Lieutenant Batista covered his nose with his sleeve.
“Leave this to forensics,” he told Quinn.
They walked downstairs and watched as Jordan read the hand-cuffed Joey Alvarez his rights. Detective Quinn smirked at the bewildered look on Alvarez’s face.
“What’s he so shocked about? That the upstairs bedroom wasn’t a good enough hiding place?”
Batista ignored him.
“I’m heading back to the station. Work the scene, will you?” he said.
He’d decided to let Quinn handle this one. They’d found the body tucked up in a bed in Alvarez’s bed. The case was practically gift-wrapped. As open and shut as Internet Explorer.
Quinn dropped into the chair at Batista’s desk.
“This guy is either the worst criminal we’ve had, or he’s tripping delusional,” the detective announced.
Batista frowned. If Joey had Quinn wondering if he was crazy, he would probably get off on an insanity plea.
“So, you want to watch the unabridged version of the questioning?”
“No, tell me what his story is,” Batista replied.
“Okay, so, Joey Alvarez says he didn’t kill her.”
“Yeah, we’re still waiting for an ID on the victim. Joey says the only other person in the house was this girl, Kristine. He came here for college, no friends, no family; met Kristine at this local place. Chinese Chow. They talked for a while, hit it off, met there a few more times. He invited her over. One thing lead to another, she moved in.”
“What do we know about her?”
“We don’t even know who she is. The lab geeks are taking their time. Joey isn’t telling us much other, says she didn’t talk about her herself much.”
“How does he explain her being dead?”
“That’s just it. He doesn’t! He says he just saw her last night, she was fine and pretty much un-dead. They had dinner, then she went up to her room. Next thing he knows, he has cops knocking on his door, saying they received complaints about the smell. He told them he doesn’t know about it, let them in. They called in homicide.”
“Keep pushing him, he’ll confess,” Batista said, turning to the next file on his desk.
“Keep pushing him? He’s already crying like a girl scout who lost her skipping rope.”
“Girl scouts sell cookies, they don’t skip,” Batista corrected.
“Well, not now she can’t, she’s lost her skipping rope, hasn’t she?”
“The millions pouring into your labs, and this is the best you can give us?” Quinn demanded, flinging the forensics report down on his table.
“Hey, we got everything out of that place that anybody could get. What do you want me to do, fake my report to make you happy?” Vince scowled.
Quinn rubbed his temples.
“Okay, I’m sorry,” he said.
“Yeah, well, that’s all there is. The victim was female, that’s all we could tell. Been dead for years. Cause of death, unclear. No DNA matches, nothing to connect her to any missing persons report. The bedroom, inches of dust over everything, but clean forensically speaking: no fingerprints, Joey’s or otherwise.”
“You said she’s been dead for years. How many?”
“We don’t have a definite number yet,” Vince replied, fidgeting. “We’ll get it you. We’ve handed it over to forensic entomology because the body has half-decomposed.”
Quinn shook his head.
“It’ll be decomposed all the way by the time you guys are done,” he muttered, showing Vince the door.
Quinn and Jordan walked up to the billing counter of Chinese Chow and flashed their police badges. It was still early evening and the restaurant was yet to serve its first customer.
“Joey Alvarez. Heard he comes here pretty often,” Quinn said, holding up a photograph to a sweaty, balding man in his thirties.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him,” he said.
“Well, in the beginning, he-”
“And when was the beginning?”
“Around a year ago, I guess. Saw him pretty much every day back then. I only remember him because he always got the same table, over there, in the corner,” the man indicated a small round table for two in the farthest corner of the room.
“And he was always alone?”
“Yeah, as far as I remember. You should talk to the waiters, I just man the register, I don’t notice too many customers.”
Half an hour of interrogations with all the waiters yielded little information.
Joey Alvarez had first appeared a little more than a year ago. Back then, he’d dined at the restaurant almost daily, always at the same table for two. Quiet, didn’t speak to anybody. Tipped miserly. Occasionally ordered champagne or wine. Ordered a lot, at least two mains every time. His visits had became less and less frequent over the weeks. He hadn’t been seen for a couple of weeks.
Jordan dismissed the waiters and flipped her notebook shut.
“That was helpful,” she said.
“She got him.”
Both the detectives turned to the bartender, an ancient man with a shock of gray hair. He’d listened silently as all the other employees told what little they knew.
A few waiters still nearby heard him and exchanged sympathetic but amused smiles, as if they knew what was about to happen.
“Who got who?” Quinn demanded.
“I’ll be damned if I know her name, but your boy Joey, he’s headed to places darker than prison,” the bartender said.
“Care to explain?” Quinn pushed aggressively.
“I’ve seen nine young men, all new in town show up here over the last thirteen years, detective, and when they start sitting at that table every time, you can be sure she has them hooked. She was a beautiful woman, a real charmer.”
Quinn glanced at Jordan, who shrugged.
Sure, something might have come loose in the old man’s head, but wouldn’t hurt to hear him out.
“The scorn of Mercury.”
“The god of travelers. He professed love for her, and broke her dear heart. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, detective. She still walks her old paths, what’s left of her soul bent on dragging as many of Mercury’s scion down to the same hell he left her in, the anguish of surrendering your being to the one you love and then being walked out on. That’s the hell Mercury left her in. She hunts for travelers, those new to the land, the young unbroken souls, those blessed by the god, and slowly takes them in, makes them fall into love.”
“And then what does she do?” Quinn prodded, suppressing a smile.
“She breaks them. She leaves, like Mercury left her. They don’t live long after that, and it’s best they don’t too,” he said darkly.
Quinn patted the bartender on the shoulder.
“Thank you, sir. You give us a call if you see the woman again,” he said.
The man chuckled.
“Oh yeah, like I can see her,” he said, as if in all the conversation of the last ten minutes, that suggestion had been the most ridiculous idea voiced.
“How’s our guy doing, Santiago?”
“He hasn’t exactly been trouble, but well,” the officer hesitated.
“He’s been crying his eyes out, and keeps shouting for Kristine. Grows quiet as the grave for hours in between, and I’ve seen him hunched over in the corner of the cell, sobbing like a child.”
It was clear that Joey Alvarez had Officer Santiago’s sympathies.
“You keep on an eye on him, officer. We all know how many insane inmates were sane enough to break out of prison,” Quinn told him.
Santiago nodded and walked away.
Quinn knocked on the lieutenant’s door before entering.
“You wanted to see me?”
“Yeah. You’ve been working way too much on the Alvarez case. I thought it was an open-and-shut, what’s going on?”
“Things don’t seem right, lieutenant.”
Quinn placed the case file onto the desk and flipped through the scene photos.
“You see this? Our men had to break down the bedroom door,” Quinn said.
“What am I looking at?”
Quinn pointed at the photo of the bedroom door.
“The door was latched shut from the inside,” he said.
“How on earth do you lose a goddamn body?” Vince shouted into the phone.
“We don’t know where it went,” the morgue director said sheepishly. “We sent a dozen to the crematorium, we’re checking the paperwork to see if there was a mix-up.”
“You better find the corpse, or I’ll replace it with yours,” Vince threatened, then slammed the phone down. Evidence got misfiled and lost all the time, but never before had a dead body been lost.
The matter eventually died out as the precinct found newer corpses to deal with. The body found in Alvarez’s room wasn’t found again. It had left behind no trace of its existence. If its only purpose had been to bring the life of a love-smitten man crashing around his wretched self, it had served its end.
It wasn’t until two hours later that Officer Santiago’s radio burst to life and he ran down to the holding cells to see Joey Alvarez’s lifeless form slowly swinging from the ceiling, his orange prison uniform tied around his neck.
Ten pm at the Chinese Chow restaurant, a man of twenty-three sat down at the table farthest from the door and ordered a bottle of champagne.
The bartender handed over the bottle to the waiter and crossed himself, saying a quick prayer.
The sins of the father still resonated in a world that he had recused himself from, leaving his orphaned lineage to bear the cross, the unforgiving fury of a woman wronged unleashed upon the slowest of the pack.