rasheed’s shoulder.
“Was it like this?”
“No. I made one smooth cut.” Rasheed’s words caught in his throat. He wiped at his tears with the back of his hand.
“Let me tell you what we think happened, Rasheed. My partner and I think Talia knew something she shouldn’t have known. Someone found out that she knew it and hired someone like you to end her. If they could not hire you, who would be next on the list?”
“I don’t know. I turned away from that life.”
“You see these cuts? The killer put so much pressure on her throat that the arteries tore. This has nothing to do with your religion. Someone who enjoyed their work caused this brutality.”
“I don’t know,” Rasheed muttered. “I don’t know…”
Konan flung the bucket he had been sitting on at the wall. He jammed a finger into Rasheed’s chest and shouted, “I don’t believe you!”
Lilly pulled Konan back, shocked at his anger. Konan put his hands up and walked to the window. He punched through the glass.
“I wouldn’t be hiding in an abandoned factory if this had happened to my girl,” Konan yelled. He slammed his injured hand on the table. “I would be out there hunting the person who killed her. Who did she cross? Tell me you sack of goat dung!”
Lilly stepped between Rasheed and Konan. She put her hand on Konan’s chest. “You need to calm down,” she whispered. Konan waved his hands dismissively and walked back to the window.
“Talia knew everybody. She helped everyone. One day she had a visit from one of the local men. He wanted her to do something for him. She refused. I don’t know nothing more than that.”
“What was his name,” Lilly pressed. Rasheed sighed.
“Khalid. His name is Khalid Abbas.”
Lilly squinted at Rasheed. “Khalid Abbas, why does that sound familiar,” she muttered.
“Khalid ran for governor a couple of years ago, and narrowly lost,” Rasheed responded. Lilly snapped her fingers and shook her head.
“That’s right. People said his views were too extreme,” Lilly said. Konan continued to stare out the window. He’d found a dirty rag and wrapped it around his injured hand.
Lilly walked over to Konan. “Come on,” she whispered. “Let’s go ring Khalid’s doorbell.”
Khalid Abbas lived in the richest neighborhood of Fredericksburg. The elite of the town lived in Briar-Stone. Metal fences protected the backyards. Every house had a driveway. The driveway had a gate at the entrance.
Compared to the luxury homes built throughout Briar-Stone, Khalid’s home seemed paltry.
The five-bedroom home sat hidden from the main road. The drive snaked around into a hidden corner surrounded by tall pine and White Oak trees. Khalid, an avid collector of old cars, had spared no expense on his garage. Ten cars could fit within it. He was proud of his home, but desired more of everything. More wealth, more power, a bigger house. Nothing was off limits to him.
Lilly pulled the unmarked squad car up to the intercom by the gate. Konan got out and pressed the button. It was mere seconds when Khalid’s voice came through the speaker.
“Can I help you,” he said curtly. Konan nodded at the security camera hoisted above the gate.
“Yep, I’m Detective Konan. We have some question about Talia Omar.”
“Okay. Follow the driveway down.”
The gate buzzed and opened. Konan got in the car and sighed. Lilly pulled through the gate.
“How did he sound,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged and cracked his neck.
“He sounded like he expected us to show up. You question him, Lilly.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I need to get my hand taken care of. I will be in when it’s took care of.”
Lilly pulled up short of the house. She got out and whistled. It was a beautiful house. Konan got out and pulled out a first aid kit from behind the seat. He cleaned his wound and ripped open the bandage with his teeth.
Khalid met Lilly at the door. He smiled at Lilly; she smiled back. Lilly waved her hand at his home.
“You have a beautiful place here,” she said. He nodded and said, “it will do for now. Please, come in.”
Lilly smiled and pointed at the car. Khalid looked in the direction she pointed.
“My partner injured his hand. He’s cleaning it. If you don’t mind, I would rather wait for him.”
Khalid snapped his finger and a small woman, no younger than 75, conversed with Khalid in their native tongue. She started for the car.
“Your partner will join us in a moment. Grandmother will bring him in when she has bandaged his wound.”
Lilly said okay and followed Khalid into the house.
“So, you have questions about Talia Omar. I heard they found her dead, such a horrible place the world has become.”
“Yes, it is sad.”
Khalid led Lilly to an expansive sitting room. He motioned for Lilly to have a seat, and he sat across from her. Footsteps sounded down the hall as Konan and Grandmother made their way into the room.
Konan nodded to Khalid; Khalid nodded back. He sat next to Lilly.
“How did you hurt your hand, Detective,” Khalid asked. Konan forced a smile.
“A flash of temper and reaction, I’m afraid.” Konan feigned embarrassment. Khalid smiled.
“How did you know Talia,” Lilly asked.
“She is a member of our community. She helped many during tough times. I sought her help once.”
“Did she help you?”
“She did not have the means to help me.”
“What did you seek help with?”
“I asked her to join my campaign as a financial advisor. She refused. We disagreed on several issues. We went our separate ways.”
“So, you did not have any issues with her refusal,” Lilly said. Konan watched Khalid. He showed no outward signs of stress. “He’s a cool customer,” Konan thought.
“No. I had no problem with her refusal. America’s greatness comes from accepting those we disagree with. We can disagree and not worry that some person is going to behead us for it.”
“Was that the last time you saw her?”
“Yes. I have hired people who do my shopping for me, so I have spent little time in the markets.”
“Okay. I have no further questions, unless my partner thought up some.”
“I have one question, sir.”
Khalid forced a smile, Konan smiled back.
“Did you know the killer made Talia’s death look like an honor killing?”
Khalid said nothing for a moment. He stared at Konan. Then he flashed a quick smile and shook his head.
“No, I did not know that.”
“Ah. I thought you might have some information since you brought up beheadings.”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Many have said you lost your first run because of the extremeness of your views. Do you agree with beheading those who turned on your faith? It’s just between us.”
“I believe those who turned need punishment. Those who make these decisions decided whatever punishment is righteous.”
“That’s not a yes or a no,” Konan said. Khalid smiled.
“No, it is not. It is best to leave the punishment to those in charge.”
“If you were going to have someone killed, for honorable reasons, of course, who would you call?”
Khalid laughed. It sounded as fake as the answers he gave. He made a show of it. Khalid wiped at his eyes and put a hand on his belly.
“Oh, Detective, there’s no list of executioners you call to handle such business. Even if there were, I would have no use for it.”
Konan stood; Lilly joined him. Khalid led them to the door. Konan turned and smiled at Khalid.
“Thanks for answering our questions. You’ve been a great help to us.”
“You’re welcome, Detectives. I wish you good fortune in finding Talia’s killer.”
Konan and Lilly walked to the car. Lilly waited. This case seemed clumpy to her, like unformed dough.
“Do you think he did it, Konan?”
“I think he hired someone to do it.”
“He was very calm about the whole thing,” Lilly said. “The only thing that stood out to me was his reaction when you asked him about honor killings.”
“Yeah, he was too calm. It seemed like he expected us and knew the questions were coming.”
“Khalid doesn’t seem like the person who is used to being rejected,” Lilly said as she guided the car through the gate.
“I waited for him to crack a joke. You know, something like: This dude on a bicycle fell off and broke his neck. A group of people gathered around, and someone yelled, Please call a doctor!”
A guy runs up and said, “I’m a doctor!”
“What kind of doctor,” the person yelled.
“A doctor of mathematics!”
“This guy fell and broke his neck!”
The doctor looked at the body and said, “Minus one.”
Konan waited for Lilly to laugh, but it never came. Lilly shook her head and said, “that’s horrible.”
They rode back to the station. While Lilly drove, Konan thought of Khalid. ‘The guy is too smooth. He’s greasy, you can’t hold him.’
“Konan. Hello, Earth to Konan.”
“Sorry, Lilly. What’s up?”
“How do you think we should proceed?”
“We need a list of his campaign workers, house staff, and any involved with him on any level, personal or professional.”
“You’re putting all your chips on Khalid?”
“Yeah, I’m going all in.”
Lilly cocked her head and stared at Konan. “Why is he so angry,” she wondered. This case, their first, seemed to have grown into a personal conquest. It would not satisfy Konan until someone paid for the crime in blood.
“You are target locked, Konan.”
“What do you mean, Lilly? I felt Khalid was our guy from jump street.”
“That’s what I am talking about. You didn’t ‘feel’ this way about Rasheed, and he committed heinous acts just like the one perpetrated on Talia.”
“Rasheed was remorseful. Khalid is too smooth. I’m telling you…”
“Remorse is not a symptom of innocence, Konan. Why are you dead set Rasheed is innocent? Where is your evidence that he is guiltless of this crime?”
Konan rubbed his forehead and temples. He shook his head in disgust.
“I have nothing, just what I feel in my guts.”
“It’s entirely possible that both men are culpable of the deed. Sure, Rasheed seemed remorseful, but he also put a gun to my head. Don’t forget that minor detail.”
“Yeah,” Konan said. This case was moving too fast, or he was moving too slow. Leads were few, and Konan battled his past and this case.
“Let’s get some coffee,” Lilly said. She drove them to a small café that was on the corner down from the station. Konan got out and sat at a table near the largest window in the building.
“Here you go, partner. Some much needed brain juice to the rescue.”
Konan took the coffee and blew on it. Lilly sat across from him. She stared out the window at the puddles left by the storm.
“I’m sorry, Lilly. It wasn’t professional of me to put all my eggs in Khalid’s basket.”
“It’s okay. I haven’t grasped why you’re so angry. I’m sure you have your reasons, but we need to get the right guy for the crime.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Why are you so angry?”
Konan rubbed his temples and stared out the window. Tears wetted his eyes. He blinked them away.
“There was a third honor killing that I saw. Her name was Aida. She was born in the Middle East but grew up in America. When the war kicked off, she went back to her place of birth. She and her family moved back because they loved their country. They wanted to help.”
Konan sipped his coffee and stared at a puddle of muddy water. A car passed by and splashed water on the window. He wiped at the tear that stained his cheek.
“They had two beautiful daughters. Aida was our interpreter. She went out on missions with us. One day, she didn’t show. Then, it was a week. Two weeks. We found their bodies in a drainage ditch on one of our patrols. “
Lilly covered her mouth and stayed quiet. “Poor guy…”
“The insurgents abused, tortured, and then killed Aida’s children. They made her and her husband to watch. Or that was what we assumed. The husband received the same treatment, he just lasted longer.”
“We only found her head. The rest of her body had disappeared. We figured they fed her to the wild dogs.”
“Oh my God…”
“Did no one investigate?”
“Investigate? Who had time to investigate? Someone rumored that our side betrayed them, but horrors happened daily in that country. We carried war out. Evil happened so frequently no one could keep up. Sure, it got reported to headquarters. They assigned people to look into it, but the backlog of tragedies were astronomical.”
“Maybe we should work a different case, something less…”
“No, Lilly. I’ll keep my emotions in check. Let’s get this solved.”
“Can you do that? Can you keep your emotions balanced?”
“Did they ever find out who killed Aida and her family? Did they discover who sold them out to the insurgency?”
“I don’t know. The last I heard was they suspected a Non-Commissioned Officer named Blankenship in our unit. I think nothing ever came of it.”
“He was in your unit? Did you know him?”
“They assigned him to my unit to bolster our numbers. I knew of him, met him a time or two between missions. That was it.”
“Why was he suspected of betraying them?”
“Again, I don’t know. Something happened to his squad, I think. It was before he came over to us.”
“We need to find out what happened. We also need to see if he knew Rasheed or Khalid, and if they had any dealings with each other.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Konan said as he wiped at his eyes. “Maybe we can put both cases to bed with one swing of the bat.”
Konan and Lilly strode into the police station together. They now had a purpose and multiple leads to check out. Tia Mathers waited for them at the elevator.
“What do you have to say for yourselves?”
Lilly shrugged and stayed silent. Konan waited for the other shoe to drop. There’s always another shoe, he thought to himself.
“What part of your investigation led you to Khalid Mohammed? Do you know who he is,” Tia screeched.
“Yeah, we know who he is,” Konan said. “He is a person of interest in this murder we are investigating.”
Tia Mathers drew close to Konan, close enough he could smell the cheap vodka on her breath, and whispered, “I told you I would get you. You’re done.”
Lilly stepped to her partner’s side. She met Tia’s hateful glare with one of her own.
“He ain’t going nowhere, Tia. If you fire him, you fire me. Khalid is a person of interest; we will work to clear him as fast as we can. He answered our questions. We have leads that need following, if you’ll excuse us.”
Lilly pressed the button and motioned for Konan to come to her side. Tia licked her lips and glared at Lilly.
“I’d be careful who I hitched my wagon to, Lilly. If he goes down, so will you.”
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. Lilly turned to face Tia. She locked eyes with her.
“I’ll remember that, boss. You should probably take your own advice.”
Lilly and Konan rode the elevator to the second floor. They walked into the murder room and sat down at their desk. Manson and Rankin came over.
“I heard y’all going over and bugging innocent people,” Manson said. She curled her lips at the sight of Konan.
“Understand, Manson. That’s the Thermopolis Konan method. Instead of looking for the killers, he goes off and looks for someone to blame for his inadequacies.”
Manson snorted. “Sounds about right.”
Konan smiled. Lilly never looked up.
“Speaking of inadequacies, Rankin, how’s your wife and my kids,” Konan asked. Lilly giggled. Rankin flushed red.
“Why you piece of…”
Konan leaned back in his chair and waited for Rankin to finish his sentence, but it never came. Manson stepped between Rankin and Konan.
“You know, Mason. When you curl your lips up in scorn, you look like you’re prepared to kiss a hog’s rear end. Or maybe just Rankin. Either way, it’s a bad look for you. Now that you know, do better.”
Manson’s veins protruded from her forehead as she dragged her partner from Konan. Lilly laughed and looked up.
“Are you through antagonizing the children,” she asked. Konan smiled.
“Yeah. You know Mason is so ugly you’d have to tie a pork chop bone around her neck to get the dogs to play with her.”
Lilly giggled and said, “she probably says the same thing about you.”
While Lilly dug into Khalid’s financial data and relationships, Konan placed a call to the Department of Defense. They answered on the third ring.
“Good afternoon, this is Tiffany. How may I direct your call?”
“Hi, Tiffany. I am Detective Sergeant Konan. Could you connect me with Personnel Records, please?”
Three rings later, Tiffany transferred Konan to Personnel Records. A grumpy voiced person answered the phone.
“I’m Detective Sergeant Konan. I am trying to get a copy of Staff Sergeant William Blankenship’s records.”
“For what end?”
“He is a person of interest in a murder investigation.”
“You need to fill out several forms before I hand over a copy of a soldier’s record. Do you have the forms?”
“This is the first I’ve heard of needing forms. What forms do I….”
“You need the forms, period. There’s no way around it. Get the forms filled out and notarized. Send them in and it will take up to five weeks before we send them to you. IF your request is approved.”
“Maybe you miss…”
“GET THE FORMS FILLED…”
“STOP INTERRUPTING ME!”
Quiet filled the airwaves. Konan cleared his throat.
“You’re about the rudest idiot I’ve dealt with today. This is a murder investigation. I’m not waiting five weeks for you incompetent people to remove your head from your butts. Send the records to this email.”
Konan rattled off his email and hung up the phone. Lilly stifled a smile and continued her search. Konan leaned back and stretched. ‘No wonder the world is in the shape it’s in. Between the bureaucrats and red tape nothing gets done.’
“Have you found anything, Lilly?”
“Yeah, check this out.” She handed a slip of paper to him. Konan put his glasses on and read it.
“Well, how about that,” he muttered.
“Wanna go see what Rasheed has to say now?”
“Yep. Let’s ride.”
The sun had shined briefly after the rain ceased. Between the wet asphalt and the blazing sun, the humidity rose quickly. It felt as a wet blanket had descended upon them and weighed about their necks. The sun was out only for a moment. It disappeared behind the darkened firmament.
Lilly drove them to the abandoned factory. She darted masterfully between her opponents, who shared the road with her. Konan put his hand on the roof to brace himself. Between her sudden lane changes and tailgating, Konan was having a hard time remaining upright.
They finally arrived. Konan exited the vehicle and bent at the waist. Lilly grinned.
“You can’t hack it, eh?”
“I can hack it,” Konan muttered. Lilly giggled and scrunched up her nose.
“No, you can’t.”
She’s right, Konan thought. He wanted to admit his defeat, but he wasn’t a quitter. ‘I’ll power through.’
They walked into the abandoned factory. Long, dark shadows lurked in the building. Konan pulled out his light. They made their way to the top floor. The mannequins appeared sinister in the low light.
Rasheed sat in the open, his handgun was to his left. He stared out the window. He never moved. Lilly approached him from the side.
Rasheed was dead. His color was gray.
A blood-stained piece of paper was on the desk. There were no empty casings from the pistol. There were no wounds on his body, and someone crossed his hands.
It was the prettiest ‘suicide’ scene Konan ever saw. He called it in. While they waited, they observed the scene.
“Konan, listen to this.”
“The police came today and told me that my one true love had died in the fashion of an honor killing. I was powerless to stop it. There is no way I can bear the thought of her suffering; I can’t bear the shame.”
Konan took the letter from Lilly. The copperish smell of blood was strong on the letter. The handwriting was neat. It was too tidy.
“He knew the killer,” Lilly said. Konan nodded.
“Rasheed knew how and when the murder would occur. He lied to us, and I never saw it.”
“Khalid must have known we would discover that he, Talia, and Rasheed came to the States together. There is no other explanation.”
“Maybe, but it is all too convenient, dontcha think?”
Lilly shrugged and sat down next to the body. The wail of the ambulance announced its arrival. Ally brought her bag with her, two men shoved/carried the gurney up the stairs.
Ally stared at Lilly and Konan and then the stiff. She knelt beside Rasheed and tested his temperature. She glanced up at Lilly and said, “y’all visit the nicest places.”
“It’s not by design, Ally. Do you have a time of death?”
“About two or three hours ago. Did you guys find him like this?”
“Yep,” Lilly said. Ally nodded. Konan stared at the desk. Everything had a place, not seemed disturbed.
“How soon before you can tell if it was a suicide or murder,” he asked Ally. She squinted at him.
“Do you think it’s a murder?”
“I’m not sure, Ally. He was a person of interest in our investigation and suddenly he is dead. It makes a guy wonder.”
Ally shook her head and sighed. It seemed she would never catch up with the backlog of cases she already had on the table.
“Everybody wants to be first,” she muttered. Konan’s eyes grew narrow and his mouth tightened into a hard line. Lilly put her hand on his shoulder.
“We don’t mean to add to your workload, Ally,” Lilly said. “It’s important that we know if it is a suicide or not.”
“Give me some time and I’ll run up a full battery of tests. You’ll know something tomorrow.”
Konan and Lilly departed from the factory after ensuring that any potential evidence got gathered. He still carried the note in his hand. Konan pointed at it.
“You see the blood, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Lilly said. “I see it. What about it?”
“There is blood on the paper, but none on Rasheed. So, if it’s not Rasheed’s blood, whose is it?”
“The killer’s,” Lilly gasped. “It’s not a suicide.”
“Yeah. They killed Rasheed. By whom remains to be seen. His weapon and the blood need testing. We need to know what killed Rasheed.”
“They staged the entire scene.”
“Like cheap theater,” Konan said.