A Quiet Death: Snippet One

Chapter 1

Rolling to a stop just outside the small house on the edge of town, my partner, Special Investigator Amanda Ashburn somehow managed to unbuckle her seatbelt, scoop up her coffee, and open her door in one smooth motion.

It took me rather longer than her to get my tall frame unfolded from her car.  A few months ago she’d had a comfortably large government-issue SUV.  Apparently wrecking it in a battle with hellspawned werewolves and cartel hitmen had meant Colorado’s El Paso County Sherriff’s Department had allocated her something rather more economical.

By the time I’d unfolded myself from the car, she was already walking up the steps to the small house, “What have we got?” She was asking of the two deputies who stood to either side of the door.

“Shooting,” the one answered.  I recognized Damien Garcia as I came up.  Mostly because we’d done our in-processing together.  He’d transferred down here from Denver, taking a job here in Colorado Springs over a better paying position up north, mostly because things in Denver were getting out of hand and, as he’d told me, he was a family man who wanted to be there while his kids grew up.  He and Deputy Alison had been partners for a month now, since he and I had run

“Perp is in the first room, Detective Haley is with her,” he told us both.  He gave me a nod and then went back to spreading out the crime scene barricades.

“Nikki, huh?” Amanda asked.  “Glad she got the perp.”  I could see she wanted to ask more questions.  Questions like why she and I had been called out if they already had the shooter.  She settled on, “Where’s the vic?”

Damien flinched a bit, “Uh.  You should talk to Sergeant Haley.”

His face had gone a bit pale as he said that and I saw him swallow nervously.  Whatever had spooked him, it was something that he didn’t even like to think about.

I felt a chill go through me as I realized that.  The last time I’d seen the law enforcement so spooked, it had been because werewolves had infiltrated a good chunk of the Colorado Springs police force, mostly by ripping their victims to shreds, consuming their souls, and then taking their place.  It had been in an attempt to track me down and obtain a certain artifact in my possession, but the police didn’t know that and they hadn’t been mentally, spiritually, or emotionally able to deal with the profoundly unnatural events.

I followed Amanda inside, doing as she did and taking care to avoid the splintered doorframe, “Somebody likes impressive entries,” I noted.

She pointed at the dusty bootprint on the sagging door, right near the deadbolt.  “Human,” she said in a low voice.  “Hit it right next to the deadbolt.”  She pointed at the doorframe, where the deadbolt had shattered right through.  “Just a simple locking latch, anchored in with half-inch bolts to the frame.”

“Yeah, one kick and that’s all she wrote,” I nodded.  Helping out with the county during my trial period, I’d seen the aftermaths of plenty of break-ins and forcible entries.  Most homeowners thought a deadbolt meant their door was secure.  After seeing just how easy it was to kick in a normal door, I’d drilled my latch plate at my new apartment with two-inch screws right into the frame.  If I had the chance, I was going to try and talk my new landlord into letting me swap out the wooden door for a steel one, too.

“Like you need to worry about a home invasion,” Sam chuckled in my ear.

I shot my guardian a look, but he just gave me a toothy grin in return.

Amanda went into the front room.  Sergeant Haley was there, the senior deputy of Major Crimes Unit, she looked a bit like a bear with a sore tooth at the moment.  “Took you two long enough,” she growled, “did you stop for coffee or something?”

Amanda sipped her cup of coffee in response.

Oh, it’s going to be one of those days, isn’t it?  I thought to myself.  Haley had transferred in from Colorado Springs Police Department, just as a lot of the Sherriff’s department had transferred over to the police in the wake of the horrible losses the department had suffered.  There’d been a lot of restructuring during all those transfers.  As part of that restructure, Special Investigator Amanda Ashburn and Probationary Deputy Kiehl (that was me), got folded under Major Crimes Unit.

Colorado Springs Police Department and one Special Investigator Ashburn hadn’t gotten along very well.  My partner had been investigating what most would term the supernatural for years, and she’d been given a lot of leeway so long as whatever had happened stopped happening and there was a nice, believable story about what had happened.

She’d lost a lot of that leeway in the wake of seventeen dead police officers.

No one suspected the supernatural, of course.  Even when three of the werewolves had materialized inside the police precinct, all most of the normal people had seen were deranged bikers swinging big knives.  The bodies of otherworldly beings seemed to just… unravel, and all the footage of the various attacks seemed either horribly out of focus or hard to look at or showed nothing out of the ordinary at all.

It reinforced what my guardian angel had told me: the human mind was not designed to understand things outside of the natural order.

“Sorry we’re late,” I told Sergeant Haley, “We were down south.”

“Traffic is getting awful,” Haley admitted.  “Glad you’re up here, though, this is…”  She made a face.  “Well, I don’t know what the hell this is.”  She gestured at where a woman sat, Henry “the Hunk” Alison stood next to her.

Henry was a tall, good-natured Provisional Deputy who’d gone through the Academy with me.  When they’d been calling off names the first day of our academy and they’d called off “Alison” and he’d replied with his soft, deep voice, it had thrown our instructors off and their constant calls of “Alison” had becomes something of running joke until they’d resorted to calling him by his first name, Henry, then Hank for brevity, and then finally someone had turned that into Hunk and finally, “the Hunk.”  The moniker had followed him after he graduated, in good part because no one could look at the tall, handsome young man and call him “Alison.”

With his blonde hair, blue eyes, height, and features, he probably could have gone into acting or modeling or something.  With how seldom he spoke and his friendly nature, he tended to put people at ease with no issues.

“That’s Angela Gowther.” Sergeant Haley gestured at the short, brunette woman seated on the couch.  She looked jumpy and nervous and her gaze kept going to the kitchen, almost like she was worried she’d left the stove on or something.

“Victim or perp?” Amanda asked.

“Little bit of both,” Haley shrugged.  She pulled out her notepad and read off it.  “Twelve forty-five, she hears a knock at the door, goes to check it.  It’s a man, one Andy Chin.”

“That guy,” Amanda scowled

“Chin?” I asked.

“Chin is suspected of multiple home invasions.  He also has ties to the local mob, acts as their enforcer, real nasty piece of work,” Sergeant Haley growled.  “His daddy got deported back to China, but Chin was born here in the US so the couple minor felonies he’s got just meant a few stays down in Canon City.”

“Great,” I shook my head, “so he broke in?”

“He did, and she shot him six times with her three fifty seven,” Sergeant Haley held up an evidence bag, with the weapon inside it.  “Then she reloaded and shot him another six times.  Then she called us.”

“She reloaded?” Amanda raised her eyebrows, “Good on her.”

I couldn’t argue with the sentiment, but Haley gave us a glower.  “She didn’t need to shoot him that many times.  Undue force.  That’s why she’s in cuffs.  Now that you’re here, I’m taking her back to the station for further questioning.”

“Seems pretty open and shut as self-defense,” Amanda noted.  “But I suppose that’s up to the DA’s office.  Where’s the body?”

“That’s why you’re here,” Haley told us.  “Garcia and the Hunk got on scene nine minutes after the shooting.  Garcia confirmed Chin’s ID from his wallet.  The Hunk confirmed no pulse and called the coroner.  They both started interviewing the shooter.  When I showed up, there was no body.”

My partner and I both stared at her.  “What the hell do you mean no body?”

“Check the room across the hall,” Haley told us.  “But it looks like either he stood up and walked off… or someone took his body before it even got cold.”

***

Any hope I’d had that this was some kind of joke to play on the new probationary deputy went out the window, along with what had to have been Chin’s body.

I paused to take pictures of the broken glass while Amanda was taking pictures of the huge swathe of blood across the floor.  She paused and pointed at a twisted bit of metal.  “See that?”

“Jacketed hollow point?” I asked.

“Yeah, still bloody, must have blown out of Andy Chin’s back along with a few pints of his blood and plenty of bone and organs,” Amanda shook her head, pointing at the bits fanned out around the obvious impacts.  “What have you got over there?”

“Something went through the window,” I told her, feeling like I wasn’t too smart as I did it.  But what else was there to say?  “Glass is broken but there are… well, bits, attached.”

“Yeah,” She walked over and pulled a set of tweezers and picked a bit of what looked like skin and hair off a remaining shard of glass.

“Werewolf?” I asked hopefully.

“Nah, it looks human.  And this is the middle of the day.  Plus there’s blood and remains.  Anything preternatural should have been gone by the time we got here, or on its way out.”  She dropped the skin and hair in an evidence bag.

“So…” I cleared my throat, trying to get the words to come out, “What you think happened is that Chin, after taking twelve rounds of three fifty seven to the chest, he what, just stood up, jumped through the window, and ran off?”

“Let’s talk to Garcia,” Amanda answered.

We went out front.  A news van had shown up, parked next to the coroner van.  I recognized the coroner, Doc Leo and a couple of his assistants.  The stooped man looked pale and wan in the bright sun.  They didn’t seem particularly disappointed not to be loading up a body.

Garcia was standing down by his patrol car.   He still had a wary look to his eye and his expression sank as we approached.  “Hey Damien,” I nodded at him.

“Ari,” He nodded back.  His gaze, though, went to my partner, “Look, Special Investigator Ashburn—”

“I don’t think you did anything wrong, Garcia, I just want to know what you saw,” Amanda told him.

I saw sweat bead his forehead and he looked around, as if he were looking for his partner or any backup.  “I told Sergeant Haley what I saw,” he told us.  “I pulled the guy’s wallet out, found his driver’s license, recognized Andy Chin’s face and name, and then left the Hunk to confirm he was dead while I interviewed the shooter.”

“What did the Hunk do, then?” Amanda asked.

“He called it in that there was no rush on the coroner,” Garcia told us.  “I mean, you could see the guy’s internal organs, blood everywhere, guy was toast.”  He shook his head, “Then the Hunk joined me and we interviewed the shooter, took her firearm, and then when I went back out in the hallway, the body was gone.”

“Just like that?” Amanda asked.

“Yeah… yeah, just like that,” Garcia told us, but his eyes looked a little wild.

“You didn’t see anything else, Damien?” I asked.  “Like maybe he got up off the floor and dove out the window?”

Damien didn’t answer.  He didn’t really have to.  His face had gone gray and his hands shook a bit.

“Ah, shit,” I shot Amanda a look.

“You know, you tell anyone that’s what you saw, they’ll have you in an ‘I love me’ jacket and on happy meds before you could finish, right?” Amanda noted.  “Which is why you won’t even tell us.  And that’s why we won’t be writing any of this down.”

Damien gave us both a grateful look.  “I’ve seen… well, I’ve seen a lot.  But nothing I’ve ever seen before is like what… what happened.  But you two aren’t saying I’m crazy…”  He trailed off and he looked between Amanda and me.  “I heard a lot of strange things about what happened a few months back…”

“Some drug cartel hired guns went rabid, that’s all,” Amanda told him in a relaxed tone.  “Don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Damien let out a tense breath.  “And Andy Chin must have been wearing body armor or something.”

Anyone who got a look at the room where Chin had been shot wouldn’t believe that.  But then again, if there wasn’t a body, there probably wasn’t going to be a whole lot of forensics.  In fact, if Chin was considered to be on the loose, then the shooter wouldn’t be charged for his “murder.”

“Yeah,” I nodded.  “Body armor, that makes sense.”

Damien gave me a nod, “I hope you guys find him.”

I shuddered a bit at the thought of what might make a corpse get up off the ground.  Nothing good, I would bet.  Zombies, vampires, do those sort of things really exist?  I hadn’t asked.  My introduction to the supernatural had been a thousand-year-old werewolf trying to kill me and the follow-up had been his entire pack trying to finish me off… and the werewolf lord himself escaped from hell.

I’d survived those encounters, but I still hadn’t learned much about the powers that be.  I didn’t know what was possible.  I had no idea about the supernatural or preternatural.   For all that I had a guardian angel, he didn’t exactly tell me anything of use.  A glance at Sam showed him smirking at me as normal, his dark eyes sparkling as usual in the presence of recent, graphic death.

“Well, we’ll take it from here, Damien,” I told him.  “Thanks for your help.”

I hoped I had time to get more of a crash course on all this.

***

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