TRACE EVIDENCE

Trace Evidence

By Gregory Purvis © 2008

 

The first week of May and it still feels like winter.

Ganza shook his head irritably, wincing at the stiffness in his neck. The house—a crime scene, now that Forensics was officially sucking-up all the overtime hours—was bathing in long shadows, with sunrise still two hours shy of turning this bad black-and-white movie into a Technicolor gore-fest. As long as the shadows hid the worst of the human carnage inside, the cold pop-tarts that stood-in for a decent breakfast were safe in his stomach, where they belonged.

None of the uniforms bothered to check his ID, even though this wasn’t his shift (or his district, for that matter), and Ganza didn’t recognize any of their faces. They were clustered around the door leading from the garage into the house, drinking coffee and swapping the latest gossip: whose wife was sleeping with whom, which lieutenant had fallen off the wagon, what assistant D.A. was going through a bitter custody battle.

“…heard he had been in counseling, the mandatory kind the assholes in IA make you go to…”

“.. the department ‘ll pay for that shit, just to keep it nice and quiet with nothing in your jacket and off the front page of the Times..”

“..wouldn’t do that, even if I wanted to—and with Connie, believe me, I’ve wanted to every day since I said ‘I do’—but you gotta keep a lid on that kinda thing. It eats at ya…”

 

 It was cop-talk: familiar, low-key—even soothing, in its own way. Usually. But somehow it wasn’t—not this early, not in this dark, cold place that was choking with the smell of blood and death.

 Maybe it’s just that these guys are all strangers, ‘brothers in blue’ or not, Ganza thought.

He ducked under the crime scene tape; the door to the house was only half-shut, leading into a small, cramped laundry room that smelled of fabric softener and gym socks. None of the uniforms even looked up, pretending whatever mess was on the other side of that door was in some fourth dimension—far-removed from anything important or relevant in their own world.

The house was as quiet as the proverbial tomb. But no matter what mess was buried within these walls, the silence was just a temporary arrangement. Forensics was on the clock, or would be any minute, and the brass would start winnowing away non-essential personnel. Happened at the end of every fiscal year, when the department’s overtime budget was stretched past the point of no return.

The juice seemed to be off. Ganza tried a second switch, got nothing. The air conditioner must still be working, though, because the wintry chill followed him from room to room. The walls were featureless black rectangles, broken by the occasional darker stain of a doorway or window. Massaging his neck, Ganza moved past the feeble light coming in from the garage, towards the deeper darkness of a large open space, maybe a dining room? He reached automatically for his flashlight, a powerful little LED penlight that was deceptively bright.

Shit. He must’ve left it. Home, maybe. His notebook, too.

He hadn’t been on the weekend roster. And he’d been asleep—that kind of deep, down-in-it sleep where the real world can only seep in as part of some dream that you can never really remember once you come up out of it. You can hear something, like the alarm clock, maybe, but it sounds far, far away. Muted, like listening to a radio next to a swimming pool while you’re underwater.

Ganza’s foster parents had gotten religion when he was eight or nine years old. They went to these revivals where people prayed out loud, repeating a word or phrase over and over again, eyes wide-open and staring at something on the ceiling, tears streaming down their faces.

They had baptized him at one of those revivals—in a big plastic pool with the water up past his waist. The preacher had held him under, and he’d been so scared he’d peed, terrified of drowning and the preacher noticing the yellow stain before the water diluted it. He remembered that, the muted sounds of the congregation praying, from underwater…

 praisejesuspraisejesuspraisejesus

Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!

The phone was ringing, had been ringing, for a while, Ganza figured.

The noise was dull, slowly dopplering in from some vast, mapless distance where every moment seemed centuries in the making. Then, breaking free of that warm, dark, deep water, the sound was suddenly sharper, piercing. Fumbling for the receiver:

Whazzit..?

He didn’t remember the voice on the other end of the line; dispatch, probably. Somebody called in sick. A lot of somebody’s, for them to call in someone off-roster, and from another district.

There was light coming from a hallway, spilling into the dining room. He could see that’s what the room was, after all: white staccato flashes revealing the shape of a long formal wooden table, three chairs down each side, with one at the head and another at the foot. The source of the light wasn’t a flashlight; it was too intermittent, too bright: a Forensics tech or another dick, moving around in a room at the end of the hall with a digital camera. They must’ve come in the front.

The shadows still clung to the walls like some dark tide washing up on a beach, rinsing away any details or evidence of human habitation, shrouding family photos, framed pictures, wallpaper.

Ganza could hear voices: low, murmuring, male.

The hallway was colder than the laundry room or the dining room and— despite the occasional bursts of light—it seemed darker, too. Ganza could see the bright flashes, but the hall itself could just as well been a cave—or a grave: buried deep under the dark, stale-smelling earth. The ceiling and floor felt like they were stretching towards each other, reaching up and down both at once, pushing closer until he was bent over at the waist, trying to resist the urge to crawl.

Just as he reached the end of the hall, two men stepped out from the room, one carrying a digital camera, the other one nodding his head to something the cameraman was saying, scribbling in a notebook. Ganza recognized him: Detective Sergeant Rolly Sherrod. The pen looked like a child’s crayon in his huge, meaty hand. Sherrod was a giant, maybe six-eight or so, had to be close to 300 pounds, most of it muscle—and what wasn’t muscle looked just as hard. He was bald except for a thin strip on top of his massive square head—the feature that had given him the nickname “the Anvil” when he played college ball for Nebraska. He was attached to robbery-homicide in the West District—a job Ganza had himself coveted, because the district was only a mile from his home. The other guy was a tech, a Philippino kid Ganza had seen a couple times, but couldn’t remember his name. Ortiz or Cortez or something.

They brushed by him in the narrow hall, the kid’s mouth going a mile-a-minute, Rolly Sherrod nodding, still writing. Neither one of them looked at Ganza, or said anything. Past him, they kept walking towards the laundry room, and it took Ganza a minute to realize the lights were back on. Two recessed halogens lit the hallway.

Those’re a pain in the ass to change, Ganza thought, looking up at the lights. The ceiling was actually high, he saw. The illusion had been his own claustrophobia.  Made the worse for wear by the darkened crime scene and exhaustion. He had pulled a double, filling in for a buddy, and had only been asleep a little over an hour when the phone…

…he could hear a phone ringing, now, and turned back to the doorway. A small nightlight and a reading lamp were the only lights in the room—the master bedroom. The reading lamp had been knocked off a small table on one side of a large Queen-sized bed. The shade was keeping it off the floor, and the low-watt bulb didn’t do much to brighten up the room, down that close to the dark carpet. Half the room was still bathed in shadow, relieved only by the nightlight plugged into a wall socket in one corner, revealing a closed door to the bathroom.

The phone was one of those gaudy princess models his wife liked, oversized handset —white, embellished with gold leaf—sitting on the table where the lamp had been before whatever had happened in here had happened.

It rang again. God, he hated that noise. It drove him nuts, and Amanda never seemed to be in any hurry to pick it up and shut off that noise.

A few steps and Ganza was standing over the small table. Most of the bed was covered in shadow, but he thought he could see a darker stain spreading out from the crisp, white linen sheets—like one of those ink blots that shrinks show people. The stain was dark…dark red

The phone rang again.

Ganza reached down, picked it up.

“Hello?”

Whazzit?

(static)

“Who is this?”

(helpmepleasemakehimstophelpmegod)

“What? Who’s calling? Answer me!”

This is Detective Sergeant William Ganza, North-Central District Major Crimes Unit. I’d like to report a…a..it’s happened. I’d like to report. To make the report.

“Uh…Detective Ganza, can you repeat that? What are you reporting, sir?”

It’s me, I’m going to, I mean I did…

“Sir, can you please just tell…”

I killed the bitch. She was one of them. She laughed at me! She knew I knew!

(muffled conversation)

“Sir, where are you calling…?”

She slept next to me, in my bed! Dear Christ, they were inside her! For months! Years, maybe…and I slept next to her! Next to THEM!

“Detective…”

They came out of her, when I shot her. I’ve got the evidence. Bring the lab boys; I got hair and fiber, tissue samples. Her head came open, and that’s all there was, just…hair. Hair! It wasn’t human hair! And no brains, just…there was just hair…ohmygod you gotta…

The line went dead, and the imitation ivory handle of the gaudy phone slipped from Ganza’s fingers. He turned slowly, back toward the bed. Toward that dark stain, spreading on the white sheets. A woman’s body lay on the bed, her head a ruin. And something else…a dark form, dangling over…he looked up, a sharp pain in his neck making him wince. A noose made from a long brown extension cord was tied to the ceiling fan. The shadows seemed to dissolve then, to pull back, and Ganza could see the man hanging from the ceiling fan, his face black, eyes staring sightlessly.

His own eyes.

Staring down at him, accusing.

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